Chimpanzee meat is for sale in restaurants and market stalls in Britain, it has emerged.
Trading standards officials uncovered the illegal bushmeat from the endangered species whilst testing samples believed to be seized from vendors in the Midlands.
The meat, which can cost more than £20 a kilogram, is part of a lucrative black market trade that experts describe as ‘rife’ in Europe.
Last year, the first research on the import of bushmeat into Europe found over 270 tonnes passing through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris alone.
Illegal bushmeat: The chimpanzee meat, which can cost more than £20 a kilogram, is part of a lucrative black market trade
The chimpanzee meat is understood to have been discovered following raids by trading standards in the Midlands.
A Government whistleblower revealed: ‘It is well known this practice is underway in the region but I was shocked to discover the meat that was tested was once a chimpanzee.
‘Dubious meat is often tested, and has turned out to be things like rats and vermin in the past – but chimpanzee is unbelievable.’
It is not known how the bushmeat arrived in the Midlands, but experts believe it was probably flown into the country from Africa, possibly concealed in personal luggage.
Dr Marcus Rowcliffe, research fellow at the Zoological Society of London and an expert on the trade, said at least five tonnes of bushmeat arrives in Europe every week to be distributed across the continent.
He said: ‘I’m not at all surprised that bushmeat is on sale in the Midlands because we know the trade is going on in the UK and that there is a regular flow of smuggled meat into the country.
‘However, it is not often that chimpanzee is found as that is rare even in the markets of Africa, so I am surprised by that.
‘When we carried out our study at Charles de Gaulle airport, we estimated that five tonnes a week was coming into Europe and then being distributed across the continent by traders in Paris.
‘Obviously I believe less than five tonnes a week makes it into the UK, but there is still a significant amount that is brought in and customs officials are very aware of it.’
He said that smugglers often made no attempt to hide the meat and were caught smuggling the meat in suitcases.
This could be because detecting and seizing bushmeat is not a priority for customs officials and the penalties for importing it are low and rarely enforced, he added.
The word bushmeat is used to describe the flesh of wild animals hunted in places like tropical forests in West and Central Africa, but also in Asia and the Americas.
According to the Born Free foundation, nearly 7,500 tonnes of illegal meat products enter Britain every year.
Some is bushmeat, brought in disguised as other meat products such as beef or lamb.
Once in Britain, more than half the illegal meat is distributed through wholesalers or sold at local street markets.
The trade in bushmeat has become big business and although accurate figures are difficult to find, it is estimated that the international trade in wild animal products has a value of more than £2.5 billion.
Dr Rowcliffe’s team predicted that a 4kg monkey would cost around £85 from smugglers in France, whereas the price would be as little as £4 in Africa.
But although some hunters target gorillas, chimpanzees and other primate species, great apes constitute less than one per cent of bushmeat from all species sold on the market.
Dr Rowcliffe added that bushmeat products were not just imported for consumption but also for medicinal purposes or as status symbols, signifying luxury and wealth.
But he warned that imported meat could be carrying infectious diseases such as foot-and-mouth, anthrax, the Ebola virus, TB or cholera.
The bushmeat trade has also had a devastating impact on the numbers of primates living in the wild.
Adina Farmaner, Executive Director of the Jane Goodall Institute UK, said: ‘It is a reality that bushmeat is being sold on the streets of Britain and I am not surprised that is available in the Midlands.
‘From my own experience of Brixton market in London all you have to do is ask for some ‘special meat’ for a ‘special ceremony’ and you will get what you are looking for.
‘The bushmeat trade is a huge problem in certain parts of Africa and is one of the main reasons the population in the wild has been reduced from approximately one million about 50 years ago, to just a few hundred thousand today.’