Socioeconomics and the trade in ape meat and parts

The hunting of great apes and gibbons for their meat and parts is and ever increasing problem for wildlife conservation.  In this chapter for the latest book in the book series State of the Apes by the Arcus Foundation, we review wild meat hunting, specifically the scale of the problem for great apes, biological consequences of hunting for meat and parts, drivers of wild meat hunting, drivers of hunting of great apes, and barriers and potential solutions.

The book will be published in April 2021.


There is mounting evidence that apes are becoming a more desired and thus more trafficked commodity (Stiles et al., 2013). The potentially lucrative trade in their meat and parts represents an existential risk to these endangered species, partly because of their large body size and low reproductive rates, and partly because of the growing demand for their meat and parts. Unsustainable harvesting of apes is causing population decline, loss of genetic and cultural diversity, and, consequently, a deterioration of local and global ecosystem services and natural systems. For hundreds of millions of people in rural, tropical settings, these dynamics threaten food security and cultural identity

The clandestine nature of the trade in ape meat and parts precludes an accurate assessment of the rate at which individuals are extracted from the wild. What is understood is that motivations for subsistence and commercial hunting vary, that rural communities tend to rely on wild meat as a source of protein and income, and that wealthier urban dwellers consume wild meat as a luxury item, even when cheaper protein sources are available. Moreover, weak governance and corruption encourage ape hunting.

Tackling the trade in ape meat and parts requires a combination of strategies, including ones designed to reduce consumer demand by providing and promoting alternative protein sources; raise awareness of the ecological consequences of unsustainable harvesting; enhance legal frameworks and law enforcement; and provide economic incentives to stop hunting and consumption of wild meat.