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The great apes of Africa are under renewed threat as a result of an explosion in the bushmeat trade fuelled by the logging practice of European companies , according to a report published today by the Ape Alliance, an unprecedented coalition of leading conservation and animal welfare groups.

The report, 'The African Bushmeat Trade - A Recipe for Extinction', reveals the widespread nature of the rampant and largely illegal trade in bushmeat which has now developed into a major commercial activity, threatening the survival of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees). Many other species are also threatened, including the giant pangolin, forest elephant and dwarf crocodile. The extent of this conservation crisis is exemplified in Congo where 15,000 animal carcasses, including 293 chimpanzees, were counted at bushmeat markets in Brazzaville. One estimate in the north of the country is that up to 600 lowland gorillas are killed each year to feed the trade.

The report finds that the rapidly growing timber industry, which has been dominated by European companies, has been a major factor in facilitating the bushmeat trade. Ignoring the warnings of conservationists, timber companies have not only destroyed ape habitat (45% of forest cover in Africa has already been lost and 95% of the remainder is unprotected), but logging activity has opened up their last remaining refuges to human encroachment and commercial hunting.

"All four species of great ape are in desperate trouble," said Jane Goodall, the world's leading authority on chimpanzees. "It is my firm belief that if action is not taken now, there will be no viable populations of great apes living in the wild within 50 years."

The report also cites evidence which directly implicates European timber companies in the trade. Loggers supplement their income by hunting wild animals with traps and shotguns and using logging trucks to transport them from the forest to urban bushmeat markets. In Gabon it has been estimated that 20,000 chimpanzees have been wiped out as a result of the logging.

The increased activity of Asian logging companies in this region with even worse conservation records than their European competitors, threatens to exacerbate the crisis. Another threat which the trade presents is the increased risk of transmission of dangerous diseases to humans, including the deadly ebola virus.

The Ape Alliance is asking all retailers and consumers of timber to ensure that they only buy timber and timber products from forests which have been independently certified as environmentally responsible, for example by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Consumers can identify these products by looking for the FSC logo. It is also seeking the independent certification of forest timber concessions of central and west Africa by bodies such as the FSC which would ensure that wildlife and indigenous peoples are not threatened by logging. In the meantime, the Ape Alliance has asked the timber companies to adopt a bushmeat code of conduct to end the slaughter of apes and is calling on the European Union to encourage all European timber companies operating in Africa to adopt this code.

"The commercial bushmeat trade is out of control," said Ian Redmond, Chairman of the Ape Alliance. "At the very least, timber companies must ensure that their workers obey the law. It doesn't seem a lot to ask," he added. The bushmeat trade is the trade in wild animal meat for human consumption. European logging companies implicated in the trade in bushmeat include: SIBAF - Societe Industrielle de Bois en Afrique, a subsidiary of the French owned company SCAC, based in Douala, Cameroon; and CIB - Societe Congolaise Industrielle du Bois, a subsidiary of Hinrich Feldmeyer, a German company.

The Ape Alliance is an unprecedented coalition of 34 international organisations and ape specialists taking action to save the great apes, the chimpanzee, gorilla, bonobo and orang-utan. The coalition includes: Born Free Foundation, Bristol Zoo Gardens, Bushmeat Project, Cameroon Wildlife Aid Foundation, Care for the Wild, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Fauna & Flora International, Friends of Conservation, Forest Monitor, Great Ape Project, Howletts & Port Lympne Foundation, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, International Primate Protection League, Jane Goodall Institute, Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, Jonathan Kingdom, Monkey World, Orangutan Foundation, PACE, Primate Society of Great Britain, Primate TAG, Ian Redmond, RSPCA, Tusk Force, Dr Robert Hubrecht of UFAW, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), World Wide Fund for Nature - UK & International.

For more information, including copies of the report, broadcast quality footage and colour transparencies, please contact: UK: Jonathan Owen, World Society for the Protection of Animals, Tel. 0171 793 0540 Mobile 0467 234689

Press Conference: The Ape Alliance press conference was on 26th February 1998 at The Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1. Speakers included: Jane Goodall, Ian Redmond and Karl Ammann.

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