People eat elephant meat

Elephants are increasingly being poached for their meat

Nairobi - When international animal rights activists talk about elephants, ivory is the central topic - as it is now at the Hague Conference on the Washington Convention on Species Protection (CITES). But the forest elephants of Central Africa are mainly targeted by poachers because of their meat. The longer the governments watch this goings-on, the more the Central African forest elephant is threatened with extinction, as the Swiss wildlife photographer Karl Ammann emphasizes.

Accompanied by an AP journalist and a reporter for the "Rundschau" program on Swiss television, Ammann documented how elephant meat is smuggled and traded on the border between the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Central Africa, a poacher receives the equivalent of 130 euros for the tusks of an elephant, but up to 4,450 euros for the meat.

This is smoked in the bush on wooden grids for a whole day, giving it a charred crust before it is brought to the local markets. In the Central African capital Bangui, almost ten euros are paid for a kilogram of smoked elephant meat - more than any other meat, including beef and pork. A poacher receives around 22 euros for one kilogram of ivory.

Ivory is just a by-product

"The poaching of elephants in the forests of Central Africa is primarily aimed at meat, while ivory has become a by-product," says wildlife photographer, economist and conservation activist Ammann. Poaching is also more widespread here than in the south and east of Africa.

The forest elephants in Central Africa are smaller and darker than their conspecifics in the savannas in the south and east. Their tusks are less curved and their ears are more oval in shape. The forest elephants are widespread from Guinea to Uganda, but are mainly concentrated in the Congo Basin. They live in small groups in the dense rainforest. Experts estimated the population in the Congo Basin in 1989 at around 172,000 animals. A study published last April concluded that a combination of poaching and other human disturbance has had a lasting impact on numbers and prevalence since then.

Social background

Poverty and wars shape the region of the Congo Basin. The average income of a resident is around 70 cents a day. The people who live in the forests are so poor that they don't have time to think about conservation, as Andrea Turkalo, a researcher in Dzanga Sanga National Park, emphasizes: "This country is not in a position to have health facilities to lead, it cannot raise its children. How can one expect people to look after species protection? "

The creation of Dzanga Sanga National Park and the ban on elephant hunting have resulted in its people now having less meat to eat, says Gabriel Mabele, head of the village of Mosapula. But they still wanted elephant meat. Therefore the hunt will go on. Park guard Omer Kokamenko also observes that elephants are mainly hunted for their meat.

Governments involved

The concentration of international species protection committees on the ivory trade overlooks the larger problem of the meat trade, emphasizes Ammann. He found that officials in the Central African Republic and the Congo collected duties on the illegal bushmeat trade. As long as the governments do nothing about it, the elephant population remains threatened with extinction.

The trade in elephant meat is so profitable that government officials are also behind the organized poaching, reports Desire Loa, a former park guard and today's poacher. The officers hired pygmies and equipped them with rifles. If you get caught, you go to jail for one night. "Then they give you your rifle back and say: go back to work!" (AP)