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West and Central African Primates Imperiled by Hunting, Habitat Loss


A new World Conservation Union report says a large number of the world's endangered primates are at risk of extinction in West and Central African countries. Experts say hunting for bushmeat is threatening the animals' survival in poor countries. Kari Barber has more from VOA's bureau in Dakar.

About a third of the world's monkeys, apes and other primates are nearing extinction according the World Conservation Union's newest report. Four of the most endangered species listed in the report live in West and Central Africa - an area of endemic poverty and instability.

World Conservation Union senior researcher Simon Stuart says some of the region's primate population decline is a result of habitat destruction - often from logging. But, he says, the biggest threat to the monkeys and gorillas is poaching.

"The hunting pressure is extremely intense for any medium-sized to large mammal in the West Africa rain forest belt, extremely intense. So almost all species are going down very fast because of this," said Stuart.

Staurt says widespread poverty has led to an increase in poaching and trade in bushmeat.

"Animals are harvested from the rain forests and they are not now eaten locally, but are normally sold in the capital cities or in the capital cities of neighboring countries if higher prices are paid there," he added. "So this is now a fully commercialized trade."

Stuart says with the bushmeat market becoming more organized, more developed law enforcement measures are needed to crack down on sales - a challenge for poor countries with limited infrastructure and other development priorities.

"If you can poach a monkey and even if it is illegal the chances of getting caught are very low," said Stuart. "The chances of selling your dead monkey to somebody are very high, so you are going to do it."

Stuart says bushmeat may not be a reliable source of income for long. He says if trends continue, the region could run out of primates.

Research scientist with the German-based Max Planck Institute Peter Walsh has worked in conservation in countries across West and Central Africa.

He says political instability is also affecting primate populations. Many countries in West and Central Africa are recovering from civil wars, or are still embroiled in conflict.

"If there are mass movements of refugees then they tend to get into areas and hunt those areas out. On the other hand, sometimes to have surveillance ability helps because it prevents any kind of formal trafficking from going on," said Walsh.

Several rare mountain gorillas that live in war-torn rebel areas of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were shot this year, some execution style.

Walsh says even in politically stable countries where governments are making efforts to protect species, such as Ghana, they do not have the means to keep up with their decline.

"The problem now is that the rate at which they are making progress is much slower than the rate at which the animals are getting pushed toward extinction,"

Primates that made the highly endangered list included species of monkeys and apes from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Nigeria.