Eating Apes

Eating Apes

by Dale Peterson

Eating Apes is an eloquent book about a disturbing secret: the looming extinction of humanity's closest relatives, the African great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. Dale Peterson's impassioned exposé details how, with the unprecedented opening of African forests by European and Asian logging companies, the traditional consumption of

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Eating Apes is an eloquent book about a disturbing secret: the looming extinction of humanity's closest relatives, the African great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. Dale Peterson's impassioned exposé details how, with the unprecedented opening of African forests by European and Asian logging companies, the traditional consumption of wild animal meat in Central Africa has suddenly exploded in scope and impact, moving from what was recently a subsistence activity to an enormous and completely unsustainable commercial enterprise. Although the three African great apes account for only about one percent of the commercial bush meat trade, today's rate of slaughter could bring about their extinction in the next few decades. Supported by compelling color photographs by award-winning photographer Karl Ammann, Eating Apes documents the when, where, how, and why of this rapidly accelerating disaster.

Eating Apes persuasively argues that the American conservation media have failed to report the ongoing collapse of the ape population.
In bringing the facts of this crisis and these impending extinctions into a single, accessible book, Peterson takes us one step closer to averting one of the most disturbing threats to our closest relatives.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Peterson, who has written or collaborated on four earlier books on primate behavior and conservation, including one with Jane Goodall, is an earnest advocate and a careful researcher. Here he relies much on Ammann, a controversial Swiss-born photographer who for some years has crusaded admirably, stridently, with mixed effectiveness, against killing and eating apes. Ammann's accounts of investigations he has made or attempted, situations he has witnessed or heard about, give the book a strong, cranky voice of authority. — David Quammen
Publishers Weekly
This articulate study maintains that the increasing human consumption of apes and other primates in Central and Western Africa poses a serious threat to biodiversity, public health and sustainable development, as well as raising a considerable moral question: is it right to eat animals who share between 96% and 99% of our DNA? It's worth noting that Peterson, who has written extensively on primates, is neither a simple conservationist nor an animal rights advocate. "People hunt and eat wild animals for protein all over the globe," he acknowledges. "So there is nothing special about the fact that people living in and near forests of West and Central Africa happen to eat wild animal meat." Peterson (Storyville, USA) is sincerely curious about all aspects of "ape-eating," interviewing hunters, butchers and consumers to learn about hunting, transporting and slaughtering techniques, as well as preparation and taste. Readers learn, for example, how to make a good gorilla plantain and that "[g]orilla meat is sweet, very sweet." This information is presented with compelling evidence indicating that some human blood viruses, including HIV-1, were likely caused by ape blood coming into human contact; that the tropical logging industry, feeding Asian and European demand, is directly responsible for the tremendous increase in demand for bushmeat and the destruction of primates' natural habitat; and that apes are drawing closer to extinction. Peterson is never shrill, and rarely does his tone become emotional; he does not overwhelm readers with evidence, yet his evidence is extensive. Ammann's chilling photographs (e.g., "Gorilla head in a kitchen") contribute vastly to this equally distressing and thought-provoking survey. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Peterson, editor of Jane Goodall's letters and other books on primates, such as Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People, here focuses on the recent surge in killing chimpanzees and gorillas for "bush meat." In many (but not all) parts of central Africa, people have traditionally killed primates for meat, but this practice has increased in recent years because of the opening of impenetrable forests by Western and Asian logging companies, as well as the expense of obtaining domestic meat. Peterson explores the problem from the perspective of hunters, the spread of Ebola and other diseases through contact with infected primate blood, cutting-edge research that continues to point to the intelligence and unique relationship between chimpanzees and humans, the impact of logging on local peoples and wildlife, and much more. Some of this material makes for grim, even macabre, reading, such as the section on how to dismember and cook a gorilla. Not for the squeamish, this is recommended for larger collections on conservation and primatology. (The color photos by award-wining photographer Ammann were not seen.)-Beth Clewis Crim, Prince William P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

University of California Press
Publication date:
California Studies in Food and Culture Series
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.25(d)

Read an Excerpt

Eating Apes

California Studies in Food and Culture, 6
By Dale Peterson

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of California.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0520230906

Chapter One


Sudden in a shaft of sunlight Even while the dust moves There rises the hidden laughter Of children in the foliage.
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Apes are distinguished as being among the very few items on the menu capable (before preparation) of laughter as an expression of mirth.

I first heard an ape laugh while walking in the great Taï Forest of Côte d'Ivoire, in West Africa. Primate researcher Christophe Boesch and I followed a group of wild chimpanzees as they moved on their daily circuit, a complex progression from food to food to food, from obscure fruits to tender herbs to hard nuts.

The chimpanzees in this part of West Africa possess a stone and wood technology, striking hammers against anvils to crack otherwise uncrackable nuts. The hammers can be artificially rounded, quite heavy stones; the anvils may be flat stones with deeply worn pockets. Alternatively, the hammers and anvils may, as they did in this case, consist of rough pieces of hardwood left lying at convenient places beneath productive nut trees. Whenever the chimps we followed came to small groves of ripe nut trees, they stopped to gather handfuls of fallen nuts from the ground, walked and carried them in their hands, and then sat or squatted down in front of their hardwood tools. Christophe and I observed these wild apes lean and hunch intently over their labors. We watched them crack open very hard African walnuts (Coula edulis), hefting heavy hammers made from branches and logs and pounding the nuts, which were carefully positioned in grooves and pockets and crotches of the hardwood anvils. Having cracked and then eaten their fill of the nut meat, these apes left the hammers next to the anvils and moved on.

That day's journey was (for me at least) disorienting. I had no sense of direction and little of distance, and the apes regularly appeared and disappeared from sight, proceeding sometimes individually and sometimes in pairs or small groups. At one point, a group large enough to seem like a migrating herd (who knows how many?) stopped at midday for a siesta and spread out around the gray corpse of a giant tree that had collapsed and broken a hole in the forest canopy. A shaft of sunlight pierced the hole and poured bright yellow onto the forest floor, onto the fallen tree and the bushy space around it, and onto the chimps as well, who were sacked out in the sun, faces turned up to the warmth like holiday sunbathers on a beach. After that midday siesta, the chimpanzees roused themselves and continued on their migration, examining a swampy area for apparently tasty plants, climbing trees looking for fruits, and resting from time to time.

Once, during a resting period, I sat next to a bush that shook with what was undeniably laughter: gleeful and hoarse and breathy, with an edge of frantic, side-splitting desperation. It was entirely like human laughter minus the vocalized overlay, as if a person without a voice box had just thought of something impossibly hilarious. I heard gasping and panting with a hoarse kind of wood-sawing sound: whuuu, whuuu, whuuu. The bush opened, and I saw two juvenile chimps inside, wrestling, tumbling, chasing, teasing each other, and laughing their heads off.

I have observed chimpanzee laughter at other times, in other places. I once watched a grizzled old male chase a juvenile male around a tree, with the little one laughing in delight while the old guy pursued and caught him, playfully biting at his foot and tickling him. I have seen wild-born, orphaned bonobos and gorillas laugh, once again seemingly as a frantic expression of delight and mirth. And I have been told by experts that orangutans, too, sometimes laugh.

Animal play is not surprising. Lion cubs play. Wolves and dogs and dolphins play. Many animals play, especially when they are young. I can believe that many animals experience pleasure. It is possible to imagine that some animals experience something we might call "mirth" or perhaps an irrepressible sensation of emotional lightness. But laughter? The famed ethologist Konrad Lorenz once suggested that dogs "laugh," based on his observations of facial expressions during moments of canine delight. But the laughter of apes is entirely different from any mere facial upturn of pleasure. Neither is it even remotely comparable to the high-pitched vocalizations of hyenas that have on occasion been described as "laughter" but are completely unassociated with play or pleasure.

As with "the hidden laughter of children in the foliage" in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, my own experience of the laughter of apes thus becomes that awkwardly articulated moment in an expedition at once physical and metaphysical. Laughter must be among the most fragile and fleeting of vocal utterances. What does it mean? That apes laugh is undeniable. That their laughter means anything is a matter of opinion.

The laughter of apes occurs most often during direct physical encounters, such as a chase-andtickle game. But according to Jane Goodall, who has studied wild chimpanzees in East Africa for the last forty years, "even removed and comparatively complex events can induce chimpanzee laughter." Laughter may happen without any direct physical contact-during a chase without the tickle, for instance, perhaps in anticipation of the tickle. Goodall has observed laughter in much more complicated circumstances, as when one chimp observes another's discomfort. Older chimpanzees sometimes tease their younger siblings with a twig in a tug-ofwar game; the older one may repeatedly pull the twig away from the younger one and laugh at the frustration induced. In one case, Moeza teased her younger brother Michaelmas with a play twig, and finally scampered into a higher place in a tree where Michaelmas was afraid to follow. When the younger sibling screamed in frustration, Moeza, according to Goodall, "gave soft chuckles as she watched his fury."

The laughter of apes provokes us to consider the possibility of an underlying complexity of cognition and intellect, to wonder about the existence of an ape mind. Laughter, in this sense, seems akin to the fascinating and peculiar capacity to recognize oneself in a mirror, an ability shared by humans and apes but not by monkeys. The classic test was first conducted by American psychologist G. Gordon Gallup, Jr., who in the late 1960s demonstrated that four apes (chimpanzees) knocked out with an anesthetic and then marked on the forehead and one ear with a spot of odorless, tasteless red dye would, when awakened and confronted with a mirror, reach up and touch the red spots on their own faces. Six monkeys, similarly marked and faced with a mirror, continued to treat the mirrored image as a vision of some irritatingly provocative member of their species, threatening and vocalizing at the image. Gallup concluded that he had shown a "decisive difference between monkeys and chimps," and that chimps were thus experimentally shown to have a "self-concept."

Charles Darwin postulated a strong evolutionary continuity between apes and humans, and suggested that apes might therefore possess humanlike emotions, memory, and reasoning. But biologists after Darwin less enthusiastically concluded from the available evidence (mostly in comparative anatomy and paleoanthropology) that the ancestors of Homo sapiens diverged from the line that also produced the four modern great apes some 20 million years ago. Even on the evolutionary calendar that's a long time ago-so long ago, the thinking went, that the continuities between human and ape might prove not so interesting. So humans and apes were considered close relatives who had evolved independently for so long that the relationship between modern humans and modern apes could best be described as that of remote cousins. Based on that reasoning, until a couple of decades ago humans were assigned their own special taxonomic family, the Hominidae, while the great apes were comfortably ensconced in theirs, the Pongidae.

Starting in the 1970s, however, laboratory techniques for manipulating the genetic molecule known as DNA advanced to the point where it became possible to look at evolutionary relationships between species far more precisely than ever before. As a result of the last few decades of careful genetic studies, scientists now recognize that the apes are not merely our nearest relatives but nearer to us than anyone had ever imagined.

Orangutan genetic material shows itself to be 96.4 percent identical to human genetic material, which indicates (calculating from a schedule of likely rates of DNA change) that ancestral orangutans split off from the larger ape line approximately 12 million years ago, leaving the ancestral group of the three modern African apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos) and humans still evolving together as a single genetic lineage.

Modern gorilla DNA is 97.7 percent the same as that of humans, indicating that their line started to evolve independently around 7.5 million years ago. And modern chimpanzee and bonobo DNA turns out to be around 98.7 percent identical to that of modern humans, which suggests that ancestral humans split away from the line that produced chimpanzees and bonobos around 6 million years ago.

The DNA data show that apes evolved closely as a group and that humans remained part of that group until the first human precursors stepped out into their own evolutionary experiment only 6 million years ago. And the mere 1.3 percent difference between humans and the chimpanzees and bonobos means that we are actually closer to them than zebras are to horses, or African elephants are to Indian elephants.

In more practical terms, those numbers mean that the next time you go to the zoo and wander past cages containing chimpanzees or bonobos, you might pause and look into the eye of a being who will indeed look back; and you should know that you (genetically almost 99 percent chimpanzee) are sharing a gaze with someone who is, according to the best measurement, almost 99 percent human. You are on one side of the bars, the chimps and bonobos on the other side, simply because those apes lack a little more than 1 percent of the requisite genes to be treated like humans. And if you linger to gaze at gorillas in the same zoo, remember that they are sitting on the other side of the bars or the moat not because they have done anything wrong, but simply and solely because they happen to be missing just slightly more than 2 percent of the human genome.

Structurally, the brains of humans exactly resemble the brains of the nonhuman apes, except in size. The largest gorilla brain on record, around 690 cubic centimeters in volume, still is smaller than the smallest known adult human brain, measured at about 790 cubic centimeters. Simply comparing average brain size suggests intellectual differences between human adults and adults of the other ape species. On the other hand, the fact that an adult chimpanzee brain is distinctly larger than the brain of a human child evokes the possibility of overlapping mental qualities.

Cranial capacity is not the same as intellectual capacity, however, and it remains a commonplace act of self-flattery for people to persist in emphasizing that great divide between the intellect of humans and the other apes. Why should we, the makers of such wondrous things as automobiles and computers and atomic bombs, be impressed by them, the makers of mere nutcrackers and termite dippers? We continue to mark not similarity but difference, as if the distinction between us and them is a matter of our own species' pride. Homo sapiens may possess some superficial similarities with Pan troglodytes, it has been declared again and again, but the mental divide between the two species remains uncrossable. "I considered the differences between men and animals," so journalist Jeremy Gavon has recently expressed the idea. "Some were vast. A chimpanzee could be taught to drive a car. It could even be taught to build parts of it. But it could not begin to design it.... Our intellect is incomparably more sophisticated than any animal."

True, a chimpanzee could not begin to design a car. But, come to think of it, neither could I. Nor could you or any other person working in intellectual isolation-without the help of books, conversations, directions, documents, explanations, and traditions-design a car. Or even a bicycle. Or a pair of shoes. Or a mousetrap. Apes work in intellectual isolation because they lack language. We have language, and therefore our creations and inventions and technologies become collective efforts and cultural products. No one person designed or invented the automobile. Automobiles derive from earlier transportation technologies, and from power and metallurgic technologies that go back as far as the first tool that turned the first wheel and the first fire that smelted the first piece of shiny metal. Nor did one brilliant person hiding in a garage in northern California invent the personal computer. Computers appeared as the consequence of developments in the Chinese abacus, ninth-century Arabic mathematics, the eighteenth-century jacquard loom, nineteenth-century mechanical office machines, twentieth-century electronics, and so on. Bicycles were not possible before bicycle wheels; bicycle wheels were inconceivable before spokes; spokes were impossible before spokeshaves. None of the technologies that have elevated our own species into a position of planetary mastery has been created by an individual person working in isolation and inspired solely by the brilliance of an intellect that is "incomparably more sophisticated" than that of the apes. With your brain alone, with my brain alone (minus language and a language-based tradition), we would consider ourselves very lucky indeed to think of cracking nuts between a stone hammer and a stone anvil. Our greatest human creation is not the tool but the word, not the technology that we so treasure and depend on but the language that has allowed us to talk about it. Language, not technology, is the most compelling artifact of the human intellect.


Excerpted from Eating Apes by Dale Peterson Copyright © 2003 by Regents of the University of California.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Meet the Author

Dale Peterson is the author of Storyville, USA (1999), Chimpanzee Travels: On and Off the Road in Africa (1995), and The Deluge and the Ark: A Journey into Primate Worlds (1989). He is the editor of Beyond
Innocence: Jane Goodall's Later Life in Letters
(2001) and Africa in My Blood: Jane Goodall's Early Life in Letters (2000). He is the coauthor of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (1996) and Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People (1993). Karl Ammann is an award-winning photographer who has photographed wildlife throughout Africa and Southeast Asia.

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