Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Slash and burn agriculture is a significant cause of deforestation © E J Greengrass
Slash and burn agriculture is a significant cause of deforestation © E J Greengrass

Human populations are growing rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa and they are increasingly becoming urbanised. Despite this urbanisation, rural communities are still heavily reliant on the exploitation of natural resources for their survival, and as populations increase so does the pressure on the land for subsistence activities such as slash and burn agriculture, hunting and the collection of fuel wood. In addition, governments are also dependent on the extraction of natural resources to boost their economies and the expansion of the logging, mining and oil industries and large-scale agri-business, places increasing pressure on the environment.  Where governance of the environment is weak, habitat degradation may occur. Industries which establish road networks and improvements in transportation links, increase access to previously closed areas of forest.  In West and Central Africa, this has exacerbated hunting pressure and the trade in bushmeat.

The great apes in particular have been traded for thousands of years and are even mentioned in the Old Testament.  From the 18th and 19th centuries, primates were taken from the wild to feed the demand in zoos and circuses and in more recent times, they were used in biomedical research.

In the 1960s, field studies on apes significantly increased our understanding and appreciation of these species as intelligent, sentient beings.  In the late 20th century, the capture and removal of great apes from the wild and their use in biomedical research became increasingly unacceptable in the West, both as a conservation and a welfare issue. The UK eventually banned biomedical research on chimpanzees in 1986 and the EU followed in 2010, while research using chimpanzees and other non-human primates still occurs in the US.

© Luc Mathot / Conservation Justice
© Luc Mathot / Conservation Justice

Traditionally, a domestic trade in infant primates has probably always existed in parts of Africa where primate meat is consumed, at least since white colonists introduced guns to the continent, making hunting primates so much easier. Infants stay on the bodies of their mothers when they are killed and because they are too small to sell for meat, they are often taken home and kept as pets. In more recent times, however, hunting pressure has increased because the trade in bushmeat has become more commercialized. The commercialisation of the trade is related to habitat loss, widespread deforestation and the construction of roads and infrastructure that facilitate the trade from rural to urban areas. Human populations are also increasing rapidly and in regions where a domestic meat sector is either underdeveloped or grossly inadequate, the majority are reliant on bushmeat for their protein needs.

A lot of indigenous people across Africa have taboos against killing and eating apes but in more recent times as humans have increasingly travelled and migrated to new areas looking for work, this has broken down as communities have become ethnically diverse.

Of great concern recently, is the apparent establishment of an illegal trade in wild apes from Africa to the Middle East and Asia. In China, for example, chimpanzees are being sent to entertainment parks and zoos, despite the fact that China is a party to CITES which prohibits such trade.  Egypt, especially Cairo, and Sudan are hubs in illegal wildlife trafficking. Since 2005, over 1,800 cases of illegal trade in wild apes have been documented and between 2007 and 2010 130 chimpanzees were illegally exported from Guinea alone. However, because only a small percentage is ever detected, the true extent of the trade is unknown. For every chimpanzee infant taken from the wild, an estimated nine or ten other individuals are killed protecting it and it is therefore likely that illegal international trade is having a significant impact on wild populations. In fact it has been estimated that nearly 3,000 wild great apes are lost to trafficking from the wild each year, a rate that is not sustainable.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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