by Sean Denny
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What is the Bushmeat Crisis?
The bushmeat trade is the commercialized killing, selling, and trafficking of wildlife for consumption. The trade in Cameroon is much larger than many people realize. For example, millions of pounds of bushmeat in Cameroon are not consumed in the rural areas where wildlife is hunted; instead, this wildlife is smuggled from rural villages and forests—often on logging trucks—to urban markets of all sizes, including those of Yaoundé and Douala. In fact, 90-100 tons of bushmeat arrives in Yaoundé every month for sale. And the numbers surrounding the entire Central African bushmeat trade are staggering. For example, it is thought that at least 2-3 billion pounds of wildlife is extracted from the forests of Central Africa each year for the bushmeat trade. Although a significant amount of this wildlife is consumed at the local level, bushmeat hunting in the last several decades has become increasingly commercialized, as well as increasingly illegal, which has resulted in a dangerously unsustainable commercialized trade.
In short, the bushmeat trade is one of the world’s largest and most intense threats to our planet’s wildlife, and the bushmeat trade of Central Africa is the largest of its kind in the world. Illegal bushmeat hunting in the region is nothing short of a disaster to conservation efforts. In due time, the bushmeat trade may spell the end of some of Cameroon’s—and Africa’s—most spectacular wildlife.
From top left, clockwise: A putty-nosed monkey for sale at a market in Batouri, East region; An African dwarf crocodile, killed for the bushmeat trade, Southwest region; Monkey stew and meat (including a monkey skull), East region; Smoked monkey bushmeat, Littoral region. Photographs: © Sean Denny.
It is well known among biologists that Cameroon is a marvel of biodiversity. The country not only contains an unusually high number of animal and plant species, it also contains a large number of animal species that live nowhere else on Earth, or only in Cameroon and one of its neighboring countries. This means that unsustainable bushmeat hunting in Cameroon has the potential to wipe out entire species, particularly rare and endangered primates, of which there are many in Cameroon.
Animals in Cameroon most threatened by the bushmeat trade:
Monkeys (all species)
Bongos and Sitatungas (antelopes)
Goliath Frogs - largest frog on Earth
Water Chevrotain (an antelope)
Pangolins (all species)
African Dwarf Crocodiles
Some Mammals of Cameroon
The Cross River gorilla is among the rarest animals on Earth, with only 200-300 invdividuals alive today. This animal is only found in small portions of the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon, as well as the Cross River State of Nigeria.
Drills are consistently ranked as one of the most endangered primates in Africa, and their numbers are still declining. Mandrill (Rafiki from the Lion King) populations are also declining rapidly as a result of bushmeat hunting. Each of these species is found in only three countries, yet Cameroon contains them both.
The western lowland gorilla is listed as critically endangered. In addition to bushmeat hunting, Ebola outbreaks are seriously threatening the long-term survival of this iconic species.
Forest elephants (a separate species from savannah elephants) are being mercilessly slaughtered across Central Africa. In the last 10 years, 62% of all forest elephants on Earth were killed for their ivory or meat. In another 10 years, the species could be gone.
The excerpt below is from a document published by The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. The excerpt provides further information about the bushmeat trade and It also mentions why large-bodied species are especially threatened by bushmeat hunting.
“Deforestation still threatens habitat in tropical forests. But when the equivalent of 4 million cattle in wildlife—many of which are endangered species—are hunted and eaten each year in Central Africa, tropical forests face a more immediate threat, known as the “empty forest syndrome.” It turns out we can “defauna” a forest quicker than we can “deforest” it. Tropical forests, in contrast to tropical savannas, are particularly susceptible to over-hunting because they harbor less wildlife—by at least an order of magnitude. Hunting intensity is increasing as demand for meat increases with human population, as new, more lethal, hunting technologies such as wire snares and firearms are widely adopted, and as roads and vehicles open once isolated forests and significantly reduce hunters’ transportation costs. Hunters consider all wildlife fair game; and they prefer large animals such as apes, elephants and large antelopes because they generate the highest returns on investment. They will continue to take the more profitable large animals whenever they can, regardless of their scarcity, even when other smaller wildlife are sufficiently abundant to make hunting returns economically viable. ”
Logging companies in Cameroon are creating new road networks in once-remote forested areas, giving hunters unprecedented access to some of Cameroon’s last remaining healthy forests and their large-bodied wildlife. The trucks in this photo are coming from the forests surrounding Lobéké National Park. Lobéké is one of Cameroon’s most remote protected areas, but it is increasingly suffering from large-scale poaching. Photograph: © Sean Denny.
Steps YOU can take to avoid participating in the bushmeat trade during your service in Cameroon:
1. Never eat endangered or near-endangered species. These include all monkey species, chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, African dwarf crocodiles, pangolins (they look like a bizarre, scaly anteater and are called “katabeef” in pidgin), forest buffalo, goliath frogs, and any antelope/deer species (because you don’t know what type of antelope you’re eating—it might be an endangered species)... OR, even better, choose to not eat any kind of bushmeat.
2. Never eat bushmeat being sold in an urban setting, including small towns and bus stops along roads. Eating bushmeat in an urban setting directly supports commercial bushmeat hunting.
3. Never buy any animal or animal part, including animal skulls and skins. Doing
so only increases incentives for hunters to kill and sell more wild animals. Even if you see a live endangered animal for sale, never buy it. You can take action by calling LAGA or the Limbé Wildlife Center (see below).
4. Never keep a wild animal as a pet, especially a monkey. Primate pets are almost always orphans whose parents were killed for the bushmeat trade. Many PCVs may like the idea of having a pet monkey, but keeping monkeys as pets sets an unfortunate example, as people may view a PCV’s enjoyment of keeping an orphaned pet as support for the killing of animal parents. Although this obviously is not true, it is easy for Cameroonians to misinterpret our motivations and attitudes, and it is very likely to happen in this case, regardless of what you say.
5. Never go bushmeat hunting.
A blue duiker and flat-headed kusimanse for sale at a market in the Southwest region.Photograph: © Sean Denny
Bushmeat and livelihoods An Important Topic
When learning about the bushmeat trade, it is necessary to be aware of the fact that bushmeat is an important source of protein for millions of impoverished people living in the rain forests of Central Africa. Additionally, hunting and selling bushmeat can be a valuable source of income in economies offering few other alternatives. To ignore these realities would undermine the complexity of the bushmeat crisis and it would fail to address the issue in its entirety. From a development and humanitarian point of view, not all bushmeat should be considered bad. For example, cane rats, rat moles, porcupines, snakes, and snails (and fish!) are good and reliable sources of protein, as well as the abundant blue duiker antelope (frutambo). These animals reproduce quickly enough to withstand hunting pressures. But there are species that do not reproduce quickly enough (for example by having long pregnancies and long maturation periods) nor live at high enough numbers for their populations to survive the demand. These are the species being pushed to either global extinction or localized extinction in Cameroon.
While legal subsistence hunting may be justified, illegal and commercial bushmeat hunting must be stopped—or, in the case of commercialization, at least severely reduced in villages while fully stopped in all urban settings, including the smallest of towns. This is necessary when one considers both the unsustainable nature of the trade and the welfare of human beings that rely on bushmeat for food. Bushmeat is a resource that is being depleted at an alarming rate. Its depletion will result in a much reduced food supply in the coming years for hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of Cameroonians. Moreover, tropical rain forests rely on fruit-eating animals to disperse and germinate seeds, which allows these forests to regenerate.
Cameroonian forests need their wildlife, especially fruit-eating animals such as primates, elephants, antelopes, hornbills, and fruit bats. Furthermore, many Cameroonians are heavily dependent on Cameroon’s forests for ecosystem services (i.e. the production of clean water, food, fuelwood, building materials, tools, medicine, etc.). Therefore, not only are wild animals in Central Africa valuable for their major contributions to African and global biodiversity, they also have crucial ecological roles in productive forests and are currently a vital food resource for many poor, rural-dwelling Africans.
Lastly, all PCVs come to Cameroon with the intentions of improving the lives of the poor and to promote sustainable solutions to poverty. The sustained health of natural ecosystems is crucial to the livelihoods of almost all impoverished people, who are often deeply reliant on ecosystem services for subsistence living. It is therefore in all of our interests to promote the health of Cameroon’s wildlife and ecosystems. An easy way for a PCV to start this process is by removing him or herself from the bushmeat trade (see above), educating others about the unsustainable nature of the trade, and safely alerting authorities to illegal activities threatening the survival of Cameroon’s wildlife.
Wildlife Crime: The Bigger Picture
Wildlife Crime is a grave problem throughout all of Africa, and indeed throughout the entire world. A great deal of wildlife crime in Africa is of course connected to the bushmeat trade, but wildlife crime goes further to include the poaching, capturing, and trafficking of animals and animal parts for ivory, traditional medicine, pelts/skins, trophies, pets, artwork, and souvenirs. A large part of the wildlife trade, particularly the ivory trade, is driven by China’s immense and growing demand for wild animals and their parts. Buyers of illegally obtained wildlife, however, are found throughout the entire world. The chain, of course, starts in countries that contain the sought after wildlife, such as the country of Cameroon.
Wildlife crime is rampant in Cameroon. Cameroonian foresters and park rangers will often turn a blind eye to wildlife crime—or become active in it—if the right amount of money is promised. In fact, it is not uncommon for park rangers and government officials in many African countries to be involved in poaching activities and other acts of wildlife crime. Corruption itself may be the single greatest threat to our planet’s wildlife. Wildlife laws are rarely enforced in underdeveloped nations even though these countries often harbor the most threatened of species. Today, a huge number of customs and port authorities—and other government officials—are bribed to ensure their complicity in the illegal wildlife trade. In fact, reveling in their triumph over authorities, traffickers and dealers will sometimes boast about the success of their global undetected trading networks.
Indeed, poachers, traffickers, and dealers of wildlife are disturbingly successful. The international wildlife trade is now the third most profitable form of organized crime in the world (after narcotics and human trafficking). An equally concerning fact is that the money generated from the trade frequently goes to funding rebel or government militias in Africa. In fact, one of the largest events in wildlife crime in decades was recently perpetrated by a notorious Sudanese militia, the Janjaweed. During January and February of 2012, the Janjaweed killed three-hundred and fifty plus elephants in Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjida National Park.
This atrocious event in more detail below.
Sadly, wildlife crime is growing and the technology used by poachers is becoming increasingly sophisticated and lethal. Poachers are now using helicopters to map out the movements of large animals (such as elephants and rhinoceroses) in national parks. Military weapons, including machine guns, mortars, and grenades, are being used to kill both wildlife and park rangers. In many parts of Africa, it seems that a war has broken out over the continent’s wildlife.
Despite rapid and expansive urbanization in Africa, and the concomitant destruction of its natural habitats, wildlife crime is the most significant and immediate threat to Africa’s wildlife. As a PCV in Cameroon, it is important to be educated about these destructive activities. The following page discusses how you can report wildlife crime if you come across such activities during your Peace Corps service in Cameroon.
Reporting Wildlife Crime in Cameroon: The Choice is up to You
At some point during your service in Cameroon, you are likely to come across an act of serious wildlife crime. If you wish, you can report the case to the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), an NGO in Cameroon that partners with the Cameroonian government to take action against wildlife crime OR you can report the case to the Limbé Wildlife Center, a rescue center for orphaned wildlife. Below are some good examples of cases that you can report to LAGA and/or the Limbé Wildlife Center (LWC).
Cases of primates being illegally hunted or sold or illegally kept in captivity. Contact the LWC or LAGA if you see a live or dead endangered primate for sale, or an endangered primate being kept as a pet. You can also contact these organizations if you have any other substantial knowledge regarding the hunting and selling of endangered primates. Endangered primates include chimpanzees, gorillas, drills, mandrills, and other lesser-known species, such as colobus monkeys and the rare De Brazza’s monkey. If you give the LWC or LAGA a detailed description of a particular primate, they can help you determine the species. Note: A protected wild animal is being illegally kept in captivity if it is being kept anywhere outside of an established wildlife/rescue center.
Cases of other wildlife being illegally hunted, sold, or kept in captivity. See the end of this document to learn which animals are illegal to kill, sell, or posses in Cameroon.
Cases related to elephant poaching and/or the selling of ivory. If you have knowledge of elephant poaching activities or the selling of ivory, call LAGA. Additionally, if someone offers you the opportunity to purchase ivory (this has happened to PCVs before), call LAGA and report the case.*
Left: A male chimpanzee illegally kept captive in a village in the Southwest region of Cameroon. Photograph: © LWC
*It is important to know that both LAGA and the LWC will never expose your identity if you report a case. Always keep in mind, however, that the safety of an animal should never be prioritized above your own. Therefore, you are encouraged to alert LAGA and the LWC to wildlife crime at your discretion. For clarification on this issue, you are welcome to call either of these organizations.
Vallee Nlongkak, Yaoundé
(email is preferable)
The Massacre at Bouba Ndjida, Cameroon
Photograph: © WWF Cameroon
Highly intelligent, social, emotional, and immensely powerful, elephants are surely among the most magnificent creatures on Earth. Yet the future of elephants in Africa is disturbingly bleak. This elephant (above) was one of three-hundred and fifty plus elephants that were slaughtered in January and February of 2012 inside Bouba Ndjida National Park, located in the North region of Cameroon along the country’s border with Chad. This massacre was one of—if not the—worst poaching events in the world in decades. It was perpetrated by the Janjaweed, a Sudanese militia that fights on horseback, mostly in Darfur.
In early 2012, the Janjaweed road on horseback from Sudan, through the Central African Republic and Chad, and into Bouba Ndjida National Park, where they used machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and other powerful weapons to kill hundreds of elephants. Chainsaws were used to cut off the elephants’ faces (below), which allowed the Janjaweed to quickly obtain the elephants’ tusks. (Many elephant poachers now use chainsaws for this purpose.) The Janjaweed have been selling elephant tusks for decades now to fund their warfare activities in Sudan. Sadly, organized elephant killings conducted with military tactics and weaponry are becoming increasingly common in Africa. It is important to remember, however, that many elephants in Cameroon are not murdered by highly organized foreign militias, but instead by Cameroonian poachers. For example, in June 2012, three men from the Cameroonian military were caught poaching elephants inside Campo Ma’an National Park, located in the country’s South region.
For more information on the Bushmeat Crisis and Wildlife Crime, visit the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force at www.bushmeat.org and the Last Great Ape Organization at www.laga-enforecement.org. You are also welcome to email Sean Denny at email@example.com.
Below lists just some of the species that are protected by law in Cameroon. Unfortunately, despite the fact that these species are officially protected, some have already become extinct within Cameroon, such as the cheetah and black rhinoceros.
-Zorilla (also known as the striped pole cat)
-African wild dog
-Guereza (also know as the Eastern black-and-white colobus)
-Preuss’s red colobus
-De Brazza’s monkey
-Cross River Allen’s galago
-Giant ground pangolin
-Beecroft’s flying squirrel
-African savannah elephant
-African forest elephant
-Giant forest hog
-Genet (all species)
-Peter’s and Harvey’s duiker
-All other monkey species in Cameroon
-African dwarf crocodile
-Olive ridley turtle
-African spurred tortoise
-Mount Lefo chameleon
-African rock python
-Muller’s sand boa
-Nile monitor lizard
-African savannah monitor lizard
-Bell’s hinged tortoise
-African gray parrot
-Cameroon mountain pigeon
-Yellow-casqued wattled hornbill
-Grey-necked rock fowl
-Mount Kupe bush shrike
-Cameroon mountain francolin
-Cameroon montane greenbul
-Dja river warbler
-Almost all birds of prey found in the northern half of the country. Eagles, hawks, falcons, and vultures are all birds of prey.