Tag Archives: Western Lowland Gorilla

Republic of Congo: Up To Two Gorillas Killed for Bushmeat Trade Each Week

In the Kouilou region of the Republic of Congo, up to two gorillas are being killed each week, an undercover investigation by the conservation group Endangered Species International has revealed, exposing the scale of gorilla poaching in the country. This story was given world audience by the BBC Earth News portal. It is reproduced here below.

Scale of gorilla poaching exposed

By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter

An undercover investigation has found that up to two gorillas are killed and sold as bushmeat each week in Kouilou, a region of the Republic of Congo.

The apes’ body parts are then taken downriver and passed on to traders who sell them in big-city markets.

Conducted by the conservation group Endangered Species International, the investigation helps expose the extent of gorilla poaching in the country.

It fears hundreds more gorillas may be taken each year outside the region.

The group began its investigation by going undercover, talking to sellers and traders at food markets in Pointe Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of Congo.

Over the course of a year, investigators visited the markets twice a month, recording the amount of bushmeat for sale.

“Gorilla meat is sold pre-cut and smoked for about $6 per ‘hand-sized’ piece. Actual gorilla hands are also available,” says Mr Pierre Fidenci, president of Endangered Species International (ESI).

“Over time we got the confidence of the sellers and traders. They gave us the origin of the gorilla meat and it all comes from a single region.”

The team then undertook an expedition to travel to the source of this meat, a forested area called Kouilou, which lies along the Kouilou River around 100 to 130km from Pointe Noire.

Using the same boats that ferry the gorilla meat downriver to the city, the investigators travelled upstream, taking photographs and recording interviews with villagers which revealed the extent of the gorilla poaching.

The investigators also undertook field surveys to ascertain the size of the population of wild western lowland gorillas living in the region.

“According to interviews and field surveys, we think we may have about 200 gorillas left in the area,” says Mr Fidenci.

“But we estimate that 4% of the population is being killed each month, or 50% in a year. It is a lot.”

The poachers particularly target adult gorillas of reproductive age which carry the most meat.

With such heavy hunting, the researchers believe gorillas could disappear from the region within a decade.

“During our mission we observed killing of gorillas in the wild. In less than one week and a half in one particular area we had two adult gorillas killed for their meat,” Mr Fidenci says.

All the meat appears to be consumed in Pointe Noire rather than being exported.

“The gorilla meat goes to the nearest, biggest and most profitable place,” says Mr Fidenci.

“Our study has disclosed the horrific scale of the endangered species market in the Republic of Congo, especially endangered gorillas sold as meat.”

Overall, ESI estimates that at least 300 gorillas are sold to markets each year in the country.

Crosshead

Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are one of two subspecies of Western gorilla, the other being the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli).

Western lowland gorillas are considered to be critically endangered, as their population has fallen by more than 80% in three generations.

Between 100,000 and 125,000 western lowland gorillas are thought to survive across their entire geographic range which spans several countries.

But the dense and remote forest habitat in which they live often makes it difficult to reliably estimate the population size.

Mr Fidenci hopes to go back to Kouilou to find out more about the remaining gorillas living there and to find a way to conserve them.

“We intend to stop the killing in the area by providing alternative income to locals and working with hunters not against them. We hope to conduct conservation awareness with educational programs with other NGOs and to create a gorilla nature reserve.”

“We need to tackle the problem where it starts, right there where people and gorillas live.”

Currently, little is done in the country to prevent the poaching of bushmeat, Mr Fidenci says.

“Enforcement does not exist. Even though there are existing laws which protect endangered wildlife against such activities.”

Ian Redmond – Sorry, Gabon is closed today

Thursday, 3rd September

I bought a ticket on local airline CEIBA for a flight at 1300, then took a taxi to explore the local bushmeat markets in Pointe Noir. The only animals in the first market were massive Merou fish being filleted among crowded fruit and veg stalls, so we quickly moved on. Pointe Noir main market is a warren of narrow passageways between stalls selling every conceivable product, and I struggled to keep up with my guide without knocking over the displays with my camera-bag.

Once past the smoked and salted fish section, the stalls were piled with portions of wild animals – porcupines, pangolins, cane-rats, antelopes and monkeys.  It brought to mind the game butchers where I grew up in Beverley, Yorkshire, where venison, rabbits and pheasants were usually on display. 

The difference (apart from the variety of species) was that the African bushmeat trade (link to www.4apes.com/bushmeat) has grown to unsustainable levels as commercial hunters gain access to previously inaccessible forests.   I chatted to the traders to ask what other species they sold, and whether there was still a demand for ape meat.   They were quick to explain that inspectors from the Ministry of Water and Forests came by every week to check, and that no endangered species were sold.  They had been well informed by the nearby Jane Goodall Institute sanctuary, Tshimpounga, and no longer sold chimpanzee or gorilla.  “But surely older people who have always eaten it must still be trying to get some?” I said.   “They have to change their meat!”  came the reply.   I asked if he would say that on video for the YoG website, and he said he would but felt it would be better coming from the President of the Bushmeat Traders.  When introduced, the President agreed to speak on video, and once we get these HD video files compressed and on-line, you’ll see what he has to say. Mind you, it contrasts sharply with the recent exposé by Endangered Species International, reported at http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8256000/8256464.stm

 Legal bushmeat stall, Central Market, Pt Noire, Congo. Photo Ian Redmond.

Africa’s Green Heart – a new film by Steve O Taylor, partially supported by the CMS (UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species), which includes dramatic bushmeat sequences, will soon be available from the Ape Alliance.  It is hoped that this educational resource will stimulate discussion in schools, governments and among the various interested parties in this complex issue.

Enforcing existing wildlife law is a crucial and immediate challenge in the fight for gorillas’ survival. The YoG supports a project in Congo Brazzaville. Find out more about the project here! You can also donate for it through this site.

Got back to the airport in good time to check in, get my passport stamped and just as I was putting my pocket contents into the basket for the X-ray the word came through that Gabon was closed due to the post-electoral disturbances.  The presidential elections had been close with all three main candidates declaring victory, and the situation was tense.  The next flight to Libreville wasn’t until tomorrow evening, so not wanting to waste a day and a half, and being advised that there were more flights to other range states from Malabo (the second scheduled destination), I decided to take flight anyway.

Once we were off the plane in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on the island of Fernado Po, a friendly young customs officer seemed to think a transit visa wouldn’t be a problem once the Comisario returned to his desk and asked me to wait.   I waited. 

I could see how busy everyone was; two women sat in the corner deep in conversation, two men stood huddled over a laptop exchanging messages with someone, somewhere (I sneaked a peek) and a young guy with a games console plugged in next to the non-functional metal-detector got to the next level, did a little dance, then grinned sheepishly at me before returning to slay whatever monsters next came his way.  

No-one seemed to have within their job description ‘assisting stranded passengers’.   Now and again I’d experiment to see where exactly ‘the point they shall not pass’ was, and I’d catch someone’s eye, or a different uniform would walk through, so I would ask if I could please have a transit visa or a receipt for my passport so I could go and find a hotel for the night.   “Attendez s’il vous plait,” came the reply. 

The Comisario was a big man and once he realised he had a room full of passengers next door he took charge.  In French and Spanish he asked, “where are you all going?“   The babble of destinations was confusing, so he told everyone going to Nigeria to sit here,  to Benin, sit there, and so on.   People obediently sorted themselves geographically as his assistant collected their passports.   That was much tidier, so he walked back to his office.   There was a moment’s silence before everyone looked at each other and burst out laughing. 

I followed him to his office – well furnished with a big desk and well-upholstered leather armchairs – and tried to explain that the tidy room full of people were just here until the aircraft sitting on the tarmac outside was ready for take-off.   My situation was different and to find the next flight to one of the countries I needed to visit a travel agent, probably tomorrow, so please could I have a transit visa and all would be well.  He eventually got the message and extracted my passport from the pile, then placed it in isolation on a separate part of his desk and asked me to wait.   

I tried the ace up my sleeve, and showed him my UNEP-CMS Ordre de Mission, which listed Equatorial Guinea and asks ‘To Whom it May Concern’ to assist with a visa for my mission.   He called the flight controller down and they conferred, then the flight controller apologised and led me past the tidy but increasingly angry passengers (now rebelling by re-sorting themselves and saying they’ll never fly woth CeiBA again), upstairs to the VIP lounge where he left me in splendid isolation.   Here I could enjoy the well-upholstered leather sofas and ornate gilded glass coffee table, upon which a hostess presented me with a cold tonic (sadly no gin), and I was left alone.   But there was power, and comfort, so I blogged until I was falling asleep, then curled up under my kikoi and got some kip.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Good news from the PALF Law Enforcement Project (The Rep. of Congo)

Dear all,

An ivory dealer called Kamusu was arrested some months ago (linked with the dealer Ikama) and has been judged. The judges were very strict as Kamusu has to pay 2,000 Euros and stay 3 years in prison.

Moreover, 7 people who had stolen 195 tusks from the “Direction Départementale de l’Economie Forestière de la Sangha” were also strctly judged with several years in prison and several millions FCFA to pay.

Sincerely,
Luc Mathot
Coordinator

—————————————————

Bonjour à tous,

A trafiquant d’ivoire appelé Kamusu et arrêté il y a quelques mois dans le cadre du Projet PALF (et lié au trafiquant Ikama) a été jugé jeudi dernier. Les juges ont fait preuve de sévérité et ont condamné Kamusu à trois ans de prison fermes et une amende à payer de 2000 Euros.

Par ailleurs, les 7 responsables d’un vol de 195 défenses d’éléphants à la Direction Départementale de l’Economie Forestière de la Sangha ont été sévèrement jugés à plusieurs années d’emprisonnement ferme et à des amendes élevées.

Ces deux cas sont très encourageants et montrent clairement la prise de conscience positive des autorités.

Successes in Wildlife Law Enforcement

For the first time in Republic of Congo, a chimpanzee dealer was arrested and finally prosecuted. He was judged guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 1,100,000 CFA (1,679 Euro). This is the result of the Project PALF (Project to Apply the Fauna Law or Projet d’Appui à l’Application de la Loi Faunique), managed by The Aspinall Foundation and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). This project also benefits gorillas and you can donate for it!

Here you can watch PALF footage on Youtube.

Or you can watch the clips right here:

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[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/l9Hfim-JEIs" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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PALF (Project for the Application of the Law for Fauna) Activities and Outcomes

This is to give you a better idea of the PALF project. They will start blogging themselves soon.

Following on from investigations co-ordinated by PALF in Brazzaville, a wildlife trafficker trading in panther pelts was identified in the capital’s main hotel. He was arrested on May 8th with the assistance of the local Department of Economic Forestry and police. There were two operations carried out on the 12th May, which led to the arrest of an ivory dealer and a wildlife trafficker selling chimpanzees (making this the second arrest of a chimpanzee trafficker since December 2008).

Gorilla orphan at the PPG rehabilitation project

In November 2008, a young orphan gorilla was also seized from a police officer that was attempting to sell it. The gorilla infant, named Loketo, was taken into care by ‘Projet Protection des Gorilles’ (www.ppg-congo.org), the world’s only successful gorilla rehabilitation and reintroduction project. He has now joined a group of 5 other orphans who will be reintroduced into a protected reserve within the next few years. With the support of the three-year old male Kingoue, Loketo continues to develop well.

The other main focus of the project is to encourage high-profile media attention regarding any trafficking-related arrests, as well as the subsequent sentences delivered to the people involved. With regards to the latter, a trafficker dealing in chimpanzees was sentenced to a year in prison in March 2009, becoming the first individual to be prosecuted for wildlife trafficking in the Republic of Congo.

Thanks to intensive media publicity, the Congolese people are becoming more aware of wildlife protection laws and the risks associated with the trafficking of protected wildlife or derived products – such as live great apes, panther skins or ivory.  

New Year of the Gorilla project focuses on Wildlife Law Enforcement

Today I would like to introduce a new YoG project: The PALF (Project to Apply the Law on Fauna) in the Republic of Congo. The input for this blogpost was provided by Luc Mathot of The Aspinall Foundation, and you will soon hear more from this exciting project.

PALF (Projet d’Appui à l’Application de la Loi sur la Faune Sauvage) aims to legally protect endangered species in The Republic of Congo by reinforcing the application of the law on wildlife protection and by discouraging potential hunters and wildlife traffickers. The main species targeted are gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, leopards, parrots, mandrills and others.

Gorilla and Elephant Skulls, Picture by Ian RedmondThe most immediate threat to protected species in the Congo Republic is illegal hunting for bushmeat and animal parts and the capture of young great apes. These activities are illegal, but the lax application of the law has not curbed commercial trafficking and the killing of these species. PALF was established as a collaboration between the Aspinall Foundation and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), with the contribution of expertise from LAGA (Last Great Ape Organization). This NGO has been working in Cameroon for more than 6 years with very promising results which merit replication. The partners work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry (MEF) and other government bodies (police, judiciary etc.).

  • The objectives of PALF are as follows:
    –exposing all traffickers of ape meat, live apes, ivory and other illicit animal products, and collecting solid evidence for action against them
    –arresting the people involved in this illegal activity
    –guaranteeing that legal action will be taken, and assuring that all verdicts will be enforced
    –raising awareness in the population through media coverage concerning the application of the law on wildlife protection and the risks and penalties applied.

To attain these objectives, PALF has received financial support from USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) and will receive more through this blog in YoG 2009, making possible the recruitment of investigators, two lawyers and a journalist – a team which will need to be built up gradually.

The results obtained in Brazzaville after little more than 9 months have been very positive. Nine traffickers of animal products have been arrested (three cases involving ivory, four involving leopard pelts, one involving a mandrill pelt, one involving a gorilla and one involving a chimpanzee). Despite corruption and blackmailing attempts, one trafficker of chimpanzee products has been brought to trial in the Congo. The defendant was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 1,100,000 CFA (1,679 Euro). Between September 2008 and May 2009, more than 170 articles have been published or broadcast in the Congolese media (press, television and radio), with the result that the Congolese population (particularly in Brazzaville) is now well informed about the dangers and consequences of trafficking animal products.

Law enforcement is a priority both in situ within the protected areas and in regard to the trafficking of animal products between the wild animals’ habitats and the urban areas. We are hoping that different sponsors, NGOs and government organisations, will all get involved in similar projects to apply the experience from PALF. In this way, the PALF slogan “zero tolerance for crimes against wildlife” will become a reality in Central Africa. In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci: “The day will come when the killing of an animal will be punished in the same manner as the killing of a human.”