Bushmeat: Every Man’s Protein until the Forest is Empty…

Some call it the “African silence” when a forest is struck silent by poaching and the bushmeat trade. Others call this phenomenon “dead zones” that have no birds, no monkeys, no small mammals, no snakes… These places have been stripped bare by local communities that are struggling to feed their families and access medical care. The Mbuti pygmy encampments photographed in the early 1980s depict a wire- and nylon-free lifestyle that saw them capture forest animals on a daily basis for local consumption. Today most of the bushmeat is exported to distant markets by bicycle, 4×4 vehicles, and on foot. No one has the right to judge these people when they focus on bushmeat as their only source of protein. We must, however, restrict use of forest products, as far as possible, to people with heritage rights to the land, as they are the custodians of these forests. Terese and John Hart are committed to witnessing, studying, conserving and combatting the atrocities of the bushmeat trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the next few weeks I will post a series of summary posts linking back to their blogs on their website: http://www.bonoboincongo.com/


Terese Hart
It was not until 1929 that anatomists realized that there was an ape enough like the chimpanzee to be Pan but different enough to be a new species. (Terese Hart)


Bushmeat: Every Man’s Protein – Until the Forest is Empty

In some of DR Congo’s most remote forest we are witnessing a cascading clean-out of large wildlife.  It is like watching a cloud-shadow creep over the forest; where it passes, it leaves an invisible, permanent absence.  The edge is pushed forward by an advancing web of hunter’s paths crisscrossed with long snare lines, a litter of shotgun cartridges, and small leaf-shack hunting camps. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/02/26/bushmeat-3-the-history-of-hunting-in-tl2/)


Reto Kuster ©
Blue duiker caught in a nylon snare. This is a painful death... (Reto Kuster ©)
Terese Hart
Weapons abandoned by troops as they fled into the forest. Weapons from war zones are driving the bushmeat trade... (Terese Hart)


In 1997 we began an exploration and inventory of DRCongo’s least known interior forests (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/maps/). Situated on the Congo River’s west bank and within the basins of the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba Rivers (=TL2 project). We set out to explore 40,000 km2, but finding the perimeter forests already empty of large mammals, we concentrated on the 20,000 km2 interior forests (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2009/11/15/bushmeat-9-a-congo-chronology-of-bushmeat/). At the end of 2011 the governors of two provinces signed their agreement for a national park within 9,500 km2 of TL2’s core area.  (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2011/11/16/down-the-congo-river-from-ritual-sacrifice-to-governors-desk/).


Terese Hart
TL2 landscape in Democratic Republic of Congo with its proposed national park and surrounding reserve. (Terese Hart)
Terese Hart
In August 2009, this bicycle transporter headed for Kindu has a goat, chickens and rice, all on two wheels... (Terese Hart)
Terese Hart
Bushmeat market vendors and shoppers. There is so much superstition and prestige wrapped up in bushmeat that it will be hard to control... (Terese Hart)


Why a park?  Because the forest is still surprising rich, containing:

(1) A previously unknown population of the great ape, bonobo, that only lives on the left bank of the Congo River ( http://www.bonoboincongo.com/the-bonobo/).  This population of about 9000 bonobos is being hunted. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/06/17/bushmeat-5-ashley-goes-south-up-the-lomami/)

(2) An important remnant population of forest elephant with only 500-700 left and under constant poaching pressure. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/02/03/bushmeat-2-not-for-pot-species/)

(3) A rainforest giraffe endemic to DRCongo is also in TL2 and caught in snare traps. In fact all large mammals of the TL2 are under pressure.  That includes 10 species of monkey,  including a new species (Lesula is common name) and two rare subspecies Cercopithecus mona elegans and Piliocolobus oustaleti parmentieri.  Each of these three primate species is found in only a small area of forest and nowhere else.


A traditional hunting camp of the Mbuti pygmies in the early 1980s. They set off daily for net hunts, with nets made from the local forest liana they call Kusa. No nylon, no wire. This kind of local consumption is sustainable... (Terese Hart)
Kim Gjerstad
Okapi at park headquarters in the Réserve de Faune à Okapi. (Kim Gjerstad)
Terese Hart
Elephant bones scattered on the floor of the Lomami forest show where poaching occurred. We found in the Ituri that such sites were often visited for years afterwards by surviving members of the elephant family. (Terese Hart)


The forest of the soon-to-be Lomami National Park – straddling three major river basins in Congo’s forested gut – is rapidly becoming leaner.  Will the animals be protected once the park is made?  (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/03/09/bushmeat-4-tl2-in-the-middle/)

A park is not automatic protection, not even a park created with the agreement of local elders, as is the case for the Lomami National Park. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2010/08/01/a-park-for-bonobos-do-the-ancestors-want-it/) Protection is not easy.  The forest has animals for which there is a market in distant towns. (http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2009/08/12/bushmeat-lousy-way-to-make-a-living-when-game-gets-scarce/) A park has local and national authority for protection.  Still infrastructure and enforcement will take funds – and now, in DRCongo – these funds must come from overseas.


Perhaps a ditty?  Not to celebrate, but to commemorate what is still there and hopefully will not be lost. ( http://www.bonoboincongo.com/2008/11/20/bushmeat-6-this-little-monkey-went-to-market/)


Please follow Terese and John Hart’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo by reading their latest blogs at: http://www.bonoboincongo.com/



Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.