Paris: More than five tonnes of bushmeat from primates, crocodiles and other rare or protected animals are smuggled in luggage through one of Europe`s busiest airports every week, a study published on Thursday said.
Thirty-nine percent of bushmeat confiscated during a 17-day special operation by customs officials at Paris`s Charles de Gaulle airport came from creatures protected by the Convention for the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), it said.
"Our results estimate that around 270 tonnes of potentially contaminated, illegal bushmeat is passing unchecked through a single European airport per year, posing a huge potential risk to public health," said lead author Anne-Lise Chaber of Britain`s Royal Veterinary College.
The sweep netted smuggled meat from 11 species, including guenon and mangabey monkeys, the blue duiker forest deer, two types of pangolin and both Nile and slender-snouted crocodiles.
The largest single haul was 51 kilos (112 pounds) of meat carried by a single passenger who had no other luggage.
Much of the bushmeat came from the Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the study, published in the journal Conservation Letters.
Illegal traders based in Paris take orders in advance and arrange for delivery of the goods to customers, investigators learned.
"Our results show that this is a lucrative, organised trade feeding into a luxury market. A four-kilo (nine-pound) monkey will cost around 100 euros (120 dollars) in France, compared with just five euros in Cameroon, said co-author Marcus Rowcliffe of the Zoological Society of London.
The illegal trade also raises serious questions about the risk of bringing in germs and other pathogens, the researchers said.
"Surveillance methods need to be more robust and deterrents more severe if we`re to have any chance of halting illegal trade," Rowcliffe said.
Bushmeat is easy to smuggle, and customs officials are given no financial incentives to intercept the contraband, as they are for drugs and counterfeit goods, he said.