The West African Black Rhinoceros or Western Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes) is declared extinct by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) after a recent survey failed to spot any individuals. As per the global assessment by IUCN there are no Wild Black Rhinos remaining in West Africa.
The West African Black Rhinoceros once widespread in the savanna of central-west Africa but declined from poaching. According to IUCN a subspecies of white rhino in central Africa is also listed as possibly extinct.
The IUCN reports that despite conservation efforts, 25% of the world’s mammals are at risk of extinction. As part of its latest work it has reassessed several rhinoceros groups.
So why that title for today’s post you wonder? I read an op-ed on the BBC website by Mark Jones titled “Is Africa’s Wildlife being eaten to Extinction?” caught my eye to say the least. I have known for quite some time via National geographic and other nature channels that illegal Bushmeat trade was one of the major reasons for poaching in Africa, and had imagined that since it was well known it must be under control.
Educating the locals and providing them with alternate food sources etc… were the things I had read about. When I read Mark Jones write up I was stunned by the magnitude of the Bushmeat market. It was just not limited to Africa anymore; the bushmeat trade has gone Global and found a market outside Africa in the west!
Mark Jones says “It is now a multi-billion dollar international trade involving hundreds of species, from forest herbivores such as duikers and other antelopes to wild pigs, rodents, elephants and primates.
The exponential increase in the trade over recent years is being driven by demand from the exploding and ever more urbanized human population in Africa, and the increasing international value and demand for bushmeat products.”
What is Bushmeat?
In Africa the forests are referred to locally as “the bush” and anything that is caught from the bush is therefore Bushmeat or in French – viande de brousse. Traditionally almost all the local tribes have survived on Bushmeat for centuries and it is part and parcel of their way of living. What has changed over time is the loss of habitat and commercial hunting which has led to a steady decline in the number of species and its populations.
Illegal hunting for Bushmeat is rampant in many parts of Africa especially the Congo, where many a household depends mainly on Bushmeat for survival. Congo is almost always on the verge of anarchy because of its huge mineral wealth from cobalt all the way to gold and diamonds it is one of the richest African countries but the Congolese are leading a hand to mouth existence at best. Scientists have calculated that at the rate Congo is procuring Bushmeat the entire land would be wiped clean of wild animals by 2050! That would threaten livelihood of many of the indigenous people who depend on Bushmeat for survival.
Why is there a crisis?
Wildlife has been hunted for food ever since humans first evolved, and wildlife is still viewed as resource ‘free’ for the taking in many areas. Today in West and Central Africa, Bushmeat continues to be an economically important food and trade item for thousands of poor rural and urban families, and it’s a status symbol for urban elites trying to retain links to ‘the village’ – often commanding extremely high prices in city restaurants. Virtually uncontrolled access to forest wildlife (i.e., almost anyone can go hunting anywhere), rising demand for bushmeat, lack of economic options for rural and urban communities, the absence of affordable substitutes, the opening up of ‘frontier’ forests by logging and mining companies, and the complicity of government law makers and law enforcers, are the most important factors driving commercial hunting and militating against wildlife conservation.
Some facts about Bushmeat
Current harvest of Bushmeat in Central Africa is estimated to be around 1 million tons annually! This is equivalent to 4 million cattle! Congolese consume similar amounts of meat like Europeans and Americans, difference being it all comes from the forest.
Almost 24 million people live in and around the forest regions of Africa and most of them depend on Bushmeat as the major source for protein.
Primates and antelopes that are commonly hunted for meat, play an important -role in the forest by spreading the seeds of trees, vines and shrubs. Meat consumption may increase by 3% or more per year as human populations continue to grow and household incomes increase.
The most hunted wild species in Central Africa are duikers (forest antelopes), bush pig, pangolin, porcupine and small monkeys.
In Gabon, since agricultural production is low, the 1.5 million inhabitants depend almost entirely on Bushmeat for their protein intake.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest Bushmeat consumption of the region. One study in the northeast found that two-thirds of households’ total cash income came from Bushmeat, fish and plants.
Bushmeat these days also includes Elephant, Apes and other protected animals.
Wildlife in Eastern and Southern African countries is increasingly being targeted, and Kenya is estimated to have experienced a loss of about 50% in its wildlife in recent decades, largely as a result of the bushmeat trade.
While most people are aware that elephants are poached for their ivory, many do not know that elephants are also a part of the Bushmeat crisis. One elephant yields thousands of kilos of meat, which may be easier to sell in markets than elephant ivory.
Humans share much of our DNA with great apes and monkeys like. Bushmeat hunting exposes humans to diseases carried by non-human primates, and vice versa.
Awareness and support for control of the bushmeat trade was virtually non-existent until the late 1990’s. Funding of a suite of studies and the efforts of a few key individuals have begun to change that. Now NGOs, governments, and the private sector are awakening to the challenge, and are currently seeking ways to understand and address the bushmeat crisis at local, national and international levels.
Working with logging companies to curb the export of meat from concessions is an essential step to conserving forest wildlife.
What Needs to be and Can be done?
Poverty and hunger are the underlying issues and without trying to resolve them I doubt the issues of Africa or any other place on earth can be solved. The Following are solutions suggested by the Bushmeat Crisis task Force (BCTF)
Employment of local residents;
restricting human immigration to logging concessions;
negotiating areas to be set aside and remain unlogged;
prohibiting use of logging vehicles to transport bushmeat;
and removing bridges along roads in already logged areas.
Increasing support for national and trans-border protected area networks and developing capacity at local, national, and regional levels is highly important.
Long-term support for protected areas including provision of well-equipped and trained anti-poaching units is a second clear priority for mitigating the commercial bushmeat trade.
Support environmentally sound economic development throughout West Africa and the Congo Basin.
Be the primary, reliable, credible source of information on the bushmeat issue (commercial, illegal and/or unsustainable) in Africa, Asia, Latin America and around the globe.
Use information to catalyze connections in the bushmeat arena, to support conservation on the ground.
Strengthen domestic and international policies focused on mitigation of the illegal, unsustainable activities related to bushmeat (government, private sector, etc.)
Identify and cultivate key decision makers that will advance our vision.
Respond to requests from key decision makers that result in the advancement of our vision.
Raise awareness of the bushmeat crisis and its implications among (a) members (b) key decision makers (c) public in Africa and North America and around the globe.
Motivate and enable action addressing the bushmeat crisis.
Promote education and training opportunities to enhance member and partner capacity to address bushmeat.
Establishing an information database regarding the activities and impacts of the African commercial bushmeat trade (ecological, economic, and social).
Establishing mechanisms for information sharing among member organizations with the goal of increasing collaboration and effectiveness of field program actions and reporting/ evaluation of results.
Informing, raising awareness, and identifying support from key decision-makers regarding the scope and immediacy of the problem.
Coordinating cooperative public relations/ media campaigns to inform the public in the USA about the bushmeat crisis (including collaboration with member institutional/individual partners to develop similar, culturally appropriate, information campaigns in Africa).
Engaging African partners and stakeholders in the BCTF process.
Building and maintaining communications among members of the BCTF to facilitate collaborative policy, decision-making, fund-raising, and action implementation among the disparate members of the BCTF.
Developing linkages with parallel collaborative efforts emerging among African and European counterparts.
Unless one looks at the big picture it is kind of difficult to understand the impact of bushmeat trade. Species have functions: as prey for other species, seed dispersers or forest rebuilders. So reductions in certain species can have far reaching impacts on others, causing a loss of biodiversity and a crisis within ecosystems. In the UN’s year for biodiversity this becomes another issue which adversely effects biodiversity and species survival. Wonder what will be done and how soon.
Check out a video on Bushmeat crisis by the BBC: