Meat from wild primates killed in Africa is landing on dinner plates in North America and western Europe. Offered for sale in clandestine markets from Los Angeles to Paris, primates make up nearly a third of the illegal international trade in bushmeat, according to a survey of markets in seven cities.
Rumours of the existence of such markets have floated around for years, says wildlife biologist Justin Brashares of the University of California, Berkeley. Confirmation came from a chance encounter with a taxi driver from Ghana two years ago. When asked if he missed eating bushmeat, the driver said, "I don't, really." He then offered to show Brashares a market in a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, where bushmeat is sold.
"I was shocked that open markets sell large quantities of African bushmeat in major cities outside of Africa," Brashares says. Starting with his initial contact, Brashares has recruited 15 volunteers, expatriates from west Africa to visit illegal markets in Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Montreal, Toronto and Chicago. A market in Los Angeles has just been added to the list.
Two volunteers separately recorded the amount of bushmeat for sale at one sample location in each city. Just over 6000 kilograms of meat moves through these seven markets each month, Brashares told the Society for Conservation Biology when it met in San Jose, California, on 28 June. This probably underestimates the international trade, itself only a tiny fraction of the wild meat hunted in Africa, most of which is eaten locally. Primate meat makes up a larger share of what is sold overseas compared with markets in west and central Africa.
"I have 27 records of chimpanzee and gorilla parts being sold in the markets," Brashares told New Scientist. "In each case it was not a complete body, but a hand, leg or, in two cases, a head." Guenon monkeys
and baboon species appear to be a big part of the trade, he says. Small antelopes called
Contact: Claire Bowles