Experts say the bushmeat trade has serious environmental consequences for Africa, depleting wildlife, often to the point of extinction, and seriously affecting the continent’s ecology. Richard Ruggiero is a wildlife management specialist in the International Conservation Division of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In the third of a five-part series, he tells Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Cole Mallard that harvesting bushmeat for food and trade is a continent-wide problem.
He says hunting bushmeat takes place where there’s poverty, a lack of law enforcement and a lack of protein alternatives:
“Were you to look at West Africa, many countries have really exhausted their wildlife populations, maybe with the exception of a couple of national parks. But in general, West African wildlife is so depleted, mainly from habitat change, conflict with people basically for agricultural space, but more immediately for bushmeat,” he says.
PROBLEM A VARIABLE
Ruggiero says while this is also true in other parts of Africa, it’s a question of degree. “Much of Central Africa, particularly in the forest block, still has significant wildlife populations. And you could say the same about the East and Southern African savannahs,” he says.
In the Central African forest block, he says, the remoteness of the area has been an impediment to hunting wildlife. But that’s changing as logging companies build roads that allow people access to areas where they can hunt without regulations or controls.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service specialist says Ghana has a program that is a model for West Africa. Ruggiero says the Ghana “model” is successful because it shows the value of a government with the political will to address a long-standing problem that affects not only biodiversity but also the issues of bushmeat for subsistence, including nutrition, and the cultural value of wildlife.
The Ghanaian conservation program addresses law enforcement, public awareness, cooperation and sustainable hunting where appropriate, as well as avoiding vulnerable species, such as great apes or elephants.
Ruggiero adds that the government of Ghana has shown a willingness to work with local villagers and farmers, as well as with international NGOs, which have the resources, personnel and expertise. He says, “They’ve developed a policy through this collaborative process that really is very effective.”
He says there’s also a group of Central African countries – Gabon, CAR, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, DRC and Equatorial Guinea – that have shown great interest in conservation.
But Ruggiero says enforcing policies can be a problem in a developing country, “since resources are frequently a constraint.”