January 22, 2008 / 3:10 PM / 12 years ago

Hungry Tanzania refugees eat chimps, wild game

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Hungry refugees in Tanzania are eating chimpanzees and other endangered species in order to supplement their meager diet, international conservation group Traffic said on Tuesday.

A male chimpanzee feeds in Kibale National Park tropical rain forest, 354km southeast of Uganda's capital Kampala, December 2, 2006. REUTERS/James Akena

It said refugees living near national parks in northwestern Tanzania were also illegally hunting buffalo, topi, eland, elephant and waterbuck.

In neighboring Kenya, aid and conservation groups said refugee camps housing thousands of people who fled violence after disputed December 27 were damaging the environment, as displaced people chopped down trees for firewood.

Camps such as the Show Ground site in Eldoret — currently hosting 11,200 people — could cause “significant environmental damage,” Jemini Pandya, a spokeswoman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told reporters in Geneva.

“IOM will try and protect the areas around camps in Rift Valley Province through the rebedding of saplings and plants in other areas until the crisis is over,” she said.

George Jambiya, lead author of the Traffic report on Tanzania, said the refugees’ vegetarian food aid rations were partly to blame for the poaching problem.

“The scale of wild meat consumption in East African refugee camps has helped conceal the failure of the international community to meet basic refugee needs,” he added. Traffic’s report was based on studies carried out in 2005 and 2006.

But Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Programme (WFP), a U.N. agency which feeds 215,00 refugees in Tanzania, said in Geneva that meat spoiled quickly and canned meat was much more expensive.

Substituting canned meat for the cheaper beans that currently supplied protein would add $46 million to the estimated $60 million cost of feeding Tanzania’s refugees in 2007 and 2008, she said.

Traffic said that Tanzania’s illegal bush meat trade had also caused a drop in government revenues from lucrative licensed sport hunting and game viewing.

Since the east African nation’s independence in 1961, more than 20 major refugee camps have been established close to game reserves, national parks or other protected areas. Of these, 13 still existed in 2005, Traffic said.

According to the U.N. refugee agency Tanzania hosted 11 camps in January 2007, housing 287,061 refugees, down from 350,590 in 2005.

Most of the refugees fled conflict in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo from as far back as the 1960s, and Rwanda in the 1990s.

Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis in Geneva; Editing by Jon Boyle

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