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A Look at the Bushmeat Crisis in Central Africa
November 13, 2012 11:37 PM   Subscribe

"Decades ago, the Mbuti typically sold about half the meat they captured; now they sell nearly every carcass, saving only the prized entrails and heads for themselves. The hunt, in essence, has devolved into an all-out commercial endeavor, staged not for subsistence, but to feed growing regional markets. And the impact is clear."
posted by Scientist (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
What do they eat, then? It doesn't say in the article. Do they use the money they make off the meat to buy commercial food? Certainly a few prized morsels of meat doesn't feed them all.

And if they eat commercial food instead of the food they hunt, should they even be allowed to hunt anymore when no one else can?
posted by Malice at 12:12 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can't feed urban populations on wild game. That's why we had the Neolithic. I know that man is determined not to learn the lessons of his own history, but come on chaps, there's a limit to how far back we should go when it comes to that sort of thing.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:22 AM on November 14, 2012


The solution is to send in economists (I nominate my father-in-law) to teach these people to better appreciate value. They must charge vastly more for their bushmeat! It's "exotic".
posted by Goofyy at 12:41 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not that I think 'modern' living is sustainable, but hunting isn't exactly sustainable without strict regulation, either. Not in this day and age, and not with the amount of humans alive. Should people be allowed to continue to do something simply because it's what they've always done?

The argument can be, and has been made for Alaskan tribes to continue to hunt whales, even when those whales are endangered beyond belief, simply because it's part of their culture.

Some things just need to stop.

If they're already buying commercial foods with the money they make (and this is speculation, but again, if they're selling almost all of the bushmeat, how else would they be eating? They're not vegetarians.) then maybe they should just gradually convert to a more modern way of life and stop hunting in the wildlife preserves.


I feel I'll probably get a lot of hate for this comment but I just don't believe that a person's way of life is sacred just because it's old, particularly if it's not sustainable - and I do have a lot of criticism for modern sustainability as well, but that's a different topic.
posted by Malice at 12:57 AM on November 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


... experts warn it could drive some of Africa's last hunter-gatherers to eradicate the very wildlife that sustains them, and with it, their own forest-dwelling existence.

Experts warn. It might be given thought that Africans have largely maintained and preserved their native animal populations to the present day whilst those of, for example, Britain were mostly hunted to extinction more than 1000 years ago.

hunting isn't exactly sustainable without strict regulation

It's 2012 and there are Pygmies with iron-tipped spears living in the jungle. It would seem to me that these people know how to sustain themselves without any "expert" advice and they should be left alone to live as they please and not regulated into urban conformity.
posted by three blind mice at 1:37 AM on November 14, 2012


It would seem to me that these people know how to sustain themselves without any "expert" advice and they should be left alone to live as they please and not regulated into urban conformity.

They gave up the right to being left alone when they started hunting not to sustain, but to profit. In wildlife conservation parks.
posted by Malice at 1:40 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Isn't the point that the profit-hunting will ruin the subsistence-hunting very soon? Then where will they be? Laborers for shit wages, sounds like. Welcome to capitalism.
posted by marble at 1:46 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some things just need to stop.

Like North Americans driving cars and generally using way too much energy and resources. This is what is fucking the planet, not overhunting by the Mbuti.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:59 AM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Isn't the point that the profit-hunting will ruin the subsistence-hunting very soon? Then where will they be? Laborers for shit wages, sounds like. Welcome to capitalism.

Very generally speaking, the indigenous Pygmy of Central Africa have already been integrated into the economic system for quite some time, and they enjoy very little rights. Indeed, they are often regarded as chattel - virtual slaves - by villagers along the developed areas of the riverbank.

The bushmeat trade has been going on for some time, since well before the end of the Cold War in the early 90's.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:17 AM on November 14, 2012


It might be given thought that Africans have largely maintained and preserved their native animal populations to the present day whilst those of, for example, Britain were mostly hunted to extinction more than 1000 years ago.

Britain was considerably bigger in 10,000 BC when the extinctions listed on that page began. It seems to me that many of them might not necessarily be the result of hunting, particularly the extinctions of grazing animals.

I'm also not entirely confident of your reasoning overall there. Quite a bit of the mineral resources in Africa are less depleted than in the rest of the world but I don't think it's due to Africans being avid conservationists intent on living in harmony with the land.

That said, yeah, this is definitely a "pluck the timber out of your own eye first" situation.
posted by XMLicious at 3:19 AM on November 14, 2012


Australian Aborigines, who these days are supposed to be custodians of the land and country and stuff with their traditions and all, were always a microscopic part of the Australian ecosystem, and yet they managed to be a cause (or the cause) of megafauna extinctions here (at least as far as I know).

Humanity is a bad thing, and it will kill everything else it needs for immediate gain, except in the developed world where we carer about such things (so, you know, we kill them other ways).
posted by Mezentian at 4:22 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There have been other times when bushmeat was scarce and they made it through those. Of course if things get really bad, the Bantu may see them more as food than as people. But that can't happen, right?
posted by Renoroc at 4:47 AM on November 14, 2012


Renoroc: I think your polarity is reversed. The crafty jungle hunters are not going to be seen as food. They will not be seen at all. The hunters will hunt. Only their prey will change.
posted by Goofyy at 5:55 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Full disclosure: my boss does conservation work in Central Africa, albeit not in the DRC and not specifically dealing with the bushmeat crisis. However, many of her study species (duikers, gorillas) are among those most heavily affected so it's something that she is keenly aware of. That is how this subject got onto my radar.

It's a thorny problem. Yes, this has definitely happened before. The Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinctions are largely agreed to have been caused at least in large part by human overhunting, and we were operating with neolithic technology then, similar to what the Mbuti have now. And the Congo is being emptied, not just by the Mbuti but by everyone, legally or not.

"The Empty Forest" is the article that inspired me to make this post, though of course it's locked down. (MeMail me if you would like a copy.) It deals with the crisis in the Amazon, but my understanding is that the crisis in Central Africa is even more severe. It also talks about more than hunting; it deals with the implications of the defaunation of forests, what happens when they lose their seed dispersers and pollinators. It's a good paper, and very accessibly written -- almost conversational, by the standards of scientific journal articles.

People here have identified many of the factors that make this such a thorny problem. The bushmeat crisis can be seen as being caused largely by development and cultural imperialism; a demand for processed goods coupled to the pressures of urban expansion, exploding populations, and the wholesale destruction of the forest itself for timber and other natural resources, has created a set of conditions that have caused indigenous people to switch from subsistence hunting to commercial hunting. With the forests already made more fragile by human activity, these hunting levels are totally unsustainable.

Yet, that is a very difficult idea to get people to act on. Hunters see bushmeat as their primary means of supporting themselves and their families. City-dwellers eat bushmeat because it helps them feel connected to their cultural heritage. Indigenous lifestyles are often disrupted such that while people may still retain the ability to hunt, they no longer have access to the kind of range and quality of habitat that allowed them to practice the full gamut of their traditional lifestyle.

Many here have rightly pointed out that humans have a terrible track record of identifying and stopping unsustainable practices, both currently and historically, and that it seems more than a little bit hypocritical of Westerners to go into places where people have been living sustainably for many tens of thousands of years and tell them that they have to stop hunting because we have fucked up the environment and the culture and created conditions that mean their hunting cannot go on. We're part of the demand, too. Much of the bushmeat that is sold gets sold right in the forest, not to traders but to logging and oil prospecting camps from China and the West. And we are powerless to enforce it anyway. The article mentioned that the DRC has a grand total of ninety forest guards, to safeguard the wildlife of a country that is larger than Greenland.

It's a really difficult issue and one which needs to be solved now if we are to have any chance of preventing the certain extinction of many of Central Africa's most loved species -- gorillas, elephants, antelope, chimpanzees -- and the probable collapse of many of the habitats that depend on the activity of those species in order to carry out critical ecosystem processes. I don't know, personally, if good solutions exist at all. I know we haven't found them yet. One big arm of attack is that we need to get buy-in from the people who are doing the hunting, get them on our side. Contrary to popular portrayal, indigenous people are not stupid. They are perfectly capable of realizing that if they are to be able to keep hunting forever (which is often their stated desire) then there needs to be some way of ensuring that the animals they are hunting can maintain their numbers. They may not always like to talk about it to nosy American photojournalists like the ones in the NBC article, but they see the writing on the wall.

A big part of the problem is that commercial hunting is one of very few options that is left to these people now that we've basically ruined their lives, and most of the options that we could provide would involve taking them off of their ancestral land. No, I don't think that it's OK to recapitulate the Native American genocide and force indigenous people into cities and onto reservations just so that we can avoid some of the effects of our destructive global development scheme. One of the best ways that we've come up with so far is to employ indigenous people as ecoguards, to train them and equip them and pay them to defend their forests against hunters and poachers. One problem, alluded to in the NBC article, is that this often means that they are being paid to defend the forest against their friends and relatives. Another is that it's bloody dangerous work, because poachers have rifles too and they normally outnumber the guards. A third is that there just isn't the money, organization, or political will in many parts of the world to make it happen on the scale that would be required for it to have an impact.

I don't know what the solution is, or if there is one. I do know that we need more reserves and that we need to put more energy and resources into protecting the reserves that we do have. I know that we will continue to see extinctions of large mammals (and then medium sized mammals, and then small mammals and reptiles -- the bushmeat crisis tends to progress downward through the trophic ladder, following huntin preference) until we can come up with a workable solution. What I don't know is where it will end.
posted by Scientist at 7:34 AM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


They gave up the right to being left alone when they started hunting not to sustain, but to profit. In wildlife conservation parks.

It's not like they chose to have a wildlife conservation park - most were imposed on people by colonial or post-colonial governments.

If I suddenly declared your lawn to be a dandelion conservation park, would you throw away your lawn mower?
posted by jb at 7:55 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Cote d'Ivoire, where I work, the Ivorians blame poaching on the Liberians, and tell me their pet monkeys were bought in Liberia, and the pangolin roasting on the open fire - that came from Liberians too. The folks in the village who hunt - and I know that there are locals who hunt, I've seen them leaving the forest with bags of meat - sell their meat at big markets right on the Liberian border, or else they sell them to truckers who will take them up to bigger cities on the interior of Cote d'Ivoire. A lot of the poachers I met are sort of drunks who people are kind of embarrassed by, and it's not a particularly high status job. That being said, I met one guy who used to be a poacher and made enough money to buy farmland and now he's totally legit and part of the official economy.

It takes a serious toll on the forest I work in. When I got to the forest, it was only a few months after the civil war had forced all the researchers, and all the Ivorian employees, and all the park guards, out. The preponderance of weapons, the inability of people to work on their farms, and the lack of enforcement of existing boundaries, meant that there was a lot of hunting that had gone on. The monkeys I study behave significantly different when hunting pressure is high than when it is not. They're quiet, they stay higher in the forest canopy, they don't move around as much, they hide behind leaves... I heard people shooting, dogs barking, and found shells around my study grid. It's a very immediate thing.

The bushmeat crisis is a serious one that extends beyond Africa. Asia's primates and other large mammals are being totally decimated. Madagascar's large mammals (mostly lemurs) are critically endangered. And if you're a person living in a large city with an Africa or Asian population pretty much anywhere in the world, the tendrils extend to markets or stores in your area. A Senegalese friend knows where he can get me smoked chimpanzee, given a week or so (I think the chain goes Senegalese forest to Dakar to Paris to Detroit to Cincinnati to Columbus).

Bushmeat, at least in Central Africa, is very connected to logging. Logging opens roads up and makes it easier to reach the forest interior where animals are less wary. Logging companies provide their employees with guns. Trucks coming from the interior of the forest out to cities are great trafficking options - I've even seen pictures of people smoking meat on the engines as they drive out of the forest. I think it's a huge misdirection to point at folks like the Mbuti as the cause of the bushmeat crisis. Don't look at them - look at the global North's insatiable demand for exotic forest woods and the resistance to truly sustainable logging practices. Look at the turn towards palm oil and ethanol turning land that could be arable, productive land for subsistance farming into just another patch of corn in the Amazon stretching as far as the eye can see. And thne, when people lose the ability to farm, they have to get their food from somewhere and the only option remaining is to get protein from the forest.

And then, because the people who are really behind the most significant parts of the problem are too rich and clever (and often too European or American or Chinese) to accept the blame, these fake scapegoats turn up. We don't have to examine our motives and our global consumption if we can turn the Mbuti into sustainable managers of their forest who know not to overhunt. We can turn people into conservation refugees and put up impressive signs and arm ecoguards that keep local populations out of the forests they live around (many of the girls in the villages surrounding my forest have never even seen monkeys that weren't somebody's pet), but none of that matters when a multinational corporation can get permission to mine for gold or drill for oil or log within the boundaries of long-established national parks to satisfy global demand.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:53 AM on November 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Thank you ChuraChura, you said it much more articulately and accurately and with much more expertise than I could possibly have done. Much appreciated.
posted by Scientist at 10:23 AM on November 14, 2012


Like North Americans driving cars and generally using way too much energy and resources. This is what is fucking the planet, not overhunting by the Mbuti.

If you actually took the time to read my comments, I addressed this. You're right, it is. No, I don't think they're ruining the planet. I think they're overhunting endangered and/or protected species, which is very bad in it's own way. Both things can be bad, we don't have to choose.
posted by Malice at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2012


If I suddenly declared your lawn to be a dandelion conservation park, would you throw away your lawn mower?

Personally? If my front lawn was declared a conservation park to protect endangered (or soon to be) plants and animals, then yeah, sure. Why not?

But a.) It's my understanding that that's not a concept tribesman understand and b.) Even ones that do don't give two shits because that's they're livelihood.

And I understand that, too.

Doesn't make it right.
posted by Malice at 1:10 PM on November 14, 2012


but none of that matters when a multinational corporation can get permission to mine for gold or drill for oil or log within the boundaries of long-established national parks to satisfy global demand.

How sadly true.
posted by Malice at 1:12 PM on November 14, 2012


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