Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Saturday, January 14, 2006

No, not that Bush, the bush.

Animal-rights activists and many environmentalists are up in arms about the bushmeat business. As part of their propaganda war against the hunters, they send out gruesome images of gorilla corpses and monkeys strung from poles, illustrating literature on “the slaughter of the apes.” A particularly unsettling image caught by the anti-bushmeat campaigner Karl Ammann shows a fresh-cut gorilla head in a kitchen bowl on a sideboard next to a bunch of bananas. Such reports concentrate entirely on the burgeoning bushmeat business as a crisis for wildlife and Africa’s biodiversity. And there is no question that some of the world’s most endangered wild animals are, quite literally, being eaten to death.

But, asks Fa, is our Western squeamishness getting in the way of a sensible appraisal of the importance of bushmeat? Are we in danger of caring more about the survival of a few rare rain forest species than the survival of their hunters? If we condemn all hunting for bushmeat, then how do we propose that Africans eat? And equally, if we do not take the trouble to find out why bushmeat hunting is still so prevalent in Africa, how can we hope to stop it? . . .

Fa’s research has led him to come out against the conventional environmental response to the slaughter of wildlife—demands for bans on hunting and trade. He says that environmentalists are in danger of behaving like Marie Antoinette, who, on being told the French peasants had no bread, replied, “Let them eat cake.” Pork and chicken are no more available in Central African supermarkets than cake was in prerevolutionary Paris. Right now, the majority of poor Africans have no alternative to hunting and eating bushmeat. Many countries across the continent are going backward economically. They have deteriorating infrastructures, near-constant civil wars, and virtually no governments. Food production on farms in Central Africa has not risen since the 1960s, and in many areas it has fallen back sharply. Their economies are going “back to the bush.” How can their diets do other than follow? And of course, the one thing that the civil wars do provide them with is guns and other weapons with which to go hunting.

“We are understandably horrified by wild animals, especially primates, being killed for food,” Fa says. “But we must remember that bushmeat is a cheap source of protein for many malnourished people in Africa.” Until now, the bushmeat crisis has been portrayed as an animal-rights and environmental issue. But it is also a human rights issue. To solve it, he says, biologists must turn into social scientists. Rather than concentrating on the biology of the animals, Fa says, the outside world has to first understand the social and economic problems of the hunters. Only that way, he believes, can the animals of the African forests—and the people—be saved. And only by saving both can the forest be saved.

No fair. He's being a sensible and honest humanitarian. Clearly he doesn't understand what environmental activism is all about, especially the sort that goes on in developing countries.

posted by back40 | 1/14/2006 11:29:00 PM


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