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BUSHMEAT TRADE AND POACHING

HUNTING GORILLAS FOR BUSHMEAT Gorilla deaths as a result of the bushmeat trade are one of the major causes of population decline. Gorillas are sometimes the preferred target of Bushmeat hunters, sometimes just a con- venient large animal and sometimes the unintended victim of snares set for other animals such as antelope or buffalo.

In the 1980s in Congo, the problem was said to be largely caused by hunting for food to feed the workers at logging camps. The forestry department was reported to have 500 hunters, each of whom had to feed ten people; thus 5,000 workers were supported by the hunting of wildlife in logging areas. In some areas of the Congo, people were said to pre- fer gorilla meat above all else and given a chance, would eat “nothing but gorillas, killing up to 10 gorillas in one attack.” (reported by Redmond, 1989).

Gorilla meat has always been part of the diet of many of the tribes that share the forest with the apes. The Fang of Equato- rial Guinea eat many higher primates (Sabater Pi and Groves, 1972), and the same appears to apply to most of the forest peo- ple who depend on subsistence hunting. Conservation prob- lems do not normally arise from traditional uses by humans living at low densities. Primate numbers decline when their populations are fragmented by forest clearance and develop- ment, and when hunting becomes a commercial business ven- ture with the products (usually meat) being shipped to centres of human habitation, thereby supplying a near limitless mar- ket. In Gabon, where gorillas are also eaten, workers at a small iron mine at Belinga were reported to consume 24 tons of meat from the forest in one year (Harcourt and Stewart, 1980). This seemed a lot at the time but since those early studies, the quantity of Bushmeat recorded in city markets across the Congo Basin has reached astonishing levels; some research- ers estimate that up to five million metric tons of bushmeat is traded annually (Wilkie and Carpenter, 1999; Fa et al., 2002). Many factors, including topography, available infrastructures, market access, taboos, religions, weapon availability and hunt- ing seasons, are important in affecting trade (Bowen-Jones & Pendry, 1999).

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