a hundred years ago, roughly one million chimpanzees lived
in the lush forests of equatorial Africa. Today, only about
one tenth of that number remain due to habitat loss and human
encroachment. In "Chimps Under the Gun," Scientific American
Frontiers exposes a new threat to wild chimpanzee- a danger
that scientists estimate could bring them much closer to extinction
within the next ten to fifteen years.
and chimpanzee meat are considered delicacies in much
and other wild animals including gorillas and monkeys are
being hunted for their meat and sold commercially on a large
scale. Called bushmeat, the flesh of chimps and other endangered
species is considered a delicacy in much of Africa. Bushmeat,
a nostalgic link to a past village life that is now largely
gone, commands high prices at restaurants frequented by the
new urban elite. This unsustainable slaughter of these animals
is emptying one of the last great forests of the world.
Amman's camera follows a hunter to his kill.
Writer and wildlife photographer Karl
Amman stumbled across the largely illegal bushmeat trade
when he took a riverboat trip down the Congo River in 1988.
Startled by the numbers of orphaned baby chimps and wild animal
carcasses he saw coming out of the forest, Amman took it upon
himself to document and publicize the crisis.
at the site, Amman documents a slaughtered gorilla family.
At great personal risk, Amman followed poachers deep in to
the forest to document the commercial trade. Using hidden
cameras, Amman and his assistants obtained disturbing footage
of smoked chimpanzee heads, hands and arms being sold along
side meat from endangered elephants, gorillas and other protected
roads have allowed more hunters to enter the dense jungle.
The bushmeat trade is the result of a complex confluence of
politics and economics. Logging companies, mostly European
and some Asian, interested in harvesting valuable trees for
export have built roads in to the once-impenetrable million
square miles of forest in central Africa. Hunters follow the
loggers into the forest, and then often hire logging trucks
to carry the bounty back out to urban markets, where an estimated
70 million people consume the bushmeat.
new large-scale bushmeat trade has important implications
not only for conservation but also for human health. There
has always been some subsistence hunting of forest game on
a small scale, and that's where HIV/AIDS came from, scientists
believe. Some time in the 1940's, the virus jumped to humans,
probably during the butchering of chimps. But now with the
widespread butchering of bushmeat, there is constant contact
between the two closely-related species. So the risk increases
that new diseases will make the same leap to humans.
smoked chimp hand brings a higher price than beef or pork.
Primatologists in particular are dismayed at the vast and
uncontrolled bushmeat trade, because it threatens the continued
existence of wild, natural groups of our closest living relative,
the chimpanzee. Over the last forty years, intensive study
of chimps in the field has yielded tremendous insights into
the origin of fundamental human attributes- like tool use,
warfare, altruism and mothering. Yet, just as we're discovering
how close we really are to our primate cousins, we're destroying
them at an unprecedented rate.
orphaned chimp with the remains of its family.
An especially cruel by-product of the bushmeat trade is orphan
chimps. Too small to be worth killing for their meat, a generation
of baby chimps are being sold to zoos or as pets, only to
be destroyed or discarded when they get too big to control.
Countless others are left simply to starve.
efforts have brought international attention to the crisis.
Karl Amman is raising two orphaned chimps and has established
a sanctuary near his home outside of Nairobi, Kenya. He's
turned into a full time advocate, as have a number of primate
researchers, including Jane Goodall. They're engaged in a
desperate battle to ensure that in the future, people won't
ever have to be nostalgic for the days when chimps and other
primates used to live in the wild.