Protecting endangered species has always been a difficult task in those regions outside of the United States. In fact, many endangered species across the Congo Basin of Africa, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants, are on the verge of becoming extinct. It turns out that these animals are being killed for bushmeat, which refers to the hunting of wild animals (including those that are endangered) for food.
According to Andrew Plumptre, Assistant Director for the Africa Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, the bushmeat trade has been occurring for quite some time now, but currently it has been increasing in the forest basin of Central Africa due to the accelerated interference of logging companies. These logging companies, most of which are European owned, are largely responsible for the massive deforestation occurring in Africa. In addition to destruction of valuable habitats, logging contributes to the decreasing amount of dense forest available, making Africa’s endangered species more susceptible to hunters who are trying to meet the growing demand for bushmeat in Africa. Unfortunately, the destruction of dense forest usually leads to the development of communities in areas that were once only inhabited by the wild. Moreover, most logging companies rarely supply all their workers with food, and many are encouraged to hunt for sustenance.
So, why exactly are hunters being allowed to kill these rarest of animals in the first place? Well, it’s basically due to the major lack of enforcement of protection laws. Although killing endangered species is illegal in Africa, there really isn’t anyone who is willing and has enough authority to prevent these animals from being killed at such an alarming rate. Plumptre claims: “Certain governments have passed laws saying that you’re not allowed to hunt certain species, yet these laws have fairly been ineffective because no one’s on the grounds to enforce it.”
Currently, though, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been taking some action. “We’re working with a logging company in Congo Brazzaville which has agreed not to hunt elephants, apes, and bongos. They check all the trunks that are leaving the concessions for bushmeat, and they’ve discharged one of their employees for shooting a gorilla,” states Plumtree, who anticipates that workers will become discouraged from hunting bushmeat due to the risk of losing their jobs.
In addition, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute are developing taxation proposals intended for logging companies. It is hoped that taxation would deter logging companies from continuing to open up vast amounts of forest, and of course, decrease bushmeat hunting activity.
Yet, even if taxation is implemented, it still wouldn’t guarantee an end to bushmeat hunting, which is why public awareness is key to finding a solution to this important issue. These remarkably beautiful creatures are precious to our environment, but unfortunately many of them seldom reproduce because they are killed before reaching a maturity to reproduce. Also, these animals are known to have very slow reproductive patterns, and their infrequent breeding habits make them incapable of having multiple births. For instance, most elephants carry their young for a period of about two years before giving birth, and then the offspring are raised for another two years before the female can produce again. Similarly, these reproduction habits occur with primates. Therefore, the perpetuation of bushmeat hunting would have a devastating effect on these endangered species, perhaps even ending their existence altogether.
A recent study done in the Congo basin has estimated that about a million tons of bushmeat has been hunted each year. Also, the study has shown that all gorillas and ninety-five percent of chimps had been slaughtered in areas where hunting of bushmeat occurred. Often, bushmeat hunters target small antelope, also known as duikers, which account for about eighty percent of the meat taken. Yet, hunters also seek to hunt primates, which represent about ten to twenty percent of the total amount of bushmeat.