April 3, 2001

Ammann '74 Talks Apes With Budding Activists

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When one thinks of Africa, visions of tropical forests abundant with exotic animals may come to mind. Many don’t realize that these primates and elephants are in danger, however, and that the natives are hunting them so intensely that animal activists are worried about population decline.

Activist Karl Ammann ’74 addressed these fears in his presentation “Eating Ape: Primates on the Brink” yesterday in the James Law Auditorium of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Sponsored by Friends of Chimfunshi, a non-profit organization involved with the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia, the lecture was hosted by the Zoo and Wildlife Society and the college’s wildlife health program.

“Parks [in Africa] are advertised as paradises, but how long will they last that way?” Ammann asked, explaining that as natives hunt and eat the animals, species face possible extinction.

“[The hunter] doesn’t go out there to just kill; he’s trying to survive,” Ammann said, referring to the economics of this bushmeat trade. “It’s hard to talk to them since they are trying to make a living.”

Even though the hunting of many of these species is illegal, Africans still hunt unscathed by the laws.

“No one cares, even though there are conservation agencies in the towns,” Ammann said. “They display endangered species along the roads; in supermarkets, they sell elephant meat even though it is illegal to hunt it.”

The bushmeat trade caters to the upper class due to the cost of the meat.

“When [the meat] reaches the urban centers, it’s two to three times as expensive as beef or pork,” Ammann said.

“It’s a market-driven hunting,” said Kevin Kimber vet ’01, member of the Zoo and Wildlife Society. “There is a market and it’s not the starving people who need something to eat. It’s from the urban centers that are willing to pay for it.”

The government officials have not expressed particular concern over the matter, however. Several governments have even given guns to the natives, which in turn are used for the hunting, according to Ammann.

“The locals are fully aware of the corruption that fuels the trade,” he said. “In Cameroon, some people have personal hunters as some have private gardeners.”

The bustling logging industry in African countries adds to the problem. As loggers cut down trees, a trip through the jungles that once took a few days takes a shorter amount of time, making it easier for the natives to hunt.

“I think that the big root of the problem is the industrialized countries for putting demand on logging,” Doug Krisch ’00. “We should fix our demands since we are ruining the countries.”

Industrialized countries have been wary of approaching the problem, however, as officials don’t want to jeopardize good relations with the African countries.

Ammann has campaigned against the bushmeat trade with some success. He supported the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000, signed by former President Bill Clinton, and helped convince 20 African countries and the European Parliament to sign a declaration against killing apes.

The activist has also pushed for the logging and gun industries to be held responsible for their actions.

“We did put some pressure on the German cartridge companies; their cartridge is the only one used to kill protected species,” he said. “They agreed to stop if the other countries did.”

“Some logging companies have been pressured to do something,” Ammann added. “They raised chickens, but the chicken is more expensive than bushmeat. Plus, many people prefer the taste [of bushmeat].”

The media also began publicizing the issue recently, which made the countries somewhat squeamish, according to Ammann. The governments tried to downplay the issue by asking news crews not to film or focus on the bushmeat trade.

Safety issues are also involved with the hunting of these animals, according to Ammann. Cases of ebola and other diseases have been linked with eating dead animals found in the forests.

“People are arm deep in blood — they could contract diseases,” Ammann said. “Every time a gorilla is killed, there may be a new strain of HIV or ebola.”

The governments have not shown an interest over the safety issues, either.

“There was an ebola outbreak four or five years ago and the president went on T.V. to say that they [natives] shouldn’t eat dead gorillas or kill ones that acted differently,” Ammann said. “They could only kill the ones that acted normally.”

Students carefully considered Ammann’s firsthand account of the bushmeat trade.

“I think that it was very important to see what is going on in Africa, in the Congo,” said Maria Ferreire vet ’01. “We know that there are hunters — it’s important and good to see how it works.”

“Aside from the grizzly photographs, it’s a real difficult problem,” Kimber said. “It is sort of disheartening. It’s not a problem with quick fixes.”

Archived article by Kelly Samuels