BUTCHERED IN AFRICA…..
ON SALE IN BRITAIN
The ‘bushmeat’ trade is sickening –
and now experts fear it is spreading a new Aids-like killer
virus. Special Report by Sue Reid
The chimpanzee stretches out a hand as though
begging for life, as the hunters corner her in the remote
Cameroon rainforest. One blast from the powerful shotgun and
it’s all over. The animal is butchered where she falls
and bungled unceremoniously into a canvas bag.
Within days, her bloodied, dismembered body
will be smuggled across the world to be sold illegally from
the back of a white van parked in a London back street. The
foetus she carried will be smoked before appearing on the
menu of a West African restaurant in Brussels. The price of
feasting on the unborn chimp? At least £150.
Monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees are now
considered such a delicacy that a single ape steak sells for
more than £20on the thriving and secretive bushmeat
black markets of Hackney, Brixton, Newcastle and Nottingham.
Recently, I heard of bushmeat being sold
outside a church used by African expatriates in one Midlands
town. The trade set up a stall to catch the worshippers as
they left the early evening service. In the course of half
an hour, hundreds of £10 notes were handed over in exchange
for six-inch by six-inch packages of meat wrapped in clingfilm
and said to contain the body parts of Ghanaian monkeys and
an African rat called the grasscutter. The queue of eager
shoppers wound down the road and round the corner.
Thousands of pounds worth of bushmeat is
secretly coming into this country every year. Clive Lawrence,
a 49 year old food logistics expert and former consultant
at Heathrow Airport, told the Mail. ‘I have watched
the couriers come off the planes from Africa, walk into Terminal
Three and pick up their suitcases full of raw or smoked animals
from the bush. Sometimes there is blood leaking from their
cases on to the carousels. This is organised crime. It is
no different to the drugs trade. The monkey, the gorilla,
the chimp, or the baboon will end up on the dinner table of
someone with money. Yet the consequences to human health are
The horrific dangers of the bushmeat trade
have been placed in sharp focus by the discovery that a virus
similar to HIV, the cause of Aids, has already jumped species
from apes to humans.
Dr Glyn Davies, director of conservation
at the London Zoological Society, has confirmed the new virus
has been found in the pygmy hunters of Cameroon, who kill,
butcher and eat wild apes. The hunters, who have been isolated
in the jungle, for thousands of years, are now integrating
into the towns of 21st-century Africa with all the modern
temptations that brings – including promiscuity and
prostitution. As a result, many experts believe it will only
be a matter of time before the new virus infects the urban
population of Africa and then the rest of the world –
just as HIV did. No one knows what lies ahead, but the consequences
are potentially catastrophic.
Dr Nathan Wolfe, professor of public health
at America’s prestigious Johns Hopkins University, who
led the team of scientists that made the discovery, explained:
‘We have found a retro-virus which is the same family
as HIV in a number of the hunters. This is an area of the
world that HIV came from and bushmeat is the most likely source
of HIV in the human population’. The Cameroon discovery
does indeed have chilling echoes of the past. It is believed
that HIV emerged in this part of the world in the early part
of the last century and crossed from ape to pygmy hunter as
he butchered or ate chimpanzee meat. Over time, HIV adapted
to its human host and then spread through sexual contact –
slowly at first and then faster as Africa opened up and transport
improved, triggering the global pandemic of today.
This apocalyptic message must be taken seriously
‘We know that retro-viruses have the
potential to spread globally because that is what happened
to the HIV virus’, says Wolfe. What we don’t know
is whether the new virus can do that. But we fail to examine
this issue at our peril’. Dr Wolfe’s message is
apocalyptic. And it must be taken seriously, for it comes
after years of extensive research. The scientists examined
the blood of more than 1,000 pygmy hunters to find that most
are infected by the Simian Foamy Virus (SFV).
Humans are believed to contract the virus by exposure to the
blood and body fluids of wild apes while killing and butchering
them – or by eating them.
So it follows that the virus is almost certainly
present in the illegal bushmeat being sold in Britain. No
one knows what the long term effect of the virus is on human
health, but the potential danger is here. Now.
To put this finding in perspective, we must
go back and examine what is fuelling the booming bushmeat
trade in Africa and the cities of Europe. In the last century
the world population of primates, the closest biological relatives
of man, has been reduced by 90 per cent from, two-and-a-half
million to just 250,000, because of hunting by humans. Gorillas
and chimpanzees, a favourite for the bushmeat cooking pot,
face extinction within a decade. Conservationists say that
10 per cent of the planet’s 608 primate species are
now in danger of being wiped out completely.
‘If the levels of hunting are allowed
to continue, man will literally eat the Great Apes of Africa
to extinction’ says Jonathan Owen, of the London based
World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)
Only a year ago the disappearance of a species of primate
during the past 100 years was reported when the last Miss
Waldron’s red colobus monkey – traditionally hunted
for its distinctively-flavoured meat – died in West
Africa. Nowhere does the scale of baboon, gorilla and chimpanzee
meat take place more openly than on the dusty, dirty streets
of impoverished Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.
Every day a train from the forests arrives
at the city’s main terminal and the trader’s jump
out with their bags containing ape, monkey, porcupine and
elephant meat, and even the odd panther. There is no shortage
of takers. Four smoked monkeys sell for £2.50. A couple
of baby gorillas will fetch £100; their severed hands
are on offer for £1 each – the weekly wage of
many in Cameroon – and are considered a particular culinary
One conservationist told the Mail that he
recently saw the body of a freshly slaughtered baboon being
traded in the Yaounde backstreets. It was sold for little
more than £40. In most African countries, the killing
and selling of chimpanzees or gorillas for food is illegal.
But many public health and wildlife officials turn a blind
eye to a trade that is reaping poverty-stricken citizens a
fortune. Gorilla is the most popular meat because of its sweetness.
It is often turned in pepe soup, a hot chilli concoction that
is believed by many Africans to make the drinker more agile
and cunning. Chimpanzee has a distinctively strong smell,
but still sells well. The apes that are not bartered here
and in other towns in Cameroon are sold by the hunters to
shadowy middlemen who send them overseas to Britain and the
rest of Europe.
In recent years the trade in bushmeat has
grown exponentially as the great wild forests of Africa have
become more accessible to humans – largely due to the
logging industry, which is opening up large tracts with dirt
roadways. The pygmy hunters, once isolated from the outside
world, are now a common sight on the outskirts of towns. So
are the trucks carrying the bushmeat from the pigmies’
hunting grounds to the busy market places.
‘Not only is the logging destroying
the forests were the Great Apes lived, but it is also creating
a huge market for bushmeat’, explains Mr Owen of WSPA.
‘Once a pygmy hunter would return with just enough food
for his family. Now he is killing to sell and make a living,
helped by the loggers’ new roads linking the densest
part of the jungle and local towns’. His views are endorsed
by Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation, an international
wildlife charity. He insists that the commercial bushmeat
industry, once confined to Central and Western Africa, is
becoming commonplace, even in East African countries such
Wild animal flesh can be bought all over
‘The widespread consumption of bushmeat is having dire
consequences for wildlife in Kenya’, he said. ‘But
there are health issues too. The transmission of diseases
such as the deadly ebola virus is closely linked to the butchering
and eating of the continents apes’.
Only last year the House of Commons environment,
health and foreign affairs select committees were warned by
one zoologist that ebola could reach Britain from Africa because
of the sale of bushmeat here. The virus, which kills up to
80 per cent of humans it infects, can survive even in an animal
corpse. The disease has reached epidemic proportions among
chimpanzee and gorilla populations in Gabon and the Republic
of Congo. Within a year it is expected to reach the apes of
Cameroon. Like SFV, ebola is transmitted to humans who eat
poorly cooked bushmeat, via their stomach membranes. It can
also be contracted by hunters from the blood or bodily fluids
during the slaughter and butchering of wild animals.
Urbanised Africans buy ape meat as a reminder
of their cultural identity and because they like the taste
better than the cheaper chicken, beef or lamb on offer. The
same reasons prompt the ethnic communities of London, Paris
and Brussels, to seek out bushmeat for their tables.
No one knows this better than Richard Robinson,
head of environmental health in Hackney, London, where illicitly
imported bushmeat has been discovered on sale in the shops
and stalls of the borough’s Ridley Road street market.
He says the flesh of the wild animals can also be bought all
‘When we started investigating, we
found bushmeat for sale at almost every West African shop
in Hackney. Now the trade has disappeared underground. We
know it’s still going on, but it has been pushed behind
the counter’, he explained recently.
The Mail sent an undercover reporter from
West Africa onto the streets of North and South London to
find bushmeat. He went from shop to shop for a day, but was
told there was none officially on sale. ‘We used to
sell it, but now the inspectors come calling’, said
on African shopowner in Haringay, North London. ‘It
doesn’t sell this way any more..although you can get
it if you know how,’ she confided.
Earlier this year a London woman was jailed
for three months for a series of offences arising from the
illegal sale of bushmeat in Tottenham, North London. A spot
check by customs officers on a flight from Nigeria recently
uncovered six dried monkey carcasses. At Felixstowe, the biggest
container port in Britain, one illegal consignment of bushmeat
is discovered every week. One container said to contain crisps
was found by a sharp eyed customs officer to be full of wild
The Mail has also been told that bushmeat
is carried in passengers’ suitcases on every single
flight coming into Heathrow from the capitals of Ghana, Nigeria
and Kenya. In addition, professional couriers have been seen
walking through customs to pick u their bags full of meat
in the arrival’s hall, before gathering at a meeting
point in the terminal car park. ‘They quickly throw
their bags of bushmeat into a van waiting there,’ one
airport works told me. ‘It is taken away to be sold
in the markets of London and other British cities. Then the
couriers simply disappear into the crowds.’
Howard Jonas is general manager of Vetspeed,
an animal waste management company hired by environmental
health departments to get rid of illegal bushmeat seized in
this country. In that past year he has been working in Exeter,
Northampton, Bradford and Luton. On average, he gets two calls
for help every month. So what are the consequences for Britain
of this vile trade? Could a human epidemic similar to Aids
be provoked by the SFC so prevalent in apes and now passed
to their pygmy hunters?
Elliot Morely, the Government’s environment
minister, has insisted that, as yet, there is no evidence
of viruses coming into Britain through bushmeat. ‘But
we do realise there is a potential risk to humans,’
he has said. ‘We must be on our guard.’ But will
being on guard really be enough to stop what could develop
into an epidemic? Clive Lawrence, with years of experience
at Heathrow Airport, thinks not. He believes that political
correctness, and the fear of offending our black communities
is stopping action against the imports of wild ape meat secretly
destined for the dinner tables of our ethnic minority areas.
Only last week, the government’s Health
Protection Agency warned that last year’s 7,000 new
cases of HIV in Britain were largely among immigrants, including
those from sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people globally
infected with HIV or suffering from Aids is put at 40 million.
Could the SFV virus cause such a catastrophic plague in the
No one knows, but we would do well to remember
that the apes are our closest relatives in the animal world
and our genetic make-up is very similar. It is this fact that
makes the transmission of viruses from them to us more likely.
These animals will laugh if you tickle them
A chimpanzee, which shares 98.6 per cent
of our genes, will display the same maternal instincts as
a human mother. These animals laugh if you tickle them. They
will cry if they are unhappy. ‘When hunters drag the
babies off their dead mothers, you can see the obvious grief
in those babies’ faces. The agony they endure is no
different to what a human would suffer,’ one zoologist,
who has worked in Cameroon told the Mail.
Even more heartbreaking is how a chimpanzee
acts when faced with the barrel of a gun. Hunters report that
the ape often adopts a pleading expression and holds out its
paw to the killers.
Tragically for the animal – and perhaps
for all mankind – the bushmeat hunters of Africa take
no notice at all.
Article courtsey of the Daily