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The trade in primates for human consumption is popular across west Africa, including Guinea-Bissau. Photo: Dawn Starin

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Bush-meat demand fuelling secretive trade in Guinea-Bissau's primates

Dearbhla Crosse

29th September 2010

Logging, mining and agriculture are opening up Guinea-Bissau's once intact forests to the ravages of the bush-meat trade, an Ecologist investigation finds

The shocking reality of Africa’s bush-meat crisis has been revealed by an Ecologist investigation into the highly secretive and frequently illicit trade in primates in Guinea-Bissau.

In a remarkable dispatch from the tiny west African nation, one of the world’s most corrupt and impoverished countries, reporter Dawn Starin investigates the mechanics of the ‘chain’ that sees a vast number of primates – some of them endangered – hunted before ending up on dinner plates in the capital Bissau. 

Interviewing monkey meat consumers, butchers and restaurant owners, as well as primate hunters, Starin uncovers how a network of corrupt officials and destruction of the country’s forests for logging, mining and agriculture – which is increasingly opening up previously inaccessible areas – is fuelling the trade, believed to be responsible for thousands of Guinea-Bissau’s primates being slaughtered annually.

Although the country has officially outlawed the hunting of many primate species – including red colobus, black and white colobus and chimpanzees – and restricted the killing of others, widespread bribery, a lack of enforcement infrastructure and frequently chaotic governance means that the slaughter often continues with impunity, a government official and conservationists tell the Ecologist.

Despite much of Guinea-Bissau’s bush-meat, including primates, being consumed in rural areas where it is seen as a ready, and relatively cheap, source of protein, a growing taste for monkey meat amongst better-off diners in urban areas is driving a more commercial trade, Starin finds.

Conservationists argue that such commercial trades are often the most unsustainable, not only for threatened species but for people too: ‘The loss of wildlife in forests threatens the livelihoods of forest peoples, and the food security of the frequently poor rural people who rely on bush-meat as a safety net when crops and livestock fail,’ according to the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force.

The African bush-meat trade is prevalent, according to campaigners, in Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Liberia amongst others. The multi-million dollar trade has surpassed habitat loss as the greatest threat to tropical wildlife, conservationists believe.

Campaigners and academics admit that very little is currently known about Guinea-Bissau’s primate trade or wider bush-meat consumption. A four-month study by primatologists, Dr Catarina Casanova and Dr Claudia Sousa, from the University Of Lisbon, recently confirmed ‘heavy bush-meat trade’ in the country and reported that ‘primates in national parks and reserves’ are hunted.

Sousa told the Ecologist: 'In Guinea-Bissau almost all the non-human primate species are hunted… the most hunted is the baboon.’ Heather Eves from Bushmeat Crisis Task Force said: ‘It does appear that [bush-meat] hunting is severely impacting wildlife populations [in Guinea-Bissau].’ Primate specialists say they are currently working to build a more definitive picture of what is happening in the country.

Read the investigation in full

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