KINSHASA, Congo (Reuters)—Take a monkey, disembowel it and gently smoke it over a fire for two days. Once blackened sufficiently it can be served as a main dish or stewed in a broth.
It is very tasty with a tomato and garlic sauce, over a bed of
rice, says monkey dealer Marie-Jan at the meat and fish section of
Kinshasa's central open air market.
On the table in front of her, five monkey corpses stare back, their faces permanently contorted and stiffened by days of charcoal cooking.
Shoppers bustle over slime and fish guts mashed into the tile flooring while a young, bound crocodile tries to make a break for it under the tortoise shelf.
Severed goat heads stare up vacuously from a table and two men haggle over the price of a bucket of squirming grubs.
Giant snail and various species of antelope are other delicacies shipped down the Congo river to the Congolese capital Kinshasa, once hailed as the Paris of Africa.
As the Democratic Republic of Congo's five-year civil war winds down—and traffic on the river reopens on long stretches that were closed during the conflict—trade in bushmeat is set to increase.
It is a blood-soaked trade that conservationists say is devastating much of Africa's wildlife. Animals under threat include primates such as bonobos and chimpanzees.
The commercial bushmeat trade is by far the greatest threat to both
the chimpanzee and bonobo, says a United Nations Environment
Program (UNEP) fact sheet on great apes.
In its Africa Environment Outlook, UNEP says that more than 60 species of wildlife are commonly consumed in West and Central Africa.
Bushmeat provides 70 percent of the animal protein in southern
Ivory Coast; 80 to 90 percent in Liberia and 55 percent in Sierra
Leone, it said.
The bushmeat market is not the only threat to the primates, antelope, crocodiles and other animals of Africa's steamy tropical regions.
Swelling rural populations and habitat destruction wrought by rampant logging are also taking their toll.
Logging roads open up previously isolated patches of forest and thereby contribute to the trade in bushmeat.
Up the Congo river from Kinshasa go basic goods such as clothes, cigarettes, gasoline, sugar and salt. Down come commodities from the interior, including bushmeat.
I sometimes sell only 10 crocodiles a day, but when trade on the
river increases more crocodiles will come and more cheaply, says
crocodile dealer Jeanette Lianza.
Where thick forests and war-induced isolation offer little else, bushmeat is often the only natural resource, especially in the northwest province of Equateur.
Much of the bushmeat found in Kinshasa comes from the Mbandaka area in Equateur, some 300 miles upstream from the capital, in what was until recently rebel territory.
A young 4-foot crocodile can fetch up to $35 on the market. Small monkeys go for $25 a carcass.
Restaurants are doing a roaring trade, with individual crocodile and snake dishes in some packed upmarket eateries costing more than $10—a princely sum in a country where most people get by on less than a dollar a day.
In the diplomatic enclave of Gombe in Kinshasa, Giselle Kyungu, a waitress at the Inzia restaurant, chats while she sets the table for the evening clients.
Our clients are very mixed. We have a lot of Congolese businessmen,
but also a lot of U.N. workers, who order everything on the menu,
Everything from tortoise to monkey to crocodile is served, although Inzia does not stock much monkey these days.
After the Ebola virus, lots of people became suspicious of
monkey. But all these foods used to be more popular and are not eaten
so much anymore, says Giselle, referring to the lethal virus that
infects apes as well as humans.
But I think that once we can buy these meats more cheaply, when
trade starts to pick up after the end of the war, we will see more
being eaten, she adds.
No menu or no market in town offers the elusive okapi, a giraffe-like creature that is only found in the Ituri forests in Congo, where armed ethnic rebel groups run rampant in their bid to dominate the mineral-rich area.
Ituri is at the center of Congo's latest conflict, and is the province surrounding the town of Bunia where a French-led multinational force has deployed to protect civilians from ethnic violence.
Okapis are a protected species. You won't find them in the
market here, but those bandit rebels are killing them off, says
Flori Mandi, one of Kinshasa's market administrators.
Not more than 30,000 Okapis are said to be remaining in Congo's forests.