In Cameroon, a law enacted in 1994 prohibiting the hunting of endangered species for bush meat is now being enforced, thanks to a campaign by The Last Great Ape organization. But many Cameroonians say they do not understand why anyone should be jailed for killing a source of food, like the chimpanzee.
The endangered species is a source of livelihood to many rural families and a delicacy for the rich city dwellers. From Yaounde Asong Ndifor reports.Traders in bush meat are being arrested and jailed in Cameroon -- to the anger of many Cameroonians. They argue that no one should be jailed for killing any animal or selling its meat.
Several people have recently been arrested for being in possession of smoked meats. One man is known to have been sentenced to one-month imprisonment and a fine of about $1,000. for attempting to sell a male baby chimpanzee.
For decades, indiscriminate hunting has provided jobs not only to villagers in Cameroon?s vast rain forests but also to thousand of traders who bring some three tons of every specie of bush meat to the capital daily. Their catch usually include smoked and fresh meat of such protected species as gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and even lions.
Despite the illegality in the hunting of such animals, they are traded openly in most markets in the capital, which explains why people are shocked when they hear of arrests for possession of parts of an endangered species.
Vincent Goudimia Mfoufu is a communication officer of the Last Great Ape Organisation, LAGA. It campaigns for the enforcement of the laws protecting endangered animals.
Mfoumfu says the great apes must be protected to avoid extinction. He says that ?About a century ago, more than a million chimps lived in Africa, now there are less than 15,000. Each year about 4,000 chimps and 3,000 gorillas are killed and if they are not protected by deterrent laws, they would be out of existence in a few decades?
He adds that the main activity of his organization which is based in Yaounde, is to assist the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife to enforce the law protecting endangered animals.
Cameroon, he says is the only country in the Central African sub-region that has a law protecting endangered animals. That he adds shows the political will of the government, but because of corruption, government officials are reluctant to enforce the law.
That is where LAGA comes in to help. ?LAGA carries out investigations in the big cities, sea and air ports to ensure the big dealers in endangered species and trophies such as lion skins, elephant tusks and parrots are arrested and prosecuted. We publicize such arrests in the local
media so as to deter those who may want to thwart the course of justice. The real culprits are not the small hunters in the villages but the big dealers who even encourage the village hunters to kill the animals.?
Madame Marie Therese Oyono, a restaurant owner in Yaounde whose views reflects those of many city dwellers says the real victims are the common people. Her restaurant, which used to serve bush meat to the rich, she says, is almost out of business.
?My restaurant used to employ six people, but today, it has only two. Security officials frightened away my customers each time they stormed in to inspect the type of meat being served. But those who make this bad law are the same big people -- you see their wives buying the bush meat in the markets. How do you explain the government?s campaign of fighting poverty especially in rural areas when hunters are taken to prison for killing animals? Some of these people know no other means of livelihood other than hunting. They are not educated and you will not expect them to differentiate endangered species from any other animals.?
Not every kind of animal is prohibited from being hunted. The law puts the animals in three categories. Category A is for endangered species such as apes, chimpanzees and lions whose hunting is prohibited. The second class is reserved for the rich who have hunting permits while the small remnants in the third class are left to the peasant hunters.
Most, if not all of the village hunters, are uneducated and are not even aware of the benefits of protecting endangered wildlife. Mfoumfu says apes and other animals act as natural forest gardeners by dispersing seeds for regeneration. On the other hand, they can transfer diseases to man during slaughter.