Profits from cacao farming have been so generous that farmers invaded national parks in order to carve out plantations, cutting down forests and turning animal habitats into inhospitable treeless zones. Today a trail of destruction can be seen in the Ivory Coast as 13 out of 23 national parks and forest reserves have lost all of their primate species, reports the Smithsonian Institute after reviewing a recent study.
The land should have been protected but recent turmoil in the region following the disputed election of Alassane Ouattara left the region vulnerable, they said.
Starting in 2010, a team from Ohio State University and their colleagues in Ivory Coast spent over 200 days walking through five national parks and 18 forest reserves. They found settlements of as many as 30,000 people and many illegal cacao farms. In seven of the protected areas, all of the land had been converted to agriculture and 80 to 100 percent of that was for growing cacao.
The land conversion had consequences for primates—five protected areas had lost half their primate species and 13 had lost all of them. The team never found any king colubus, a monkey species they had expected to see. Also missing were any signs of the Miss Waldron’s red colubus, a species that once lived in the region and is now probably extinct in the wild, the scientists concluded.
“Little primary forest exists in south-central Côte d’Ivoire, even within protected areas, and what remains is at risk of being replaced by agricultural plots,” the researchers noted in the March edition of Tropical Conservation Science.
The Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cacao or cocoa beans, providing more than one-third of the world’s supply. Cacao is the main ingredient in chocolate.
Longtime chocoholics in Europe (which consumes half of the world’s chocolate each year) and the United States (which accounts for about one-fifth), are demanding higher quality darker chocolate, which takes more cocoa.
Now China and other Asian countries want their piece of the chocolate bar. “The world’s demand for chocolate has been very hard on the endangered primates of Ivory Coast,” said McGraw, co-author of the study and professor of anthropology at Ohio State.
“There are parks in Ivory Coast with no forests and no primates, but a sea of cocoa plants.”
The study by the U.S. scientists appears in the March 2015 issue of the journal Tropical Conservation Science. w/pix of endangered black-and-white colubus monkey in Ivory Coast