Hunting for bushmeat is as old as the forest and the appetite to eat, but now there are more people , more weapons and a bigger appetite.
A rack for drying and smoking meat is the center of this hunting camp in the Lomami forest.
Unfortunately, for many ordinary people, the most important contribution that the TL2 forest (Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba) makes to their daily life is lunch. Lunch at home, dinner at a restaurant, and finger-food down by the river port. This lunch comes down the river, straight from the forest. It’s bushmeat, nyama ya pori, mboloko…
This duiker was caught in a snare-trap in the Lomami Forest
I remember 20 years ago driving from the Ituri Forest to Kisangani. Even then, when the roads were “good”, it was a 12 hour drive. (A view of the current road deterioration, HERE.) We stopped for lunch at the open-air restaurant on the Lindi river. The “plat de jour” was okapi. The Lindi villagers set their wire snares for large antelope and buffalo. But snares don’t choose. When they checked their trap line, the okapi’s fetlock was wrenched tight and its leg was mangled. So be it. That size and grade of wire was relatively uncommon in the central Ituri Forest, but already in the mid 1980’s okapi had been trapped out of the forests of northern Equateur where the towns were bigger and busier.
Okapi being butchered after it was caught during a net hunt in the Ituri Forest in 1983
During the war years of 2001 and 2002, stalls in the meat section of Mambasa’s central market were piled high with large hunks of smoke-blackened elephant meat. The whole town was eating elephant supu with their manioc fufu. Rogue soldiers with ammunition to spare were stocking ivory to sell in Uganda; the meat was a small extra bonus sent in piles on bicycles down to Mambasa. Elephant meat became cheaper than chicken. Uncontrolled armies with a surfeit of ammunition were new to the Ituri and so was this greed for ivory that splintered elephant families.
Bushmeat already dried, ready for sale and transport out of the forest and to a market
Bushmeat is not history and it is not war – bushmeat is here and now a primary part of many people’s diet in Congo. If you have some money and live in the town, you eat bushmeat. It tastes better than beef and it is more like home, the village. If you live in Congo forests you don’t even need money, just a bit of wire for a snare, or a spear or an arrangement with the military that will get you access to a gun and ammunition.
We are not going to stop bushmeat hunting tomorrow. Not possible, but rather than give up, let’s just adjust the strategy and set goals by place and by species.
A merchant is transporting bushmeat by bicycle out of the Lomami Forest to Opala or Bimbi and from there it will move on to Kisangani.
Places where we can really hope to stop all bushmeat hunting are national parks and national reserves. If the law says NO HUNTING in a clearly defined area and if there are park guards representing the law, surrounding villages can accept and respect the restriction. This has been shown with enough success in enough parks in Congo (not without challenges, see gorilla posts) to make it worth backing.
Species that we could hope to protect everywhere, and not just parks, are the easily recognized, easily avoided, and clearly special species.
Neither special places nor special species are an automatic win in Congo (or anywhere) but they give us a strong hand, they tilt the balance, they make it possible.
More about “not-in-the-pot species” in the next POST — day after tomorrow.