Looking the wrong way for causes of bushmeat poaching and predator loss
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)
NAIROBI–Often exposed involvement of Asian financiers in
rhino horn and elephant ivory poaching fueled a ubiquitous belief
among frustrated animal defenders attending the early September 2010
African Animal Welfare Action conference in Nairobi, Kenya that
Asian workers in Africa are also implicated in out-of-control
bushmeat poaching and catastrophic crashes of predator populations.
African Animal Welfare Action conference attendees
guesstimated that Chinese workers alone were involved in from 20% to
80% of all the bushmeat poaching in Africa.
Nairobi-based wildlife photographer Karl Amman, who has for
more than 20 years documented the bushmeat trade, more
conservatively suggested that Chinese involvement might be much less
than 5%, centering on reptiles and pangolins.
But scant documentation supports the belief that Chinese
workers are verifiably involved in bushmeat poaching to any great
extent relative to indigenous Africans.
The most often cited source for the claim that Chinese
workers are involved is an early 2008 report published by the
Amboseli Trust for Elephants which mentioned that “There are two
Chinese road camps in the general area [of Amboseli National Park].
We are told by our informants that they are buying ivory and
Nothing further was included about bushmeat, but the alleged
linkage of ivory and bushmeat trafficking has been amplified ever
since by Kenyan media, amid increasing concern that Kenya buys 34
times more merchandise from China than it officially sells there, an
economically damaging and politically sensitive trade deficit.
Meanwhile the Kenya Wildlife Service apprehended 2,134
suspects for wildlife-related offenses in 2007. Among them, only
alleged elephant ivory traffickers Shuo Ling and Tao Oil were
identified as Chinese nationals.
A similar case surfaced in Uganda in 2006, where a young
Chinese woman named Wang Xiuli was fined for trying to smuggle ivory
in her luggage and trying to bribe a customs officer when caught.
Reports from around Africa often mention examples of usually
unnamed Chinese workers and visitors buying and smuggling both raw
ivory and ivory trinkets–but not examples involving bushmeat.
Chinese workers who eat wildlife at home almost certainly
indulge in Africa. Yet even though the numbers of Chinese immigrant
workers have risen from negligible to highly visible in certain
sectors of some African nations’ economies during the past decade,
they remain few compared to total human population and consumers of
Zimbabwe, which has most avidly courted Chinese investment,
reportedly has about 10,000 resident Chinese at any given time, with
pass-through of about 25,000 per year, among a human population of
12.5 million. Kenya may have the next most resident Chinese,
officially about 3,000, with pass-through of about 10,000 per year,
among a human population of about 38 million.
Average Zimbabwean consumption of bushmeat was about 2.1
kilos per person per year as of 1986, according to United Nations
Food & Agricultural Organization data. Zimbabwean farmed meat
production is steeply down since then, increasing poaching pressure
on wildlife, but the wildlife population has been severely depleted,
so net consumption is likely to be still in the same range.
Average Kenyan consumption of bushmeat was about 3.6 kilos
per person per year as of 2004, according to data gathered by Youth
for Conservation and the Kenya Wildlife Service.
At these rates of total consumption, Chinese immigrant
workers and visitors would have to eat about 10 times more bushmeat
than anyone else to account for even .002% of the volume in either
Kenya or Zimbabwe.
The rhino, elephant, and bushmeat poaching industries are
not inherently related. Understanding their differences helps to
illuminate why African nations have invested just a fraction of the
resources expended to fight rhino and elephant poaching in trying to
stop bushmeat poaching, even though the Wildlife Conservation
Society reported in 2002 that continent-wide, bushmeat poaching was
occurring at about six times the maximum sustainable rate.
Rhino horn and elephant ivory are obtained at often great
expense on the part of poachers, who these days typically use
helicopters to find and kill the animals, and bribe law enforcement
to get away with the goods. Rhino horn and elephant ivory are mostly
trafficked as non-perishable high-value export commodities, which
may be hoarded as an investment for decades before use or resale.
Though the rhino horn and elephant ivory industries involve many
millions of dollars, the physical volume of material that poachers
move per year would fit into a single railway car or oceanic cargo
The loss of each poached rhino and elephant is estimated to
cost African nations thousands of dollars in tourism and/or trophy
hunting revenue. Poaching and trafficking rhino horn and elephant
ivory by contrast generate little revenue for anyone except poachers,
traffickers, and officials on the take.
Studies of bushmeat poaching by the Wildlife Conservation
Society and Wildlife Conservation Trust indicate that about 10% of
the meat is eaten by poachers and their families; 90% is sold for
consumption by others in nearby urban areas. This makes bushmeat
trafficking and preparation a sizeable source of income for millions
of Africans, albeit full-time employment for relatively few of them.
The volume of bushmeat sold has been estimated by various
studies as up to 30% of all the meat eaten in eastern Africa, 20% in
western and central Africa, and 15% in southern Africa. Most
bushmeat consumers appear to prefer it only when scarcity has
increased the prices of fish and farmed meat, according to findings
by University of California at Berkeley researcher Justin Brashares.
Exporting poached animals to southern China has devastated
wildlife in much of Southeast Asia, but chiefly in regions that are
within a few days’ drive or sailing time of the markets. Small
amounts of dried and smoked bushmeat are known to be bootlegged as a
relatively expensive novelty food to illegal markets in the U.S.,
Europe, and possibly parts of Asia, but because bushmeat is highly
perishable and hard to smuggle without detection, the volume
exported from Africa appears to be a negligible percentage of the
Species poached for bushmeat include endangered bonobos,
gorillas, chimpanzees, and gibbons, and common species popular
with tourists, such as giraffes and zebras, but most are small to
mid-sized herbivores such as gazelle, impala, dik dik, warthogs,
rock hyrax, baboons, and monkeys, who are relatively easily caught
with snares improvised from fence wire. Many of the victim species
are widely viewed as crop pests and competitors for grazing land.
But the loss of these animals may have a cumulative ecological impact
as great as the loss of elephants, believed to be the most dynamic
habitat-shaping species in most of Africa.
An Africa-wide study done for the United Nations
Environmental Program by the London Zoological Society, published in
July 2010 by the journal Biological Conservation, found that
populations of large mammals in national parks, including many
species commonly poached for bushmeat, had declined by an average of
59% between 1970 and 2005. The Nairobi-based International Livestock
Research Institute earlier published similar data just from Kenya.
The most evident effect of the loss of large mammals is loss
of prey for African lions–and loss of lions. The total African lion
population fell from about 76,000 to as few as 23,000 over the 20
years covered by the London Zoo study. Lions vanished from about 80%
of their former habitat.
Even in Tanzania, with reputedly the most lions of any
nation, the wild lion population fell 50% between 1996 and 2008,
University of Minnesota professor Craig Packer recently reported.
Packer found that the current Tanzanian trophy hunting quotas for
lions are about 25% too high to ensure population stability.
Cheetahs have become even scarcer, with only 10,000 to 14,000 left
in the wild. Normally smaller predators such as cheetahs, leopards,
servals, hyenas, wild dogs, and jackals would thrive in the
absence of African lions, but bushmeat poaching cuts severely into
their prey base too.
But pointing directly toward bushmeat poaching is politically
sensitive, because so many people are involved. Senior Kenya
Wildlife Service scientist Charles Muyoki instead attributes the loss
of predators to prolonged drought and human encroachment on the
national parks that are their last semi-wild refuges. Drought,
besides reducing the amount of vegetation available to wild prey
species, increases the inclination of pastoralists to move their
herds into parks, to poison predators who might attack livestock,
and to poach to supplement their diets.
The Kenya Wildlife Service chased 397,137 domestic
animals–such as sheep, goats, and cattle–out of parks in 2007,
the most recent year for which data is available, and arrested 536
herders for encroachment.
Predator poisoning by pastoralists using the agricultural
insecticide carbofuran, sold as Furadan, exploded during 2005-2007.
Wildlife biologist Laurence Frank told Bob Simon of 60 Minutes that
he knew of as many as 75 lion poisonings just within his study areas
in Kenya. Worse occurred at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
“Over 80% of the hyenas have been killed and all of the leopards
along the Nyamusagani river have been poisoned. We have lost at
least 11 lions in 15 months,” Makerere University veternarian Ludwig
Siefert told Gerald Tenywa and John Thawite of New Vision in Kampala.
Facing a proposed ban of carbofuran in the U.S., following
the imposition of a similar ban in the European Union, the maker,
the FMC Corporation of Philadelphia, in March 2009 suspended sales
to Kenya and tried to buy back stocks already in the region, FMC
vice president Milton Steele told Associated Press.
Pushed by the American Bird Conservancy, mostly on behalf of
U.S. birds but in alliance with African conservationists, the U.S.
ban took effect anyway in May 2009. But even if carbofuran is no
longer made, or sold in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, the lost
predator populations may never recover.