thursday 23 april
I spent the last several days up in the transboundary area near Korup NP, where the Cameroon/Nigeria border is a leafy line in the forest, and where much more time than I originally planned was consumed by the bushmeat trade. That area is a non-stop flood of hunted meat traveling through villages, along rainforest roads, and especially across the border into Nigeria, where literally everything killed will fetch 30% more profit. I managed to actually get a price list of sorts on the going Cameroonian-side prices for a variety of bushmeat; the most interesting number was for chimps which was discovered later at my request by a German researcher who got it from one of his village helpers. Chimp goes for 25-30K cfa (about $40-50 US) for the meat and 30K (but as high as 50K I have been told) for the head and hands separate; The sale of the parts is most often going to Nigeria and then on to Chinese buyers. The Chinese are eagerly consuming many other specific tropical animal parts such as, hornbill casques and eagle feathers, talons and beaks.
Another fascinating twist in the spillover from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been in the slang naming of things. I was working in a small farmer palm oil farm near the village of Fabe and the Korup NP — the area is still largely virgin tropical rainforest (infamous as the site of the Herakles Farms palm oil land grab debacle.) While in the palms filming a bushmeat hunter, older man of 50-ish years, clad in dark blue tattered pants and shirt, and knee-high rubber boots came walking through. Over his shoulder was slung a gun of WWI looking vintage, its barrel thick and over-sized, deep charcoal color, and warn smooth on the outside by decades of hands. The wooden stock had the kind of patina an antique dealer in Manhattan would lust for. The stock and barrel were wound tightly as one by thinly shredded strips of rubber tire.
As he approached I greeted him and he ask if I remembered him — should I? In fact we had met the evening before, in the dark, sharing beers with several others from the village of Fabe — his night vision was obviously superior to mine. With the gun slung over his should clearly he had been hunting, something that everyone here does, but are extremely hesitant to speak to strangers about, “Was hunting good?” Apparently beers in the dark had washed away the stranger from our relationship and he said yes, an “ehbulla” Thinking I was clueless on my Cameroonian pigeon I said, “a what”… chewing vigorously on a mouthful of palm nut he said, “monkey.” And proceeded to un-wrap a freshly killed, freshly lactating female red-tailed guenon, a rather delicate canopy-dwelling rainforest monkey. It was all quite matter of fact. I asked if there were more, “yes, many” in garbled tone, still chewing the palm nut. A big group was left in the trees, “many, many, twenty, many”, meals for future days. I asked if was going hunting again tonight and he said no, “just once this week” he needed to work his cocoa farm. Like many of these older hunters he is a farmer first and subsistence hunter second.
I found out monkeys—the range of smaller primates, mangabey, guenon, etc. are now referred to as “ehbulla” or Ebola. Despite the warning obviously reaching the villages that bushmeat can carry infectious diseases like Ebola, it hasn’t changed the eating dynamic, at least on the front line. The fear, and health education, has filtered into markets of larger villages and cities where I have been told eating of primates, including chimps has taken a down turn. For other bushmeat the pressure has only increased. While this old man was hunting subsistently, there is a booming trade between this area of Cameroon and Nigeria, nearly all of it filters past road police, ecoguards, and local officials, facilitated by small 1000 and 2000 cfa note bribes. I don’t have to be a clairvoyant to look many years into the future to see Cameroonian forests silent of mammals — I just have to look at the growing refugee camps run by Ape Action Africa and Limbe Wildlife Center.
2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo