Chimpanzee meat allegedly being sold in the Midlands

Posted on March 1, 2011


The bushmeat trade in Europe made the headlines in June after researchers revealed that more than 270 tonnes pass through Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris a year. The study published in the journal, Conservation Letters, was the first of its kind.

Now there’s growing concern that chimpanzee meat is allegedly being sold in underground bushmeat markets in the Midlands in the UK. According to one national newspaper, it says trading standards officers found meat from the endangered species whilst testing samples seized from market sellers.


A Government whistle-blower who spoke to the paper said: ‘It is well-known this practice is underway in the region but I was shocked to discover the meat that was tested was once a chimpanzee.

‘Dubious meat is often tested, and has turned out to be things like rats and vermin in the past – but chimpanzee is unbelievable.’

In Africa, the forest is often referred to as ‘the bush’, so any wildlife and meat derived from it is referred to as ‘bushmeat’ this can include  antelope, porcupines, rodents, bushpigs etc. Primates only make up one per cent of the bush meat trade, but because of their slow reproductive rates, hunting them for food can have a devastating impact on their populations and this is especially so for the great ape species. There used to be more than  two million chimpanzees in Africa, now there is thought to be only around 200,000.

Dr Richard ­Thomas of Traffic International, which monitors the import and export of wild plants and animals said: “The UK is not known to be a major destination for such trade but as this case illustrates, occasionally great ape meat is discovered here. Obviously importation of any meat into the UK outside of the quarantine system has the potential to introduce pathogens and poses a health risk.”

It is not known how the alleged bushmeat arrived in the Midlands, but some experts say it was probably flown into the country from Africa, possibly concealed in personal luggage. Bribery in Africa is commonplace and wildlife is not considered an important environmental issue.

Bushmeat, depending on the animal, can cost more than £20 a kilogram, that is near enough the same price as sirloin according to the Northerner. People who eat this meat usually order it because it’s seen as a delicacy and it’s normally the wealthy elite. The trade is part of a lucrative black market that experts describe as ‘rife’ in Europe.

Dr Marcus Rowcliffe, research fellow at the Zoological Society of London and co-author of the study in June into bushmeat said: “I’m not at all surprised that bush meat is on sale in the Midlands because we know the trade is going on in the UK and that there is a regular flow of smuggled meat into the country.

“However, it is not often that chimpanzee is found as that is rare even in the markets of Africa, so I am surprised by that.”

Dr Rowcliffe added that bushmeat products were not just imported for consumption but also for medicinal purposes or as status symbols, signifying luxury and wealth.

The risk of  contracting some infectious and fatal diseases from eating bush meat if high and on the menu is foot-and-mouth, anthrax, the Ebola virus, TB or cholera.

“Most Ebola outbreaks in human populations have been traced back to bushmeat consumption, in most cases the great ape, so it is a very serious and very real threat,” says David Greer of the WWF.

“While poaching is largely carried out by local community hunters there is a network of dealers and traffickers, often highly placed, which is behind the large-scale commercial trade of endangered species in capital cities such as Brazzaville and Kinshasa in Congo.

“The biggest threat to wildlife populations in Central Africa is impunity,” he adds. “Since the wildlife laws are rarely respected or applied there is no fear of hunting protected or endangered species. Until this happens and a deterrent is created, this trend will continue until the crisis reaches an irreversible estate.”

According to the Bushmeat Crisis Taskforce an organisation made up of conservation charities and experts – commercial, illegal and unsustainable hunting of bushmeat  is causing widespread local extinctions in Asia and West Africa. It is a crisis because of rapid expansion to countries and species which were previously not at risk. This has been fuelled by an increase in commercial logging, with an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers.

The trade in bushmeat has become big business and although accurate figures are difficult to find, it is estimated that the international trade in wild animal products has a value of billions of pounds.