Many people do not realize that the chimpanzee is a highly endangered animal today. We often see chimpanzees in zoos, and they do breed easily in captivity. The fact that they are seriously threatened in the wild is often forgotten, and instead the gorilla and bonobo takes the stage as the endangered species, which of course is also true. The fact is that ALL apes in Africa and Asia are highly endangered and will more than likely cease to exist in the wild in the next 20 years unless we do something about it.
Loss of habitat is the primary threat to chimpanzees. Their prime natural habitat is the rainforest, and it is literally disappearing around them. There are various reasons for this. One is that western world has a liking for tropical hardwood and wants rainforest trees for doors, floors, wall panels, interior of luxury yachts and furniture. The other and more recent reason is that palm oil has become a popular item, probably because it is inexpensive. The rainforest is cut down to make way for palm plantations, and the habitat is lost for the apes and all other animals living in the rainforest. The fact that rainforest and oil palms cannot co-exist is something that has been forgotten.
Some parts of Borneo and Sumatra are totally deforested, mile after mile of oil palms now grow in the plantations. If a hungry orangutan strays into a plantation it will either be killed or mutilated by the farmers. Similar situations arise today in many parts of West Africa where the rainforest gradually gives way to oil palms. The situation in Kenya is not different. The animals of the rainforest lose their habitat and are forced to look for food elsewhere. They stray into plantations and often get killed or mutilated. The conflict between humans and animals becomes prominent.
Remote areas made available for hunters
When the African rainforest is cut down, the hunters arrive with the logging companies grabbing the opportunity to hunt in areas that were too remote before new roads were built. The logging companies appreciate the hunters as they bring food for their local workers. The more lucrative meat, like apes, is smoked and taken to the cities to be sold in markets. The hunters are given free transport with the logging trucks that are heading for harbours in countries in Central and West Africa. Ape meat is considered a delicacy in these countries. It is sold to the wealthy in the cities, or exported to restaurants frequented by West and Central Africans who live in the western world. Eating ape meat is not their tradition, but it has become trend. There is only a very small population whose tradition is to eat apes, but regrettably, many people now claim it is also their tradition.
Whatever the reason, it is illegal to transport rainforest meat – bush-meat – into the western world, even though not all animals that are taken to western countries are CITES listed. However, this meat has never been tested by a veterinarian. For that reason alone it is illegal.
Bushmeat smuggled at airports
Bush-meat comes from apes, elephants and other protected animal species. Amazingly, bush meat is hardly ever confiscated at the various airports where it arrives daily in the passengers’ luggage.
Many ape families are shot and their young become the by-product of the bush-meat trade. Babies and young apes are left to be sold to illegal animal dealers, as they are worth more alive than the meat price. These young apes end up in countries where they don’t belong as pets, at zoos, circuses or in laboratories. This is how the illegal trade continues to escalate, even though there are systems that should stop this illegal trade. Clearly, they are not working.
We need to become more observant of what is happening around us, even in our own back yard and where we go on holiday. Some countries import baby apes to let tourists to take photographs with them on the beaches. When they grow older, and less cute, they are drugged and eventually killed – and another baby ape is bought for the same purpose.
These apes have short, horrible lives, and tourists can be responsible for fueling this trade. The more we help to report such incidents to local authorities and refuse to have our photos taken, the smaller the illegal trade will be. If there is no money to be made, there will be no point in keeping the animals.
It is essential to refrain from encouraging the keeping of animals whose purpose is to entertain tourists, and to report incidences to local animal welfare organizations.
The African Apes Foundation's primary target is to provide a safe haven for confiscated and displaced African apes. In addition, the Foundation will help to rescue other wildlife that are in the same precarious situation.