for National Geographic News
Meat from chimpanzees, gorillas, and other wild African animals is popping up in illegal markets in the United States and Europe, a new investigation reveals.
"Bush meat" consumption is widespread in western and central Africa (Africa map). There, the poor have traditionally trapped wild animals as a form of subsistence hunting to help feed their families and villages.
(See a bush-meat photo gallery. Warning: graphic content.)
However, wild animals such as primates have been shot in such large numbers that conservationists have declared bush-meat hunting a crisis. Adding to the demand, wild animal meat is making its way from small villages into African cities, where some diners consider it a delicacy.
Now bush meat is going overseas to Western cities.
Justin Brashares, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a team of volunteers recently said it found the illegal meat in markets in Paris, Brussels, London, New York City, Montreal, Toronto, and Los Angeles.
The team documented 27 instances of gorilla or chimpanzee parts being sold, though it never found a complete carcass.
"Most illegal meat is carried in suitcases and also is shipped in parcels and large containers," Brashares said.
Brashares first learned of markets that trade bush meat through a chance meeting with a Ghanaian living in New York City a couple of years back.
"In the U.S. a lot of it comes through JFK and Miami airports," he added. "Inspectors actively search for these shipments and use sniffer dogs. But they tell me they can't begin to keep up with the volume coming in and estimate they catch about one percent of the total coming into the country."
Many officials at Africa's airports are aware of the illegal cargo but choose to look the other way and allow the airports of the importing countries to deal with the issue, says Karl Ammann, a bush-meat activist and wildlife photographer.
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