Sunday, November 19, 2006
This is what happens when you deny the reality of evolution. You end up eating your relatives.
The Demise of the Great Apes of Africa
The great apes of Africa are being pushed to extinction. Across the forest region of West and Central Africa commercial hunting, facilitated by western-owned logging operations in the area, has become the leading threat to the survival of many primates, including gorillas and chimpanzees. This is a wildlife crisis of huge proportion, with impacts on the Great Apes, African economies, ways of life, and human health.
In the utterly remote rain forest of central Africa large populations of lowland gorillas and chimpanzees have been shielded from outside disturbance since before the last Ice Age. In recent years however the drive to sell African rainforest hardwood has had a catastrophic side effect - the explosion of gorilla and chimpanzee hunting for what is known as "bushmeat'. This commerce, facilitated by new logging roads into the pristine forests of the Congo, is now a major wildlife crisis.
The depletion of west Africa's forests, where Europe traditionally bought its tropical hardwoods, has launched an influx of French, German and Middle Eastern logging companies into the more inaccessible forests of central Africa. At the same time, a regional economic crisis has only accelerated the timber boom: Local currency devaluations in the mid-1990s effectively halved the cost of hauling 800-year-old trees through hundreds of miles of forest to the parquet-flooring and furniture-making markets of Europe and Japan.
Strapped for cash because of slumping cacao exports, the central African governments have gratefully seized a multi-million dollar lifeline created by logging revenues. At the same time, the appetite for wild animal meat is strong in the teeming cities of central Africa. Forest animals including gorillas and chimpanzees, have been a staple of local villagers' diets for millennia, but Africa's swelling urban populations, nostalgic for village foods, have turned a subsistence activity into a burgeoning, multimillion-dollar industry.I learned that these people were not monstrous and selfish, purposely ignoring an environmental crisis and the suffering of a human-like endangered species; rather, they simply held a different worldview. Their views on the natural world represented a tight weave of fatalism, fundamental Christian beliefs and Animism. Generally people believed the natural world was able to replenish itself. It was God-given and well beyond human influence. People also did not see the environment or animals in finite terms. As one white-haired man put it This is the part of Africa with an abundance of forests and animals; eventually the trees grow back and the animals give birth. What most people were saying implied that people cannot affect the natural environment. A hunter put it this way. It's natural that animals are going to be eaten. People eat animals. Animals eat each other. That is the way things are. It really doesn't matter what we say or what laws we have. No one I interviewed saw the death of the great apes in moral terms, rather they saw animals as a God given food supply. As one hunter said: Gorillas are not people. Animals don't suffer the way people do. They are not the same as us. God has not given them reason and feelings. In reality, the expansion of human moral vision to include the great apes seems to occur only in Western culture, and even there is intermittent.
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