I am incredulous that the Centre of International Forestry Research (CIFOR) would suggest bushmeat hunting be legalized, giving the local people the task of policing themselves. This position shows remarkable naïveté and totally fails to understand the realities on the ground. A hungry population is never going to practice conservation of food, especially where it can be had free from the forest.
CIFOR argues that since up to 80% of the rural households in central and western Africa already depend on bushmeat for their daily protein requirements then a blanket ban on the trade would endanger both humans and wildlife. They call for regulated but legal uptake of wildlife protein. Maybe, but just how can this be done?
There are no mechanisms to regulate this even with the best legislation. Past experience with forest products, poppies, ivory and charcoal are all legitimate examples of failures of communities to police themselves.
Commercial bushmeat hunting has become the most significant immediate threat to the future of wildlife in Africa and around the world. It has already resulted in widespread local extinctions in Asia and Africa. Elephant, gorilla, chimpanzee and other primates have already been wiped out of several regions. Smaller animals such as duikers, porcupine, bush pig, pangolin, monitor lizard and guinea fowl are rapidly becoming locally extinct in these regions. Legalizing this multi-billion trade will not help the wildlife. It will instead exterminate what remains, species that we are working so hard to preserve.
For instance, there are only 300 Cross River Gorillas left in the world. They are found only in Cameroun and Nigeria. If we give poachers the right to hunt these gorillas, it will take them a very short time to wipe out the entire population. Dr Anthony L. Rose, together with investigative wildlife photographer, Karl Ammann have carried out research in West Africa and estimate that in one year poachers will harvest US$2-billion worth of wildlife from the great ape regions. Part of this haul will include 8,000 endangered great apes. If the slaughter continues at this pace, then the remaining wild apes in Africa will be gone within as little as fifteen years.
This threat to wildlife is indeed a crisis because it is rapidly expanding to countries and species which were previously not at risk, largely due to an increase in commercial logging, with an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers. The argument is that these people are poor and need both the protein and the income.
I do not personally dispute the tragedy of the poor but allowing them to hunt and encouraging a process that will result in exploitation of wildlife will not alleviate their poverty. Why don’t people encourage the rearing of chickens, fish or cane rats to alleviate their protein deficiency? This will bring development and a better and healthier existence.
If I should continue to use the example of primates, there is evidence that conserving primates, rather than eating them, will actually enhance food availability for humans. African scientist operating in the Taï region of Côte-d’Ivoire, for instance, found that seven species of monkeys used about 75 species of plants as a source of fruit, of which 25 were also used by local human inhabitants for various purposes. Now, monkeys are well known seed dispersal agents and they will spread the seeds of these plants that are important to humans. If there are no monkeys, then the chance of survival of such food plants is reduced.
There is a good reason to believe that some very dangerous diseases are haboured in wild animals and eating such animal – or handling them as you would handle food – could provoke new and terrible epidemics among these communities and at the global arena. We have all heard of at least one or more of these diseases: Ebola fever, Hantavirus disease, Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and other diseases noted for their high human fatality per case rates. These and other diseases of wildlife pose increasing challenges for the health of humans already. Do we want to further complicate this problem?
I know that many people are poor and that is why I put forward this question: should we allow people to steal on a sustainable basis, taking a little from the bank on a daily basis as well as robbing everyone of the money they have worked hard for? This will not resolve poverty, nor will allowing people to take protein from the wild as is being proposed in the CIFOR report.
I don’t see any sensible person calling for the legalization of narcotics just because it is the poor who grow poppies and other raw materials. Instead, more resources are being allocated to fight this vice and to educate the public.
I totally disagree with the recommendation of legalizing bushmeat and believe that alternatives for food production and poverty alleviation exist and should be explored.