CBC Digital Archives

Bushmeat: apes as food

Fascinating to scientists and zoo visitors alike, gorillas are the gentle giants of the animal world. Year by year, gorillas in the wild are losing habitat to advancing human settlement, prompting conservation groups and UN agencies to name 2009 the Year of the Gorilla. From a 1963 interview with a hunter who captures gorillas for zoos to a radio snapshot of wild gorillas in 2009, the CBC Digital Archives looks at these hairy, human-like creatures.

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They are our closest relatives on the evolutionary chain. But that distinction can't keep the great ape family - chimps, bonobos and gorillas - off limits in the burgeoning African trade in "bushmeat," which is defined as the flesh of wild animals. Logging companies have opened up the jungles, and a growing population means what was once a subsistence activity is now a source of income for many hunters.
  In this 2003 interview on CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks, author Dale Peterson says that although great apes make up just one per cent of the bushmeat trade, their numbers are dwindling because of it. And even though it's illegal everywhere to hunt apes, tradition wins over laws every time. 

• Many conservation groups are devoted to eliminating the trade in bushmeat. The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, founded in 1999, is a consortium of such organizations that collects information on the bushmeat trade and advocates for law enforcement, public awareness and economic alternatives for bushmeat hunters. • According to the BCTF, people in Central Africa consume an estimated one million tons of bushmeat every year. It also estimates that as many as 15 per cent of bushmeat carcasses are primates (which include monkeys of all kinds).

• Eating great apes is not only bad for the apes, it's potentially disastrous for humans: because apes are so genetically close to us, eating them can transmit deadly viruses such as HIV and ebola. The "Hunter Theory" of the origin of HIV is that the monkey version of the virus made the jump from chimps to humans when a bushmeat hunter was bitten by or butchering an infected animal.

• Other animals affected by the bushmeat trade include elephants, antelope, hippopotamus, leopards, lions and various rodents.

• In August 2005 there was a spot of good news about the population of western lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo. A scientific census determined there were about 125,000 of them in the country, nearly double the previous estimated number there and in seven surrounding countries.

Medium: Radio
Program: Quirks & Quarks
Broadcast Date: Sept. 27, 2003
Guest(s): Dale Peterson
Host: Bob McDonald
Duration: 15:24

Last updated: February 9, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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