We’ve spent the day on a series of media interviews with Rachel Hogan, manager of Ape Action Africa, who’s usually at the coalface of rescuing primates from the bushmeat trade in West Africa.
Ape Action Africa is our chosen charity, for which we work pro bono, and possibly the most worthy cause I have come across.
Rachel manages the 1,044 hectare Mefou National Park ape sanctuary in Cameroon on behalf of Ape Action Africa, which works closely with, and has its base at, Bristol Zoo Gardens. The charity also receives support from the zoo, which also regularly sends veterinary, education or zoo keeper staff to the Park to lend their expertise and support.
Rachel’s giving a talk at the zoo tonight, entitled ‘My life with gorillas’ – it’s the last in a series of events at the zoo this year in support of the worldwide ‘Year of the Gorilla’ campaign.
“Although we live with it on a daily basis, it’s still shocking to see a badly traumatised baby gorilla or chimp arrive needing urgent medical attention,” says Rachel. “We’ll make room for these animals, despite the growing pressure on our resources.”
With fewer than 150,000 Lowland gorillas estimated to be living in the wild and with a marked decline in the numbers of chimps and other monkeys, Ape Action Africa is providing hands-on protection for primates.
Supported by the Cameroon government and managed by Ape Action Africa, the protected zone in Mefou Forest is an hour from the capital Yaounde. It has large natural habitat areas, enclosed by electric fences, for its 18 gorillas, 93 chimps and 150 monkeys.
Employing African keepers, and trading with the local community for food and other commodities, the Mefou Forest site is an important economic and educational resource for the area.
Rachel, who has featured in the hit fly-on-the-wall documentary ‘Going Ape’, is clear. “If we don’t hold the line for these animals in their own environment, we will lose them forever in the wild. And that’s what we’re doing day in, day out. Trying to make a difference.”
Gorilla meat is considered a delicacy by some Africans, and wealthy individuals all over Africa and around the world, including in the UK, send cash, guns and ammunition to poachers to get it for them.
Amazingly commercial, the bushmeat trade in West Africa is responsible for the horrific deaths of hundreds of thousands of endangered animals every year, as poachers hitch a ride on the back of logging lorries, which are penetrating deeper and deeper into the virgin forest.
Adult gorillas and chimps are slaughtered and smoked to reduce the chance of identification (killing a Great Ape is illegal in Cameroon). The babies, however, are too small to be useful for meat, so the bullets aren’t wasted – the poachers attempt to sell the orphans into the pet trade. Many die of stress, hunger, neglect and disease.
The bushmeat trade is also responsible for the distribution of killer viruses that bridge the species gap into humans and threaten our species, including Aids-related HTLV3 and HTLV4, which originated in large primates in Cameroon.
The battle is being fought on many fronts – clamping down on poachers, confiscating bushmeat and weapons, rehabilitating the orphans and educating local children who could one day be tempted to become part of the problem.
So, what can we do? Here are a few simple things…
- Reduce the demand for unsustainable wood by checking for the FSC logo when buying any wood or wood products. If it’s not there, it’s not sustainable.
- Join the Ape Action Africa Facebook group
- Report any indication of involvement in the bushmeat or pet trade.
- Adopt an ape for Christmas
- Follow in the footsteps of Prince Edward, Will Young and Nicky at Mendip Media and visit Mefou to volunteer.
- And of course, email the website to friends and donate to keep the sanctuary open.