Some Endangered Species, Human Health Threatened
Long a source of sustenance for many rural people in Africa, the meat from wild animals is becoming increasingly popular as a delicacy in other parts of the world-so popular, in fact, that consumption threatens some endangered species and may pose risks to human health.
While "bushmeat" is primarily rodents--such as cane rats, and small antelope, like duikers--it can include many wild species, from fruit bats and elephants to birds, insects and reptiles. Experts say that primates--bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas--are especially at risk of being slaughtered, even though some of these species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Bushmeat is sold as a delicacy in central African markets and increasingly offered as speciality items in restaurants around the world.
Poaching in Congo's Kahuzi-Biega National Park has picked up markedly since April, the New York Times reported in July. "Arrested poachers have admitted to killing 20 [lowland] gorillas and 17 elephants since then." Park director Mankoto Ma Oyifenzoo said "that elephant meat is popular because it is half the price of beef," according to the Times.
Bushmeat is an essential source of protein in parts of central and western Africa, constituting half of all meat consumed in some areas. Now, bushmeat is being marketed more widely, as the clearing of forests by the logging industry and the creation of new roads makes the habitats of vulnerable species more accessible.
Last February, representatives of 28 zoos and conservation, biomedical research and animal welfare organizations, who met near Washington, D.C., to discuss the bushmeat controversy, concluded that "if current unsustainable rates of exploitation continue, the commercial bushmeat trade will decimate, if not eliminate, some endangered species, such as great apes, forest elephants and other fauna upon which the health of forest ecosystems depend."
Bushmeat sales may also be "a potential point of entry for new diseases into the global human population," the participants said in calling for steps to head off "the negative consequences" of the illegal trade in endangered and threatened species. The group established a Bushmeat Crisis Task Force to seek solutions to the problem.
"While AWF recognizes that bushmeat is important to the diets of many African people" says AWF President R. Michael Wright, "we have concerns that the growing trade could threaten the survival of some of these wildlife populations and pose possible health dangers to human beings."
Senator Jim Jeffords, R.-Vt., has introduced the Great Ape Conservation Act of 1999 (S1007) to provide federal funding to help save the apes.
To express your support for the Great Ape Conservation Act, call your senator at (202) 224-3121 or write care of U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.
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Kennedy Arthur Wekesa
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