Saving the Last Edens

1. African Eden

2. Asian Eden

3. Alaskan Eden

4. Guns vs. Eden


Hands and heads of cooked primates symbolize the million tons of bushmeat taken from Africa's Congo River Basin every year.
© and courtesy Karl Ammann


Shall the bushmeat inherit the Earth?
Fingers curled, faces a ghastly mask, the animal parts remind us of our close relation with the apes.Central Africa contains some of the least spoiled rain forest on the planet. But a boom in logging has caused an explosion in bushmeat -- killing and eating wild animals:

Loggers hunt. Loggers eat bushmeat because protein is typically scarce in forests (tsetse flies carrying trypanosomosis sicken cattle in much of Africa). Logging trucks and roads haul guns to the bush and meat to cities.

Anti-bushmeat activists estimate that each year, 1 million metric tons of bushmeat is killed in the Congo River Basin in Central Africa. We didn't hear much about bushmeat until five or 10 years ago, yet activists like Helen Crowley of the Wildlife Conservation Society say the bushmeat trade is even more threatening to African wildlife than deforestation -- which is, after all, the primary result of logging.

In the seventh year, the land shall have a Sabbath
Most settlements in the bush (countryside) of northern Congo are logging camps, says Crowley, and they can grow fast. "There are thousands of people where before there was no-one." Logging in Republic of Congo has more than doubled compared to a few years ago, and timber ranks behind only oil in monetary value. More on forestry in Congo.

In logging camps, bushmeat is cheaper than other high-protein foods, and while more expensive in cities, bushmeat's gourmet status sparks a growing demand for meat from chimps, gorillas, bonobos, forest antelopes, even cane rats.

Most sizable forest animals are targets for the guns and snares of the bushmeat trade. But much of the concern focuses on the threat to fellow primates. Already, chimpanzees, perhaps our closest relative, have declined from about 2 million a century ago to about 150,000 today, according to veteran chimp researcher Jane Goodall (see "From Wildlife..." in the bibliography). Obviously, the decline reflects causes like habitat degradation, not just bushmeat.

(Bushmeat also probably spreads new diseases like ebola from the forest.)

A young woman skins a monkey.It may look a bit revolting to Westerners, but if you were hungry enough, this former monkey might smell like dinner.
© and courtesy Karl Ammann

Over the long term, the recipe for squelching bushmeat is straightforward: just reverse overpopulation, disease, inequality, ignorance and poverty. In the short run, conservationists want to clamp down on the business and enforce hunting laws. "We have to stop the bushmeat traffic on logging trucks, prevent arms from getting into the reserve, stop employee hunting, be more aware about where we place roads," says Crowley.

Crowley adds that WCS biologist Paul Elkan, a biologist who's explored the Goualogo Triangle, is now developing wildlife management practices for logging areas and promoting what she calls "sustainable hunting and alternative protein sources."

It's a tricky assignment. Trying to prevent hungry, poor and armed people from hunting wild animals, can be "pretty hairy work," Crowley says. Still, she adds that many local people disapprove of commercial hunting: "They don't want outsiders coming in shooting out the forest and trucking it away."

High-on-the-hog hypocrisy?
Does restricting trade in bushmeat while wallowing in protein-drenched Western cookery amount to hypocrisy? No, contends Heather Eves, director of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. "It's not really a matter of those who are eating well saying 'Stop eating.' ... I don't think anybody affiliated with the task force is saying to people who are truly dependent on wildlife for a significant percentage of protein should not be eating wildlife, if that's all that's available, and it's legally harvested, and they have proprietary rights over it."

Many national laws protect certain species, especially those listed by the CITES convention. But laws are just paper against desperate people colluding with corrupt officials.

The bushmeat trade, Eves contends, is driven more by money than the need for protein. In the long run, she adds, the trade, if unrestricted, will expire along with its prey.

"The bottom line is that we can ... try to address this now, when there is wildlife still left, or we'll be forced to address it at a much greater level 10 to 15 years from now, when the wildlife is gone. It's not a question of whether, it's question of when."

Browsing and grazing both legal in the bibliography.





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