FREETOWN — Local wildlife experts in Sierra Leone on Thursday highlighted what they called a "grave threat to the chimps population" in the west African state.
At a meeting to develop a comprehensive conservation action plan for chimpanzees in the country, the office of the director-general of the ministry of agriculture warned that "the estimated 5,000 chimp population is under grave threat mainly due to the desire of local rural communities for bush meat."
"As the country stands today, chimps remain endangered in Sierra Leone despite a de facto ban on the possession, hunting and killing of chimpanzees for whatever reason," the ministry added in a statement.
Addressing the event, Director of Forestry Sheku Mansaray noted that "chimps are indicators of the health of the environment. Improper agricultural practices as well as threats from mining and logging are also impacting a toll on the chimps population."
The programme director of the Chimpanzee Conservation Sanctuary in Tacugama, Bala Amarasekaran, warned that "if the demand for bush meat continues, the chimp population will definitely dwindle.
"It will be a pity as we can use chimps as a flagship species for Sierra Leone."
Amarasekaran disclosed that an international conference on the viability of population habitats for chimpanzees will be held in Sierra Leone in January 2011.
According to a National Chimpanzee Census released in August, some 252 out of 507 communities in the country said "they would eat chimpanzee meat if it is available."
"Some reported eating the meat for (untested) medical reasons (such as cures for river blindness and tuberculosis) while others reported killing chimps to protect their farmlands," the survey said.
Bushmeat is traditional to many Sierra Leoneans who eat antelopes, deer and squirrels, but customs border officers told AFP that chimpanzee meat makes up a large percentage of bush meat smuggled frequently across the border to neighbouring Guinea and Liberia where it fetches high prices.
"We normally intercept a good quality of chimp meat, but others make their way through illegal spots," one custom officer, Ibrahim Kamara, said.
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