Solutions for Africa’s Bushmeat Crisis

The bushmeat crisis is a real problem in Africa, and the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is working in several countries to try to find solutions and solve the situation.  Having been introduced to the Institute by a fundraiser, I wanted to learn more.  So I recently spoke with Sophie Muset, Development & Program Officer, of the Institute’s Toronto office about their programs.

rainforestIn Sierra Leone and Guinea, the organization raises awareness about bushmeat and conservation, mainly through public education.  In Uganda, they have a community-centered conservation program that hires local hunters to remove snares in the forest.  Although the snares are usually put out to catch other mammals, chimps often get caught in them and get injured or killed.  To try to clean the forest, the program provides a salary to hunters who make a commitment to stop hunting and help JGI remove snares.

In July, Sophie was in Uganda and asked one of these ex-hunters what difference this program has made.  His answer?  “Now we have money.”  By working with JGI, he doesn’t have to worry about an income.  Unfortunately, JGI “needs a budget for that and you can’t hire everyone,” Sophie told me.  “Not everyone is interested, anyway,” she added.  It’s a long process to organize meetings, meet with people, and see who wants to help – “we don’t force anyone.  We need to have someone who is willing to do it and to come forth.”

ChimpJGI relies on cooperation between people.  The program in Uganda started ten years ago and now has small teams of former hunters in a national park and in two  forest reserves.  Some of the ex-hunters have been working with them for over ten years.

Through these programs, “the numbers of snares has decreased significantly,” Sophie commented.  “And so have the number of chimps that are caught in the snares.”

From time to time, a chimp is still caught.  Veterinarians, who are used to dealing with injured animals, then enter the forest and try to save the animal.

chimp 2Sadly, a lot of the injured chimpanzees are now missing a hand or a foot.  “You can see them in the forest – some of them are very badly injured.  Depending on the degree of their injury, they have to accommodate differently.”  For example, one chimpanzee found in July had to be amputated below the knee.  She was released in September in the hopes that she would adapt to her new condition.  She may be lucky – with two good hands she can still raise a baby.  Chimpanzees are pretty flexible.

“JGI works very closely with the local communities,” Sophie continued.  Jane Goodall and her teams realize that in order to preserve chimpanzees it’s important to work with local human populations.  Education is also key, even though it’s a long-term process.  In Guinea and the Congo, the organization’s education efforts include large street signs.  In the Congo, fliers were distributed through taxi cabs in the capital city.  JGI has organized exhibits in the Congo and elsewhere, about the great apes and the bushmeat.  They are hoping to create a global awareness.

Another educational program is Roots and Shoots, in which schoolchildren gain some awareness about chimpanzees and bushmeat.  For example, they might put on a play about the bushmeat trade.

chimp 3Children are also brought to sanctuaries to meet young chimpanzees.  “The children have never seen a chimp before.  ‘Oh, they’re like us,’ they’ll say,” Sophie described.  “It helps to change their minds.”

The young chimpanzees are orphans, a consequence of the bushmeat trade.  JGI is managing Africa’s largest chimp sanctuary, in the Republic of Congo, where they have 150 chimpanzees.  They’re found as babies, either left in the forest by bushmeat hunters or confiscated by local authorities as the chimps were on their way to the black market.  The babies can’t survive alone in the forest, and even when saved they are often so traumatized it can take months for them to recover.

In addition, JGI has some microfinance programs for women to establish a regular income.  “If you don’t do anything to improve people’s lives, they won’t do anything for the chimp,” Sophie concluded. It’s that simple, yet that complex.

JGI needs a larger budget to extend these programs to other countries.  You can make donations through their website.  If you’re in the Toronto area, you can volunteer there. Readers almost anywhere can apply to join JGI in the field, and if you successfully pass through the selection process you can help out on the scene and with the chimps for a month or more.

You can find more information on their websites – JGI Canada and JGI Uganda.

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Alison Wheatley

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