Tuesday, July 23, 2002

APES FOR SALE

In alleyways and airports, Nigeria's wildlife traffickers sell off Africa's endangered apes
Tue Jul 23,10:06 PM ET
By GLENN McKENZIE, Associated Press Writer

CALABAR, Nigeria - Milk bottles at the ready, Irene Okon Edem cradles two wide-eyed orphans in her arms while a third hangs precociously on her neck.

"Stop it," the 23-year-old Nigerian gently scolds one of them, named Buster, who then bites his lip and tugs her hair mischievously.

Buster is a chimpanzee, delivered in April to Edem and fellow workers at the Drill Ranch, a private, American-run primate sanctuary in Nigeria, which conservationists say is one of the world's most flagrant illegal markets for Africa's endangered apes.

A woman had bought Buster out of pity, rescuing the baby chimp from smugglers. Other primates have turned up at the Drill Ranch in the eastern Nigerian city of Calabar with cigarette burns or shotgun wounds.

Looking for an illegal, exotic pet? Go no farther than the Musa Yar A'Adua Center, a marble memorial in the capital to honor a past junta figure.

Animal traders set up shop in a scrubby field across the street. Affluent customers choose among endangered apes and other animals captured in the wild, seeking trophies for public and private zoos worldwide....

"Some people say it should be acceptable in Nigeria to hunt these animals to eat or sell, but that was in the past. Now they are disappearing into extinction," Edem tells them.

She admits it is hard to persuade poor people to "love monkeys when they see orphaned children not getting any care."

Bassey, the Nigerian conservation official, says folk tales of hunters battling chimpanzees with makeshift swords have fostered a perception among villagers that primates are "the enemy of humanity."

However, Bassey says, even some hunters change their minds when they see drills or chimpanzees nursing their young, and vow never to hunt the animals again.

"When you see chimp babies at their mothers' breasts, you relate to them as social beings," he says. "Wildlife is not just about jungle life."

On the Net:
Convention on Trade of Endangered Species
United Nations Environment Program Great Apes Survival Project
Nigeria Conservation Foundation