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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 16:43 GMT
Keeping Cameroon's primates from the pot
Yaounde zoo
Children were unaware they were eating endangered species
From Francis Ngwa Niba in Yaounde

A British wildlife charity in Cameroon has set up an educational programme aimed at encouraging schoolchildren to stop eating the meat of endangered species.


These primates are friends and eating them is like eating a friend

Biology teacher
The charity - Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund - began work at Yaounde Mvogbetsi Zoo four years ago as an initiative to look after primates orphaned as a result of the bushmeat trade.

Thousands of children have benefited so far amid signs that the programme is becoming a huge success.

I followed a group of 20 students from the Promethe Evening School on a typical trip to the zoo.

"We make them understand that these primates are friends and eating them is like eating a friend," says biology teacher Banseka Eriw, who organised the visit.

Before setting off students are questioned about their views on the bushmeat trade.

Change of mind

All said they utterly enjoyed bushmeat. Most were not aware that some primates like gorillas and chimpanzees were protected species.

And when told that they would become extinct if the present rates of consumption continue, students immediately vowed not to touch a morsel of endangered species meat again.

Binwi Lovelin said he would stop on the day, having learned "how these animals behave and how they look. I now know that some are more like human beings, especially gorillas and chimpanzees".

One of several orphaned primates being looked after by Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund
Bushmeat trade is flourishing despite a government ban

Waindem Dreris, who comes from north-west Cameroon, echoed the sentiment. She said that in her village the bridegroom was expected to take bushmeat to his in-laws as part of his dowry, but the zoo visit had shown her that there could be other alternatives to bushmeat.

As part of the trip, the students also learned that primates could develop SIV - the simian equivalent of HIV - which could be transmitted if people ate the infected animals.

Wildlife Aid Fund director Chris Mitchell said the programme was becoming popular as children liked the role-playing educational games involved, and the messages attached to it.

Mvogbetsi Zoo is home to 35 chimpanzees, six gorillas, 10 other primates in addition to other wild mammals, reptiles and birds.

The authorities plan to open another wildlife zone soon, thus encouraging more people to visit and change their eating habits.

On the menu in a smart restaurant in Yaounde, one can find beef and pork - but also snake, pangolin and monkey - all products of a vast bushmeat trade that has now become the single biggest threat to wildlife in central Africa.

Although it is illegal to sell the meat that does not stop the traders.

That is why Wildlife Aid Fund is now targeting the consumers.

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09 Oct 98 | Africa
Wildlife poachers 'use EU road'
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