Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gorilla hunting in Congo


A recent headline on the BBC web site goes like this: “Scale of gorilla poaching exposed”. The story, by Earth News reporter Jody Bourton tells how
“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.”

Quoting Mr Pierre Fidenci, president of Endangered Species International (ESI) Bourton wrote:
"Gorilla meat is sold pre-cut and smoked for about $6 per 'hand-sized' piece. Actual gorilla hands are also available."

What Bourton did not mention is that there has been a culture of gorilla hunting and consumption in the Congo basin for a long time. In his autobiography On Safari: The Story of My Life (Collins 1963) Armand Denis published several remarkable photographs of gorillas that had been hunted by large gangs of Ituri hunters deep in the forests of the Congo basin when he accompanied pygmies on a well-orchestrated hunt in the forest. These hunters used home-made guns that fired anything that could be turned into a lethal projectile and were dangerous to use, as they might explode in the user’s face.

More recent photos of butchered gorillas and indeed the whole bushmeat saga have been published by Karl Amman, who allowed me to use some of his images in The Trouble WIth Lions. You can see some of them on his web site.

It is very likely that the current hunting is more systemic and highly organized than the events that Denis witnessed and it is also likely that it is unsustainable. The investigators found that half the population is killed each year. No population of slow-breeding animal can sustain itself under such pressure. The situation is compounded because the main targets are adult gorillas that carry the most meat.

Fidenci’s team estimates that there are perhaps 200 gorillas left in the area. That number won’t last long.

A worthy, but in my opinion unattainable, goal, is to stop the hunting by providing alternative income, increasing conservation awareness and creating a gorilla reserve.

Bourton ends by quoting Fidenci.
"Enforcement does not exist. Even though there are existing laws which protect endangered wildlife against such activities."

With war, inaccessible forests and many other problems to deal with it is difficult to see how antipoaching can be a high priority.

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