Monday 7 December 2020

Bushmeat: supply and demand in the Kongo Central Province


These traders (it's a man's universe) are organized in a closely knit association

Bushmeat is openly traded along the highway that runs through the Luki Biosphere Reserve in the Kongo Central Province. The most commonly sold species is cane rat but red river hog and antelope are sometimes available. These pictures were taken at a roadside stand on the outskirts of the town of Kinzau-Mvuete 6 December 2020. Traders wave down drivers of SUVs hoping to make a sale.
Animals are smoked at the roadside stand

Freshly killed cane rat
Freshly shot cane rat: animals shot are said to taste better than 
animals snared because of fast death/slow death implications.

As wildlife levels diminish in the area, families see their nutrition options change. Children are particularly hard hit because those who consume forest foods have a higher nutrient density than children who do not. An estimated one billion poor people depend on bushmeat for protein, most of the B-vitamin complex and the minerals of iron and zinc. 

Hunters say that the availability of motorcycles is a blessing because they facilitate getting their animals to the traders.
A cane rat this size can sell for five times the price of a kilo of imported chicken thighs.

Smoked cane rat splayed and smoked in a frame of light wood

Partially smoked duiker. 

Farmers hunt cane rats, which in addition to providing cash, eliminates them from their fields. They are pests especially at harvest time as they can ravage entire crops. This is a commonly encountered example of human-animal conflict.

The development of informal commercial networks for urban markets reduces local access to meat because individuals who combine farming and hunting prefer selling wild animals for money instead of putting it into the household pot. They say 'eating bushmeat is like eating money'. A farmer/hunter in the nearby village of Kifudi reported that when he shoots or snares a cane rat, he prefers selling it to buy cheap imported chicken, fish, rice, oil and condiments.

This is a comprehensible paradox because if the family were to eat the cane rat, they wouldn’t have money to buy other foodstuffs. It comes down to selling a relatively small quantity of quality meat to a commercial trader to be able to buy a much larger stock of food that could last longer and feed more family members.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Urban bushmeat project

Crocodiles, Mbandaka market, RDC

In the framework of research at AfricaMuseum, Tervuren, I’m working on a project provisionally entitled ‘Bushmeat: The culture and economy of eating wild animals in central Africa’. The objective of the research is to study the urban appetite for bushmeat in a culturally sensitive way and to give voice to the hunters, transporters, traders, consumers and other protagonists in bushmeat crisis dynamics.

This blog entry is a way of sharing my current research and inviting colleagues to share their work in the event of common research interests. Any collaboration on these themes will be welcomed. Please contact:

Smoked monkey meat, Mankoto, Salonga Park, DRC
Wildlife conservation and the illegal wildlife trade have become political priorities and a household concern in much of the world. Elephants are being massacred with military weapons for their ivory while rhinos are being poached to extinction for the perceived medicinal and symbolic characteristics of their horn. Less well-known, but equally serious, are the dynamics of over-hunting in central Africa to satisfy urban demand for wild meat. Once sustainable, hunting has become a massive commercial business to feed the region’s swelling cities.

The ‘bushmeat crisis’ referred to by conservationists is real: every year, central Africans consume approximately half as much bushmeat as Brazil produces beef. Ecocide for environmentalists, eating wild animals is just a way of life for many people in Africa. Law enforcement, awareness-building and community involvement are some of the measures being implemented but the slaughter goes on. 
Bonobo in natural habitat, Kokolopori, DRC

Protected species poster, Equateur Province, DRC
Cultural attachment to bushmeat, its political economy, urban consumption trends and the legal framework are the keys to understanding the challenges and solutions. Based on extensive field interviews and a comprehensive review of the relevant literature, this volume presents a startling account of one of the Anthropocene’s catastrophes in the making.

Menu, Kisangani restaurant, DRC
This research provides an interdisciplinary account of bushmeat consumption in central Africa. Culture, economy, biodiversity, public health and conservation law and enforcement are its main themes. Practically all forms of wildlife from the largest emblematic mammals to the smallest invertebrates are eaten. The shift from subsistence rural consumption to commercialised urban use can be explained by the development of trade networks (ranging from the small-scale and informal to the well-organized and politically connected), urbanisation dynamics, cultural and symbolic attachment and institutional constraints. All of these elements translate into soaring bushmeat consumption on the urban landscape - be it at home, as street food or in restaurants. It has direct consequences on biodiversity, local economies and public health.

This research is necessary because it will contribute to wildlife management strategies by informing policy decisions. Donors are investing millions of dollars every year in the region to improve wildlife management in and outside of national parks but they are only recently trying to implement actionable ideas about the drivers and obstacles to behavior change regarding bushmeat consumption. It is also necessary because of its compelling content. It tells the story of a multifaceted global problem that is little-known - and often ideological and judgmental. There is a biodiversity element. The Congo Basin in home to the world’s second largest contiguous rainforest and wildlife directly contributes to the sustainability of the forest. The ‘empty forest’ syndrome needs to be made known – without wild animals, forest dynamics suffer. The urban bushmeat trade is an important contribution to local economies: multiple levels of actors earn their livings from bushmeat. The research also reveals a worrying public health dimension: the countries in the region have little or no large-scale animal production or ranching industries so meat is either imported or harvested from the wild. Studies show the importance of bushmeat to both urban and rural diets. Another public health dimension relates to animal-to-human diseases such as HIV and Ebola.
Me with hunters, Luki Biosphere Reserve, DRC
Wire cables for sale for hunting snares, Tshupa Province, DRC

Thursday 30 August 2018

Miss Ranger on the Frontline

Christlia Nguidzi is a park ranger on a conservation mission – and the only female on a team of 20 rough-and-tumble rangers. Single, 23 years old, 52 kilos, she rattles on about face-to-face encounters with hippos, gorillas, snakes and angry villagers. ‘Our training was tough! Paramilitary boot camp followed written exams about conservation laws and wildlife. I came in first place in target practice! Older, stronger men dropped out but I’m still here and proud to be making a contribution.’

She works in the Lac Tele Community Reserve which was created in 2001 to manage the area’s biodiversity-rich flooded savanna forest. I met Christlia at park headquarters in Epena while on mission to lend environmental governance support to the park’s community development team. 

The Reserve is located in the Republic of Congo just across the Lac Tumba Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the area constitutes the world’s largest peatland. The American environmental NGO Wildlife Conservation Society manages it in tandem with the Congolese agency for nature conservation (ACFAP).

Population density is low – less than three inhabitants per square kilometer – which facilitates conservation efforts. Local communities in the reserve draw their subsistence mainly from fishing, and depending on the season, from hunting and farming. Harvesting of non-timber forest products such as caterpillars and mushrooms contribute to diets in the lean months from July to September when fish is scare. Dugout canoes, fishing nets, woven-rattan traps and harpoons are the symbols of community life. Other than selling fish and bushmeat, economic activities are limited, so families survive largely outside of the cash economy.

Interviews with villagers in the reserve revealed a common litany. ‘How are we supposed to get money to pay our kids’ school fees if we don’t hunt and fish? The reserve managers promised development options but so far haven’t delivered anything.’ 

There is indeed a pattern of frustration that started with skepticism but has mutated into anger. WCS is promoting cacao production but villagers admit that between the painstaking growing of cacao and hunting, the economic choice is simple: ‘we only get 600CFA for a kilo of cacao whereas a duiker can fetch five times as much’.

A day in the life of a park ranger is physically and emotionally exhausting. ‘A patrol can last up to three weeks in the forest. I carry a gun and a heavy pack filled with cans of sardines and corned beef, my tent, GPS and satellite phone in case we have an emergency. We go days and days without washing up – and that’s no joke. It’s never happened to me but colleagues have met up with family members with guns and animals that are on our country’s protected species list. What are they supposed to do? Uphold their conservation mandate or get into trouble with the family?’ Tasks in this mandate according to Christlia are anti-poaching, wildlife tracking and stimulating community awareness.

There work is also dangerous. The 12 caliber shotgun is another symbol in these parts. ‘I was really scared the day we found a pygmy hunter with three elephant tusks and a gun. There are networks controlled by influential people in the big cities behind elephant poaching. Another day, angry villagers threw sticks and stones at us because we arrested a local poacher.’

Christlia has the support of her family in her commitment to work as a ranger. ‘My nieces think I’m doing something amazing and want to follow in my footsteps. I really hope they will succeed. We need more independent women to do this work so they won’t rely on their husbands.’

She is one of six children so her parents are grateful she can send some money at the end of the month. Her father is a school gym teacher and her mother sells fish and banana at the market in Impfondo. She says her earnings are low and complains that only five rangers have government contracts. ‘Most of us are paid by WSC. What’s going to happen to us when the project money dries up?’ But, she adds, with a smile: 'I'm content to carry on. God gives me the courage to do so, and anyway, I don’t really have a choice.’

Flooded savanna is the dominant ecosystem of the Lac Tele Community Reserve
Sign posts serve to showcase partner logos

Grill used to smoke fish

Fishing traps
Fishing camp near Bokatola
Harpoons are indicators of the presence of large fish
Dugout canoes are the main means of tranportation in these flooded grasslands

Solar panels help villagers charge cell phones and listen to the radio 
fishing trap

Park managers support local development structures
local visionnaries contribute to forest conservation in their own way
African bush plum is an important contribution to the local diet during the lean months

Monday 16 January 2017

Photos from the Tshuapa and Equateur Provinces

Bridge crossing

Crocodiles for sale at the Mbandaka market

bridge broken - we crossed with our motorbikes in a double dug-out canoe

solar panels are increasing used 

civil servants lack modern technology - but not good will
Church in Lukolela

Airstrip Djolu


selling salt and soap

empty plastic bottles for sale

sending casava and corn alcohol (lotoko) to Mbandada (the jugs return full of petrol, then refilled with lotoko)

bridge crossing

Ohio State Buckeyes

Boston Celtics

Steel cables for hunting snares

Kids have to grow up young

Flat screen TVs and battery acid from Butembo
Leading a blind man

Village school Nyongji

Lomako Reserve - ICCN ranger trudges through inundated forest in flip flops

African Wildlike Fund has supplanted the MPR Flame monument

Confiscated game and gun, Monkoto, Salonga National Park

Batwa village near Bikoro

Rubber harvesting

Humans are only human

Territorial agent, Gombe, Equateur Province

Dug-out canoes for sale