One of the more obscure niche's of the worldwide illicit trade in wildlife is the trafficking in live Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans and Gorillas. Despite the fact that these sensitive, and socially complex fellow hominids are our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, they are increasingly under threat from poachers, hunters scouring the forest for protein, and human destruction of their native habitats in the rainforests of Africa and South East Asia.
Three of the four great ape species—Bonobos, Chimpanzees and Gorillas, can be found in the remote interior of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In small hamlets and towns along the Congo River and it's tributaries, much of the population survives on wild animal protein that has been killed in the dense forests, or in the wide rivers that snake through the region. Many of the regions are so isolated and poverty among the population is so extreme, that hunters do not transact in cash for what they kill, but instead barter for materials like clothing, food, and other consumables. Despite educational campaigns, many local residents that live near Chimp and Bonobo habitats still believe traditional lore that eating the meat of an adult Chimp or Bonobo bestows mystical powers and strength on ones person. The growing market for capturing and selling the orphaned offspring into a shady market that feeds baby chimps and bonobos into private or unscrupulous zoos around the globe has made poaching an even more lucrative business in recent years.
While a small part of the multi-billion dollar illicit global trade in wildlife, the smuggling of Great Apes has increased in past decades, and it is now believed that approximately 22,000 have been trafficked or killed by poachers. Read more about the subject here, in the New York Times article which originally accompanied these images.
Want to help? Consider donating to Lola Ya Bonobo, who work to rehabilitate orphaned and trafficked Bonobos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.