Hunting and the bushmeat trade

Hunting and the Bushmeat/Ivory Trade

Wire snare confiscated by park guards

Bonobos, elephants and other large mammals are declining in number in parts of the Salonga National Park because of unsustainable levels of hunting. This phenomenon is common in forests, parks and wildlife reserves across Central Africa; illegal hunting is devastating wildlife populations. The Central African Regional Program for the Environment (a program of the U.S. Agency for International Development) calls hunting a greater immediate threat to wildlife and biodiversity conservation than habitat loss (CARPE Issue Brief #23, 2001). In some places, wildlife populations have been so drastically reduced that forests, which are intact, are largely devoid of large animals. A new phrase has been coined to describe this trend, the "empty forest syndrome."

Poaching: An International Crisis

smoke monkey
Monkeys killed and smoked by poachers

Illegal hunting, or poaching, is driven by the increasing demand for bushmeat and animal products like ivory and horn, and, to a lesser extent, by the illegal trade in exotic pets. Bushmeat – the meat of wild animals, be it bonobo or other primate, elephant, antelope or crocodile – is part of traditional diets. Wild meat is essentially seen as a “free” resource, especially in rural and remote areas like the Salonga where wildlife laws are difficult to enforce. As populations have urbanized and the food demand in cities has grown, bushmeat has become an enterprise requiring little investment and few overhead expenses. Hence, in some cases, commercial poaching operations exist; these are made up of organized, well-armed groups that move into forests, including protected areas, to exploit and rob the country of its wildlife resources.

Crocodiles bound for market
Crocodiles bound for market

One reason professional poachers are attracted to the Salonga is the forest elephant and the possibility to obtain illegal, highly-valued ivory. Once found in great numbers, forest elephants are now locally extinct in many areas outside of parks and reserves. The Salonga, home to an estimated 16,000+ elephants just 40 years ago, today harbors only approximately 2,000 animals (MIKE Survey 2003-04).

While poachers may come to the Salonga to seek elephants, they are indiscriminate in their killing and usually will take other wildlife they encounter in the forest. Once an animal is killed, its meat is smoked and then transported to markets and cities across DRC. For bonobos and other species that reproduce at low rates, the burgeoning bushmeat trade is indeed a threat that could lead to a complete loss of wild populations within our lifetime.

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