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Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.


Nothing To Declare

Published 22nd June 2010 - 10 comments - 5537 views -


Yesterday I stumbled upon a report about the trade in African bushmeat. In 2008 researchers conducted a survey to see how much illegal bushmeat (also of species that appear on the CITES lists) is entering the European Union.

Place of action was the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. In 17 days a staggering amount of 188 kg of illegal meat was seized under those passengers being checked. It is therefore estimated that roughly 273 tons (!) arrive every year through Charles de Gaulle alone.

Bushmeat is a delicacy for many people living in Africa. It is illegally harvested in the bowels of the African rainforests and it is cheap. At least on the African market. A species of monkey weighing about four kilograms will fetch €20 on the market in Cameroon. In Paris it is being sold for about €30 per kilo. A nice profit.

In the report it states that fines are often not given to importers of meat since they seem unaware of being involved in something illegal. Something that is very doubtful if you hear the African in the below video speak about killing gorillas.

Most of the traders of the bushmeat in Paris are Africans and it is therefore safe to assume that the majority of the demand is created by African immigrants living in France. The main worry is that the non-African part of the French might start to develop a taste for the ‘delicacies’ as well, which could lead to a disastrous increase in this illegal trade. A trade that will only become more profitable with every animal that is being killed.

So why is bushmeat illegal in Europe?

First of all do the hunters in Africa not know which hunted species are on the CITES list which leads to a reduction of already vulnerable species. Secondly, since the imported meat falls outside every regulatory procedure, the chances of introducing illnesses to humans and lifestock is a potential danger.


But it is not only our stomachs that crave something exotic, also our eyes know how to appreciate it. It is estimated that between 2001 and 2006, six hundred thousand Brits bought souvenirs made of animal products, reason to start a massive awareness campaign in England.

Skins, teeth, ivory, tortoise shells and coral are still be bought under the impression that nothing is being done wrong since a lot of these products are legal in the country of origin. This does however not mean that they are legal in the country of residence. Something to be very aware of since the fines can be hefty.

When you are not sure if a souvenir is on the list of protected or illegal species, be smart and leave it for what it is. Even better, don’t buy animal products at all, even if they are legal.

The big question of course is what we expect the Africans to do who can’t even afford a decent meal. Should they refrain from hunting and exporting meat because we in the west say it is illegal? It is a tough question and an answer will not easily be found.





Category: Tourism | Tags:


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 22nd June 2010:

    Touching on a moral issue as well here, Johan. Some argue that if we eat cows and wear leather shoes, how come a leopard’s skin is sacred then? To which I’d reply, nonsense (bs)! All these poor animals being killed for some idiot to brag about their new possession! I could never understand why one would need something like this. Buy a postcard from your “exotic” holiday and leave elephant teeth in peace. And you know what, I’m sorry, but you can have some other meat in France, you don’t need a monkey to be smuggled in. Legal-illegal-pseudo legal, whatever. Where is the common sense? Where is the empathy with the nature and all other species? I’m angry angry angry

  • Johan Knols on 22nd June 2010:

    Giedre, I know you are an angry lady (haha).
    But hey, hold on. When tourists go to Africa they often require their own specific (western) food. So why would an African immigrant in Paris not eat what he is used to?

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 22nd June 2010:

    Johan, I don’t think the word lady really applies to me… Angry does. wink

    Anyways, if a Western tourist demands a Lipton tea instead of drinking some local herbal one, they should be kicked in the ass and woken up to reality. If people accept they won’t walk in Soho or won’t see the Mona Lisa in a local museum for the simple reason of it being a completely other place, they should also accept McBurger or Marmite won’t be there, either. And also, if you leave the so-called exotic animals aside, food in the world is not so much different.

  • Pieter Kat on 23rd June 2010:

    Hi Johan:

    An interesting post that reminds me, for some reason, of Hawaii. The volcanoes there extend at least 15,000 feet below sea level, so most of what you see is hidden by what you cannot see.

    An admittedly superficial search of the internet produced some interesting statistics on the value of legal trade in natural resources. Ten years ago, that trade was worth $159 BILLION per year in export value. Now most of this value was due to timber exports and fisheries, but an estimated $15 billion was due to trade in wild animals, plants, products, and derivatives. That is the legal trade, and with those sums of money involved, it is not surprising that criminal cartels have taken notice. In fact, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to rank third behind the drug trade and illegal arms. A big business in other words.

    The biggest importer of legal CITES specimens is the EU, and along with that goes a very big measure of illegal trade. The reasons why this illegal trade persists are numerous. They include the following:

    A)  Inadequate budgets, personnel, training, and equipment for enforcement personnel;
    B)  A significant disparity in document checks for shipments – better at airports, but lax at sea ports and items sent by post;
    C)  While some EU member state officials regularly check pet shops, taxidermists, and animal breeders for illegal specimens, many others do not. Once within the EU, export to another country is easy.
    D)  Some EU countries have established strong criminal penalties and fines for the possession of illegal imports. Others have not, and therefore provide easy conduits for illegal imports to the other EU countries.

    Read the TRAFFIC bulletins for regular updates on the number of seizures of illegal imports – it will make your head spin and make you realize just how big this industry is. It includes not only the bushmeat you mention, but live birds, snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises, aquarium fish, plants, illegal skins, ivory, rhino horn, lion and leopard claws, skulls, leather products from snakes, crocodiles, and lizards, seashells, corals… the list goes on.

    The exporting country officials are happy to take payments to turn a blind eye and issue export permits and false CITES documents. It is up to the EU to ensure that the illegal aspects of the trade do not continue by addressing points A,B,C, and D above. If the EU is the biggest import market it also must become the strictest import market. If I’m not allowed to eat beluga caviar for very good reasons, then the French African population should rather visit McDonalds than eat monkey biltong coming in via Charles de Gaulle airport.


  • Pieter Kat on 23rd June 2010:

    Hi Giedre:

    You beat me to my McDonalds comment!

    However, as mentioned in other posts on this site, “wild” meat and therefore bushmeat is accepted by many African cultures as having “energy” value. I would say eat a double McBurger with cheese and take a vitamin pill. As for taking some hocus pocus rhino horn concoction, better to take some Viagra…..

  • Pieter Kat on 23rd June 2010:

    In terms of the easy way “official” documents can be obtained, let me give you an example.

    In 1990 or so, I was in Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire as it was then known. A friend of mine saw a young chimpanzee for sale in the local market, and he bought it. This man has since become a strong force in terms of opposition to the bushmeat trade, and was instrumental in establishing sanctauries for confiscated chimpanzees.

    Anyway, he knew that the chimp would eventually need to have papers to be legally exported from Zaire to Kenya where he lived. Absolutely no problem. We went to a veterinarian who stamped (many times) all the needed documents to declare the chimp healthy (without having laid eyes on the animal). Next stop was the local CITES office, where all documents were signed, stamped, and issued. All this cost a bit of money of course, but it shows you the kind of loopholes available for all regulations from issuing countries.

  • Johan Knols on 24th June 2010:


    Thanks for your comments.
    According to the report, some of the reasons why custom officials where not keen on paying full attention to the meat smuggle were:
    1. They find it dangerous (scare for diseases).
    2. They are not being paid bonuses when illegal animal products are found, so they rather go after items that do deliver bonuses.

  • Robert Stefanicki on 28th June 2010:

    I must make a sinner’s confession: From Tibet I brought a mask made of a turtle shell (please don’t ask me where do the turtles live in Tibet). Really, I had no idea it is illegal, until saw a display of confiscated animal items at the Warsaw airport. Bad, bad me. I will not do it again simply because I don’t buy souvenirs any more. Just take pictures.

  • Johan Knols on 29th June 2010:

    Hi Robert,

    Your situation is exactly what happens to quite a few people that are on holiday and want to take back home a ‘reminder’.
    But souvenirs made from animal parts are not the only problem. In certain parts of Zimbabwe the cutting of trees (for making woodcarvings) was so intense that bare patches of land became visible even from space. Although, those areas had a nice chance to recover over the recent years as Zimbabwe’s tourism dropped almost to a stand still.
    But the end of the story is simple: never buy souvenirs made from animal products.

  • Pieter Kat on 29th June 2010:

    Hi Robert:

    What a good idea by the authorities of the Warsaw airport to organize that display of confiscated items. Every major airport in the world should have this, updated regularly with facts and figures about what has been confiscated. This will both raise awareness (as in your case)and hopefully make people a bit more wary of trying to import wildlife products when they see what Customs has taken.

    Johan - it will be very interesting to follow how much has been confiscated from all the World Cup fans travelling home from South Africa? Customs data about seizures of wildlife products is in the public domain.

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