Poaching has plagued chimpanzees and gorillas in Cameroon for decades - the animals were eaten as bush meat, putting the ape populations under pressure as the number of rural Cameroonians grew. And now a new threat has emerged, reports Al Jazeera: a heretofore unknown trade in great ape body parts.
"What we are seeing increasingly is that poachers are recovering the heads and limbs of chimps and gorillas and leaving the bodies behind to rot," said Eric Kaba Tah, a director of Cameroon's Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA). Over the last four months, 22 wildlife traffickers were caught with nearly 60 ape heads, LAGA reports. Why the demand for these body parts is increasing is not clear, according to Al Jazeera, but a wildlife official said they may be used in "mystical practices."
Illegal trade of bushmeat and live great apes is not new. But today's traffickers are well-funded, with reports of organized crime networks entering the wildlife trade - a market estimated to be worth $19 billion.
Cameroon and other African nations, with the help of organizations like LAGA, are working to track down and convict poachers. In November, a poacher who had killed an orphaned chimpanzee in Cameroon was caught and now awaits prosecution. And groups such as the African Wildlife Foundation and the International Anti-Poaching Foundation are also tackling wildlife poaching.
But the battle against the illegal ape trade will be long and difficult. The founder of Eco-Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement, Ofir Drori, told Al Jazeera that corruption and complacency allow the illegal ape trade to thrive. "These are the real enemies we fight. What drives the extinction of our closest relatives is greed."
This post has been updated to include additional anti-poaching efforts.