Response to "The Protein Gap"
With interest and dismay, I recently read an article on the bushmeat crisis in central Africa entitled 'The Protein Gap" by Fred Pierce (Conservation In Practice, July - Sept 2005). In my opinion it contains a wide variety of inaccuracies and contradictions. Since I am cited as one contributing to the "propaganda war" against hunters and bushmeat hunting, I feel strongly about responding.
Firstly, regarding the image of the gorilla head in a cooking pot, a photograph I took and which has indeed gone around the world - If this is considered propaganda - I would like to suggest that it was this and similar images documenting the hunting of gorillas and other flagship species which has resulted in many scientists and conservationists, such as John Fa, taking an interest in the subject of bushmeat and seeing the potential of fund raising for research on the back of it. I doubt that a picture of some cane rats hanging on a pole would have done the same.
There is no longer any doubt in my mind that research into the bushmeat issue is one governed by considerations of political correctness, especially when it comes to researchers reliant on getting permits from local authorities. "Poverty alleviation" and "food security" are catch phrases used by those looking for explanations and excuses to justify the status quo. In my opinion they have little relevance to the main underlying problem which, as with most other African problems, is one of poor governance.
The article states, "Much of it is, after all, illegal". Indeed, pretty much all of these countries have very concrete and solid laws concerning hunting, many going back to colonial times. For example, in the case of a chimpanzee being hunted, numerous national laws will have been infringed upon, such as not holding the respective gun license, not having procured the cartridges with the proper documentation, hunting out of season, hunting in protected areas, hunting with non-traditional methods such as cable snares, hunting without the appropriate permits for the number and type of species, hunting at night (which is illegal pretty much everywhere), transporting game meat without a license, and trading bushmeat without a permit, etc...
To wish the above reality away, by hiding behind such explanations as poverty and food security, is, in my opinion, totally counterproductive. Doing so merely endorses poor quality governance and corruption which, I believe, are the root causes of the African development problem.
If these laws are no longer realistic, and if the logical answer is for both subsistence and commercial hunters to shoot at anything they can, because people have to eat and earn a living, then this is a very short term approach indeed. As a result, most of the local populations in question will only be poorer ten years from now then they are even today.
These countries have parliaments and highly paid politicians, meant to amend laws to make them realistic and consider the long term well being of the population. I doubt, however, that there will be any national or political debate about bushmeat as long as the donor community and foreign "experts", such as perceive it as a problem involving only poverty and food security.
It also beyond "... caring more about the survival of the forest species then that of the hunters...". The bushmeat issue should be examined for the purpose of increasing donor pressure on nations to improve the overall quality of governance. This will not be achieved, however, as long as national laws are being ignored and rationalizations aware. I have not met a hunter yet who denied that he could make a living on bushmeat even without hunting endangered and protected species.
The article also states, "... If the rich backed off bushmeat and hunters stopped hunting for cash, the situation would be better", an argument which only compounds the above contradictions. I would love to know, statistically, how much bushmeat in Central Africa is actually consumed by the hunter and his household and how much is traded for cash. While the problem of bushmeat does exist in other parts of Africa, law enforcement in eastern and southern Africa serves as a real deterrent, and demonstrates some underlying political will to deal with the legal side of the issue.
Clearly most of the consumers of bushmeat in the urban centers - where, as has been documented over and over again, the price is generally three to four times that charged at the forest source or for beef, pork and chicken - are aware that national laws which legislate hunting exist, and would not be adversely effected if these laws were adhered to. Fred Pierce's article, however, seems to suggest that lawlessness, both in the bush and in urban centers is to be expected as such should be accepted.
"They need alternatives - of things to eat and means of making a living. Trying to stop them from hunting otherwise won't work."
This is another statement which I find highly inaccurate.
I initiated a coffee buying project in the DRC a few years ago, after villagers repeatedly told me that the killing of elephants was necessary since they could no longer sell their coffee and thus had no income. Now, however, after this and another development project have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in this one village, buying coffee and building bridges, all indications are that an influx of disposable income has resulted in a drastic rise in the demand for bushmeat, as well as an increase in the poaching of elephants.....
I have had logging company executives tell me that every timber outfit in a certain region of Cameroon is fully aware that when a certain governor visits, gorilla meat must be served - this is his preference and nobody dares tell him that it is against the law.I have seen pictures of the official in question and he does not look like he suffers from protein deficiency....
What John Fa calls "...understanding the social and economic problems of the hunters...", I would classify as another foreign researcher's attempt to be politically correct so as to avoid jeopardizing access and research permits, upon which their livelihoods depend. It is much easier, unfortunately, to calculate sustainability rates by counting carcasses in bushmeat markets then it is to have illegally obtained bushmeat confiscated and guns burned.
It is time to call a spade a spade.
August 29, 2007
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