Afrol News, 1 July - More than five tonnes of illegal bushmeat is being smuggled in personal luggage each week through the Paris airport alone. Most bushmeat comes from Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Congo Kinshasa (DRC).
The scale of Central African bushmeat smuggled to Europe is revealed in a new study published in the journal 'Conservation Letters' in June. This study quantifies for the first time the illegal trade of bushmeat through a European airport.
Working alongside customs officials at France's Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, British and French researchers identified eleven bushmeat species from confiscated luggage, including species of primate, crocodiles and pangolins.
134 passengers were searched from 29 flights over a period of 17 days. The single largest confiscation was of 51 kg of bushmeat carried by a single passenger with no other luggage.
"Our results estimate that around 270 tonnes of potentially contaminated illegal bushmeat is passing unchecked through a single European airport per year, posing a huge potential risk to public health," says Anne-Lise Chaber, from the UK Royal Veterinary College (RVC).
The Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were identified as the main sources of bushmeat. The researchers spoke with three traders in Paris revealing that, as well as street trading, traders take orders in advance and arrange delivery of the goods to the customer.
Marcus Rowcliffe from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) says that the study had shown that "this is a lucrative, organised trade feeding into a luxury market; a 4kg monkey will cost around € 100 in France, compared with just € 5 in Cameroon."
"Importing bushmeat is relatively easy as customs officials are given no financial incentives to uncover illegal meat imports, compared with the bonuses they are awarded for drug and counterfeit seizures. Also, penalties are very low for people caught carrying illegal meat," Mr Rowcliffe added.
39 percent of the confiscated bushmeat was identified to stem from animals being listed as threatened species, "highlighting the unsustainable nature of the trade and its potential impact on species of conservation concern," according to the researchers.
In addition to wildlife conservation concerns, the illegal trade of such large quantities of bushmeat was raising "serious questions" about the importation of dangerous diseases into Europe.
"Surveillance methods need to be more robust and deterrents more severe if we are to have any chance of halting this illegal trade," says Andrew Cunningham, from ZSL.
Compared to the bushmeat trade in Central Africa, the meat smuggled to Europe however still is minimal. Researchers estimate that the current harvest of bushmeat in Central Africa is more than 1 million tonnes annually, the equivalent of almost 4 million cattle.
But this first-ever study of the volume and nature of the international bushmeat trade has triggered the interest. The French and British researchers now wish to undertake a wider-scale study with greater geographic coverage to determine the overall volume of the illegal bushmeat trade into Europe.