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Hunting of wildlife has caused significant declines in large mammal populations in West Africa (see, for example, Brashares et al. 2004; Gonedelé et al. 2010), a pattern that extends to chimpanzees. One of the most cited causes of chimpanzee decline is poaching, even though the killing of great apes is outlawed in all range states. Poaching can be broken down into a number of types according to the motivation behind it or context in which a great ape is killed.


© Maegan Fitzgerald

Bushmeat poaching

Chimpanzees are killed predominantly for their meat. They typically make up a small proportion of bushmeat sold (chimpanzee carcasses constituted 1–3% of bushmeat sold in urban markets in Côte d’Ivoire; however, approximately 3.5% of the Ivorian chimpanzee population is poached annually for the bushmeat trade. A complex web of factors promotes chimpanzee poaching, highlighting the pervasive nature of the problem. For example, Junker et al. (2015a) found that evidence of hunting in Liberian forests was likely to be recorded further away from human settlements, but closer to markets. Ultimately, distance to markets was the strongest anthropogenic negative predictor of chimpanzee abundance (ibid.). This correlation was mirrored in Guinea (Boesch et al. 2017b).

Poaching extends into PAs. Greengrass (2016), for example, found that 90% of chimpanzees poached from Sapo National Park were sent directly to urban markets, and that hunting pressure increased when remote areas became connected to a commercial network, resulting in subsequent declines in wildlife abundance. Poaching and trade of bushmeat are often facilitated by industrial logging, and other types of resource extraction and infrastructure development, which make previously remote areas more accessible to hunters and transport to markets easier (see, for example, Kormos et al. 2003b; White & Fa 2014).


© Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Approximately 3.5% of the Ivorian chimpanzee population is poached annually for the bushmeat trade.

Bushmeat poaching
Superstitious reasons
Retaliatory killing

Killing for
superstitious reasons

The use of chimpanzee body parts for superstitious practices is often a by-product of killing to obtain meat; however, chimpanzees are sometimes killed specifically for traditional ceremonies or animistic practices (Hanson-Alp et al. 2003; Sousa et al. 2017).

Retaliatory killing

Great apes are killed over real or perceived competition with humans for natural resources. Retribution killings may follow crop-foraging or people being injured. Illegal killing is exacerbated when natural habitat is cleared or converted to other land uses, and these situations may fuel a live trade in infants.

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© Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection

Live Capture

Capturing live chimpanzees, which is in itself illegal, almost always involves the killing of conspecifics, as taking an infant necessitates killing the mother. The capture of orphaned chimpanzee infants is usually opportunistic and associated with poaching for bushmeat. It is also a secondary effect of habitat loss and negative human-wildlife interactions.

The true scale of live capture and trade is unknown due to the clandestine nature of illegal trafficking, which has become associated with organised crime, such as drug smuggling, and is therefore difficult to detect and monitor. While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is intended to prohibit all commercial trade in chimpanzees, traffickers continue to abuse and evade laws. In West Africa, traffickers can easily travel with smuggled orphans to neighbouring countries through land borders and seaports where enforcement is weak or lacking. Although considerable efforts to improve law enforcement in recent years have been made, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) sanctuaries in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone report a persistent influx in orphaned chimpanzees to their facilities, while new facilities in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia have also witnessed high numbers of arrivals.

Live capture
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