Sunday, October 24, 2010

Monkey Meat

Despite my love of meat, I have no desire to chow on a plate of monkey. But as the BBC points out:
For people raised on bushmeat, in Africa and elsewhere, the equation is different. "Forbidding hunting [bushmeat] is not a solution for the Baka," Messe Venant told a small gathering here [at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan]. The Baka people, from Cameroon, have always survived on whatever the forest provides.
In impassioned and colourful French, Messe compared the forest to a western supermarket. "Everything we need, we go into the forest -- for food or anything else," he said. "The principal source of protein for the Baka is bushmeat."
In rural areas of Central Africa, even outside specific ethnic groups such as the Baka, bushmeat provides up to 80% of protein in peoples' diets.
But gorilla-eating is causing a crapload of ecological damage.
It threatens wildlife in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including populations of some animals even closer to humans in the lineage than monkeys, such as gorillas and chimpanzees. Animals disperse seeds -- up to 75% of plant species, in some forests -- so the disappearance of animals would present a much larger problem.
In the Congo, south of the Uele river, in addition to overpopulation, "local taboos about eating bushmeat have begun to break down in recent years."
[Dr. Cleve] Hicks [of the University of Amsterdam], who is also affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said that one tribe, the Barisi, used not to harm the animals because they believed their tribe was descended from a union between a man and a female chimp. The women of two other tribes, the Azande and Babenza, previously refused to eat or cook ape meat for fear that it would result in them giving birth to babies with "big ears".
The spread of a Christian group called the "message believers" whose doctrine is based on the teaching of an American faith healer and preacher called William Branham who died in 1965 has swept away some of the old beliefs. Hicks said that followers interpret his teachings as condoning bushmeat hunting.
The burgeoning market for monkey flesh is leading authorities around the world to consider banning the sale of bushmeat -- but this approach would harm groups who rely on bushmeat as their primary source of protein (and income), and potentially "drive [the practice of killing gorillas for food] further into the hands of gangsters."

What to do?

An idea proposed by Edgar Kaeslin of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is to give back to indigenous people something they had once upon a time: self-control over their forests. They could then self-regulate the practice of bushmeat hunting for themselves, separating it from outside market forces that have led to rampant, environmentally unsustainable and criminal monkey-killing. Such a plan might help reduce or even eliminate current incentives "to catch much more than nature's supermarket can sustainably provide."
Messe Venant painted a picture of simple Baka cultural norms that keep hunting under control. Hunters are allowed to bring only one animal back from a trip, he said. Without the capacity to preserve meat, whatever's caught must be eaten there and then -- there's no point in taking a massive haul in one go.
In other words, the solution to the bushmeat problem may be to allow local populations to go back to being hunter-gatherers.