Border Force seized one tonne of giraffe and chimpanzee meat in the past year

Bushmeat has been hunted in rural Africa for thousands of years. (AP)

Border Force seized more than a tonne of illegal bushmeat last year which was bound for the UK’s black market.

Shocking Home Office statistics revealed by the Times showed that a total of 1,149kg of meat from chimpanzees, elephants, giraffes and other threatened species was confiscated in 2018-19.

The bushmeat was intercepted at ports, airports and in the post and represented a 203kg increase on the previous year.

The figure is nearly double the amount of bushmeat seized in 2014-15 - leading to fears that demand in Britain is growing.

A street trader sells dried fish and smoked monkey meat at the port of Maluku in Kinshasa, Congo. (AP)

Communities in rural Africa have hunted bushmeat for thousands of years but demand has been growing in recent decades within larger cities.

Ben Garrod, a primatologist and professor of evolutionary biology and science engagement at the University of East Anglia, said there is a growing trend for it to be consumed as a delicacy.

African communities in the UK in particular reportedly see it as a status symbol.

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“You have something back from Africa that shows your status, that shows the wealth of the family or community,” Professor Garrod said.

The professor told the Telegraph in June this year he wants border force to carry out more DNA testing on meat being imported into the UK.

“It's rife. It's there - it's in all the major cities across Europe and the US. We have seen bush meat confiscated in the UK in check points at borders and in markets," he told the newspaper.

Endangered species such as giraffes are regularly targeted as part of the illicit trade. (AP)

Meanwhile Dr Jane Goodall PhD, who founded primate charity the Jane Goodall institute, said: “The smuggling of bush meat is a very alarming issue. As Ben Garrod says, there is danger of disease spreading from the bush meat to humans.”

“Much of the meat is from threatened or endangered species. Interpol is becoming increasingly involved in animal trafficking and could, perhaps, be persuaded to take a more active role in the bush meat smuggling.”

Dr Garrod says bush meat is still being sold at markets in many British cities, and is often eaten as a delicacy at weddings and christenings.

The meat, he said, is a prize delicacy and sells for up to five times the price of prime cuts of beef or pork.

Smugglers currently, he said, find duping border security officers relatively easy because the meat is smoked and blackened, making it difficult to identify unless there is a little hand, clearly belonging to a primate, attached.

Dr Garrod added that if left unchecked, the trade could cause the spread of serious disease as the meat is unsanitary and chimpanzees are very genetically similar to humans.

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