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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 02:02 GMT 03:02 UK
The cost of bushmeat
Dead gorilla family   TVE
Five gorillas died, four escaped: The trade is unsustainable

As much as 10 tonnes of African bushmeat may be reaching London every day, according to a British film on the trade.

It says the extent of the killing has already left some countries with few animals to poach.

The effort to save the great apes, it says, now stands at one second to midnight.

Yet corruption, inertia and sheer poverty allow all-out, unsustainable slaughter to continue apace.

The film, No Hiding Place, made by Television Trust for the Environment (TVE), is shown in its Earth Report series on BBC World.

 Click here to watch BBC World and its report on the African bushmeat trade.

The film follows Karl Amman, a Swiss national who has spent the last eight years in central Africa, where he says there has been an alarming increase in the bushmeat trade.

Profitable slaughter

With the wild chimpanzee population in the region now put at about 200,000, TVE says there may have been several million as recently as the 1960s.

It says: "Central Africa is home to three-quarters of the continent's remaining rainforest habitat.

Logging truck   TVE
Logging leaves the animals little room
"In Cameroon, 60% of its surviving 17 million hectares (42 million acres) of forest is already being exploited.

"Forest people have hunted here for generations. The harvest was for subsistence, ranging from elephants, apes, duiker and giant pangolin down to smaller mammals.

"Hunting for the local pot had no impact on numbers. But now they are being hunted for hard cash, and it's all-out slaughter."

Part of the problem is that "insatiable overseas demand for hardwood" means the logging companies penetrate formerly isolated forest, forcing the animals into ever smaller spaces.

Here they make easier targets, "like shooting fish in a barrel" according to TVE.

One sequence shows a group of three adult and two infant gorillas killed together.

Mystery ape

But TVE says the biggest demand comes from the flourishing urban market, where the meat is traded openly.

TVE follows Karl Ammam to the sparsely populated border area between the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Hunter and gun   TVE
Bushmeat gives hunters a living
Many of the buffalo and almost all the elephants have gone, killed for bushmeat. Now they are scarce, the chimpanzees are likely to be the next target.

Primatologists believe the area may be home to a new chimp species: evidence suggests that both their bone structure and their culture differ from other chimps, with their behaviour more akin to that of gorillas.

But the film says it is the ultimate irony that the possible discovery of a new species, perhaps even of a new ape, could coincide with its extinction for bushmeat.

Health threat

It describes the trade as "globalised", with organised couriers distributing the meat to many European capitals, where it arrives without any customs or health checks.

Estimates put the amount reaching London's Heathrow airport at up to 10 tonnes a day, often in appalling condition.

The film says the imported meat could be carrying foot-and-mouth, anthrax, the Ebola virus, TB or cholera.

A second film will look at United Nations attempts to save the great apes by defeating the poachers and protecting the animals' habitat.

See also:

10 Apr 02 | Africa
20 May 01 | Science/Nature
12 Mar 01 | Africa
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