Gina Rae N. La Cerva, MESc 20151
Bushmeat consumption in the Congo Basin has concerned conservationists for nearly four decades and has come to be seen as a somewhat intractable problem rife with military conflict and entangled with the small arms trade. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), bushmeat is currently undergoing a remarkable shift—from subsistence protein to luxury food. Through an ethnography of the value chain, this transformation is traced from production in Salonga National Park to sale in urban markets and eventual consumption in Kinshasa’s restaurants. This research opens up new sites of inquiry into the mystique and cultural value of a particularly important commodity, and examines the creation of economic value over both geographic and temporal distance. The work aims to reconceptualize an “ongoing crisis” as a process embedded in the normative social fabric of a dynamic country.
La consommation de viande de brousse dans le bassin du Congo préoccupe les défenseurs de l’environnement depuis près de quatre décennies et en est venu à être considéré comme un problème apparemment insoluble en lien avec des conflits militaires et avec le commerce des armes légères. En République démocratique du Congo (RDC ), la viande de brousse est entrain de passer d’alimentation de subsistance à nourriture de luxe. Grâce à une ethnographie de la chaîne de valeur, cette transformation est suivie, de la production dans le parc national de la Salonga à la vente dans les marchés urbains et la consommation éventuelle dans les restaurants de Kinshasa. Cette recherche ouvre de nouvelles perspectives sur la mystique et la valeur culturelle d’un produit particulièrement important, et examine la création de valeur économique à la fois sur la distance géographique et temporelle. Le travail vise à reconceptualiser une «crise permanente» comme un processus intégré dans le contexte social normatif d’un pays dynamique.
Devouring the Congo
If a white man kills a wild animal and eats it, it is called hunting game. Sometimes the animal is termed venison, other times it is identified and named—deer, elk, moose. If a black man kills a wild animal and eats it, it is called bushmeat poaching2. The animals appear too numerous to name and so it is merely called flesh, protein. Still, if we took a moment, we could indeed begin to name them. There is forest buffalo and striped Bongo antelope, monkey (oh the varieties!) and the red river hog. There are duikers of many colors—blue, bay, yellow-back, and numerous shades of red. There is slender nosed crocodile and cane rat, pet-sized mud turtles and pangolin with million dollar scales.
Eating game in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an erudite affair.3 It is eaten at Kinshasa’s Grand Hotel at tables covered in white linen. Antelope steaks share the leather-bound menus with Filet de Capitan and Porc Chops au Jus. Today’s special: Porcupine from Bas Congo, $35, with vegetables and rice or foufou.4 Game is eaten at Mama Ekila Inzia where it has been eaten for 45 years. Under the kuba cloth ceilings, steaming plates of boa, crocodile, and turtle are served to local Kinois and foreign expats alike.
It is eaten buffet-style at Super Aubaine. Devoured to the trinkling sound of an indoor water feature. The walls are dressed in colorful paintings, the chairs are dressed in gaudy pink, the waiters are dressed in formal blacks and whites, and the food is dressed in unctuous sauce. And it is eaten at Chez Fideline, a cramped second-floor room accessed by a winding staircase. Here the patrons squeeze around four tables while the proprietress has her nails done by the entrance. The clanging and steam from the adjacent kitchen overpowers the sounds of the bursting street below. A whole monkey stews in the pot. Game is served with such mystique here that there is even a counterfeit version.5 At the German-owned Hotel Memling in downtown Kinshasa, visitors sit down for a curious “Traditional Congolese” meal without worry or guilt—their plates are piled with a sanitized smoked pork reminiscent of the original but delivered in a clean refrigerated truck.
These wild animals—once the feast of the poor and desolate—are becoming a luxury to be saved and savored. A special rich treat—like caviar—game is now reserved for celebration. Eat too much and you might get gout. “We eat it because it makes us strong and intelligent,” they tell me, “We eat it to remember and to teach our children what life used to be like.” But nostalgia is a tricky beast and memory is an act of reimagining. With each bite, they remember childhoods in remote villages, straw huts with mud walls, and forests alive with noise. The songs of frogs at night were so loud they sounded electric. The air was cool and fresh then. The children ran around in rags with broad grins. The children laughed so easily it was almost sacrilegious. It was almost a sin. Most of all, they remembered those minutes, just before the sun rises, when the nocturnal animals have gone to sleep and the morning animals are yet to stir and the forest is momentarily silent.
The taste for smoky meat is an ancient relic of necessity. It was once the only way to preserve animals killed in the forest. Meat prepared this way is called boucane.6 The word itself derives from the Caribbean Arawak buccan, which describes a wooden frame for slow-cooking meat. On the island of Hispaniola, French sailors would break from attacking Spanish trade ships and hunt feral pigs. The smoked meat was kept in the bowels of their boats like treasure. Their food came to define them as boucaniers. English colonists in Jamaica knew these men as buccaneers, licensed under letters of marquee to pillage and plunder. But London quickly realized that bandits were hard to control, and the term morphed into a one of indecency.
It is strangely resonate that the word in DRC for smoked meat is related to 17th century pirates. Considering how normal it is for Congolese to go out for boucane of buffalo or wild boar, the explosive concern in the West over “the bushmeat crisis” is rather strange.7 When I told one man from USAID that I was in DRC to research bushmeat, he replied gamely, “Oh I’m sick of hearing about bushmeat. It seems to be an impossible, perpetual problem. People have been measuring and discussing it for 30 years. What do you call a crisis that is ongoing? What are we actually going to do about it?” He smiled, his eyes disappearing into folds.
Fig. 1. The Democratic Republic of Congo and settlements associated with the transport of game from Salonga National Park to Kinshasa.
In contrast to its consumption, the creation of game is a wild affair. The majority is killed illegally, sourced from an isolated protected area 1,160 km northeast of Kinshasa (Fig. 1). Salonga National Park lies in the heart of the Congo Basin, the typified heart of darkness, the heart of Africa. It spans an area larger than Belgium.8 Deep rain forests are veined with streams that merge to become rivers, mixing further with others to become arteries. These braided waterways turn the land to marsh and swamp. For some land animals, the streams are barriers to movement. For others, like us, the rivers become a transport network through overpowering foliage too thick and prickly for traversing on foot. I flew to this place in a tiny plane steeped in clouds. The pilot was a Protestant missionary from Minnesota named Garth. As we gained altitude, he told me of all the strange things he had transported in his Cessna: 14 bicycles, four motorcycles, seven goats, and innumerable vials of medicine. His eyebrows looked as if they wanted to migrate to his mouth. Below us, the rivers of Salonga bled through the forest in slow velvety meanders.
The animals of Salonga are near-mythical. There is the forest elephant so tormented for the wealth of its tusks. The bonobo, our lust-bound relatives whose flesh is rumored to taste like our own. The elusive Congo peacock. One beast, the swamp-haunting sitatunga antelope, has elongated flared hooves and a ragged, rufous, waterproof coat. Both are enlightened adaptations for a creature that spends its days prancing over flooded riverbanks. In the males, there is a white chevron between the eyes and above, two silver horns spiraled like emerging leaves and tipped in ivory. Clear scorpions that like to hide in shoes, and armies of polished driver ants that hunt in all three dimensions. There are irascible snakes so deadly even uttering their names sparks fear. “Black Mamba” is whispered to children, like ghost stories meant to provoke nightmares.
A species cannot exist in isolation—the boundaries between one and another are illusory—and so it is not enough to name each animal, or portray the context in which it is eaten. We must describe the fabric in which each is rooted. The soils are sandy and shallow, overlaying primeval rocks, and swimming with microbes. The plants that grow on these soils produce chemicals called “secondary metabolites,” and eventually become fodder for many animals.9 When you eat game, then, you are not just tasting meat. You are tasting soil and sunlight, bacteria and metabolites. You are tasting a web of relations we cannot replicate. You are eating a landscape of magic. You are eating the past.
There is a long colonial history of how we talk about what Africans do and eat.10 The sentiment projected onto indigenous peoples by their conquerors is an angry admiration. In the same breath, man will denounce, criticize and call savage that which he also finds brave and pure and vital. The colonizer recognizes that while Western civilization has liberated him, it has also imprisoned him. He sees in Africa a wild, dark and empty jungle. He erases the peopled, domesticated forest that is actually there, and settles into the triumph of his own heroic odyssey.
To understand how hunting game became illegal, we must start with how land became owned. For forest-dwelling people, hunting was seen as an honorable activity. Customary land rights shifted over space and time to account for nomadic lifestyles and dictated who could hunt when and where. Game was captured with hand-made snares or bow and arrow. The arrows were fashioned of slender dark wood. A heart-shaped leaf was slotted in the end to guide the flight. The tips were primed in poison. Hunting occurred yearlong, but it was the wet season when game was most plentiful. The rains flooded the lowlands, and the animals crowded the highlands. In the dry season, the rivers pulled back from their banks and the fish swarmed in the shallows, easy prey for sharp-tipped spears.
Because all life was communal then, eating was too. A forest buffalo could feed the entire village. Diets were protein-rich and carbohydrate-poor. Meat was the glue that bound society together. Certain game, like elephant, was reserved for men of high stature and believed to bestow a potent virility. Hunting itself was an ecological act.11 It tied the body to the forest in ways both physical and metaphysical. If you weren’t careful, a witch doctor could cast your soul into an elephant, and you would be bound to it in both life and death.
Then Henry Morton Stanley wrought his violent path through these forests in 1874. He described them as an “endless … suffocating wilderness”.12 The forest presented white men like him with such difficult conditions that “the struggle for existence [was] on the whole severe”.13 The expedition parties rejoiced at the site of grasslands.
In May of 1885, the “international” community (the major European powers of England, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy) recognized King Leopold II of Belgium as having a sovereign claim over Congo. Five years later, these same countries created the first international conservation law: The Convention for the Preservation of Animals, Birds and Fish in Africa.14 The treaty had very little to do with the basis of intrinsic value of wildlife, and much to do with protecting African landscapes for European exploitation. They wanted a steady supply of game for their sporting activities. For those useful and rare animals, there was “Absolute prohibition on hunting or destruction” (vultures, secretary birds, wild asses) while others were deemed “Harmful animals desirable to be reduced in number within sufficient limits” (lions, leopards, pythons, otters).
The land and its people came to be viewed scientifically—a methodology driven in equal parts by neutral curiosity and in service of empire. Mustachioed men mounted expeditions on river steamers, calling these missions reconnaissance. They assessed waterway navigability and wrote extensive reports.15 Exotic species were collected, labeled, and pressed into type specimens. They spoke of everything in use-value and imposed rules, regimes, and statutes. Variable land rights were reassigned and legislated to suit colonial needs.
In 1898, a railway line was built between Matadi on the coast and Leopoldville (present-day Kinshasa), and the Belgian administration began transforming the country into a model colony. A port was constructed and the extensive upstream river network co-opted to transport resources for export.16 Roads were hacked into the forests. The native men and women were told they could not use the forests as they once had. Brussels busied itself preparing agricultural bulletins. Villages, once dispersed around the riverbanks, were forced by brutal methods to cluster along the roadsides. Such compulsory resettlement became a tactic to facilitate control over a previously scattered rural population. The Congolese were pushed into the agricultural labor market through quotas, guarantees, “white gold” ivory tributes, and taxes. They were coerced to gather wild rubber17 under increasingly appalling conditions. Failure to pay led to the loss of hands.
Table 1. The value of bushmeat increases as it is moved from forest to restaurant.
||Value ($, whole monkey, USD)
||Distance from source (miles)
|Monkoto (Salonga NP)
||On foot or bicycle
||Hunters and market hunters
||Bicycle or pirogue
||Market hunters and Commercants
|Inflammable Port (Kinshasa)
||Large barge on Congo River
||Commercantsand wholesale vendors
|Grand Marché (central Kinshasa)
||~552 (~2 miles from port)
||Vehicle or on foot
||Primary or secondary vendors
||21.50 (per portion: 4-8 portions per monkey)
As the colonial machine was laid across the land, Belgian Congo was envisioned as a new touristic playground for Westerners. Travelogues recast the forsaken Darkest Africa as a “Modern Central Africa”.18 The Belgians took to hunting on horseback. In Europe, hunting had been restricted to rich landowners for centuries. During the 16th century, only the privileged nobility were allowed to kill deer and harming royal game was punishable by death. So it was with little thought that such laws were implemented in Africa as well. With access to forests restricted, and La Colonie monitoring all domestic animals introduced into the country, meat became scarce. The authorities had a monopoly on protein. Plantations replaced food crops, and the people relied on famine roots and tubers, native peanuts, imported starches and palm oil. Meat came to symbolize power and potency.
Like the threaded waterways of the Congo River Basin, the trade in wild meat is meandering. But like a river eventually empties into the sea, so too most meat eventually ends up in Kinshasa. Meat is still smoked for preservation because it may take months to move it from forest to city.19 With each step away from the forest, the price creeps higher. The hunter goes into the forest with bow and arrow, calibre dooze shotgun, or AK-47. He may follow animal trails through the thick cathedral or he may hack his own path.20 As he walks, he sets snares made from bicycle brake wire. He may shoot down monkeys or be lucky enough to come across a massive bush pig the color of caramel.
When the animal has been killed, it is disemboweled. The skin is left on. Its body is splayed dorsally by a frame made of two crossed branches. It is warm-smoked for many hours. Because of the high humidity of the forest, the meat is re-dried over a small fire every few days. All this slow smoking means that when it is finally reconstituted in rich stews, the meat is delicate and tender. It falls to pieces in your mouth.
Groups of market poachers set up camps deep in the Salonga forest and amass many pounds of meat. It will take a week to hike it out to a more accessible part of the forest. The porters are each given one monkey for every five they carry out. The meat is then stacked into large baskets made from slender bent saplings and strapped to modified bicycles—saddle, chain, and peddle removed, strings tied from the handlebars to the baskets—and pushed for many more kilometers over rutted, single-track dirt lanes and across log bridges. Sometimes the trader will stop in villages and hang around for a few weeks, negotiating for more stockpiles of meat, bartering soap, salt, and bullets. Sometimes the people in these villages are his relatives and he is going home.
When a suitable tributary river is reached, the game is loaded onto a pirogue, a kind of slender dug-out canoe. Some days later it will reach the Congo River and the port town of Mbandaka. From here, the baskets of meat are placed on the decks of ancient wooden whaling boats where they join salted fish, burlap-wrapped bundles of charcoal, corn, and forest products that will bring enough profit to justify the month’s cruise to the capital city.21 These boats are floating villages. People onboard live and die, give birth and get married. They bring the country down to the city, then turn around and take the city back upstream—plastic tubs, razor blades, fake hair, clothes. It is an exchange of the natural for the industrial.
The geography of value
Finally in Kinshasa, these boats dock at gritty port markets.22 At Marché Inflammable, I met two sisters who ran a market bar that served as a headquarters for the illegal smuggling of game. It was made from recycled lumber with low ceilings. “Sometimes we get chimp or elephant meat secretly wrapped in other kinds of meat, or hidden in maize or foufou,” they told me. “Sometimes ivory is hidden the same way.” When I asked if they were afraid of being caught, they said solemnly, “The soldiers cooperate with us, but we don’t trust them. They are not our friends.”
In 1960, colonial independence followed elections but the rapid retreat of the Belgians thrust the country into a brutal five-year civil war. When Mobutu Sese Seko took power in a US-backed coup in 1965, he gave a speech to his newly independent country. “You take some and you leave some,” he said, making it clear that if you weren’t taking what you could get, angling for every opportunity, you were weak and stupid. Corruption lost its tone of morality and became a strategic way of receiving what was deserved. By 1973, Mobutu’s power was all consuming. He brazenly executed anyone he suspected of being a rival. Because of Mobutu’s anti-communist stance, the US turned a blind eye to his grotesquely violent dictatorship.23 But despite his Western backers, he aimed to wipe the slate of any colonial marring and went about creating the official state ideology of Authenticité. He renamed the country Zaire, nationalized all foreign-owned industry and land. He called for the évolués to dress and speak and eat in an “authentic” Congolese manner.
DRC’s immense mineral wealth made it a country of geologic scandal, and Mobutu became one of the richest men in the world. With a leopard-skin hat and private European vacations, he was a dictator with a bizarre aesthetic. Despite his proclaimed hatred of the West, he enacted many laws that looked strikingly similar to colonial methods, particularly when it came to wilderness conservation. In 1970, Mobutu expanded Salonga’s park boundaries, motivated by a desire to create a protected zone larger than the Belgians had created.24 He may very well have believed this was a revolutionary act—he was creating a symbolic gesture of Congo for the Congolese. But as with the Belgians, access was restricted to the corruption class, and it was now Mobutu who used Salonga as a private hunting ground.
By the 1980’s, DRC was facing massive currency devaluation and increasing instability. In the early 1990s, war in neighboring Rwanda led to a massive influx of refugees and rebels into Congo’s forests. Civil war broke out and Salonga buzzed with rebel soldiers, renegade locals and armed refugees. They took hostages to make sure local villagers delivered food. Game and ivory were stockpiled and traded for supplies and small arms. Widespread circulation of weapons became the norm. Crisis, starvation and desperation were rampant across the country. During this time, DRC was still predominantly a rural country. But with the instability of civil strife, the cities swelled with those desperate to escape the violent countryside.
The state invested heavily in urban and mining areas, while demanding high levies from cash crops, worsening disparity between metropolitan and village dwellers. Resources, economic growth and industry were concentrated, further facilitating a rural exodus. Newly salaried urbanites were willing to pay good money for traditional meats and demand for game shot upwards. Strong illicit networks developed to transport game from forest to city and ammunition from city to forest. Military men in power were often at the center of this trade. They relied on poorly paid foot soldiers and park guards. Their wives became traffickers. Meanwhile hunting had become modern with the influx of AK-47s into the forest. A single person could now swiftly wipe out a troop of monkeys or a parade of elephants. In Kinshasa’s markets, piles of elephant meat could be found for sale out in the open amongst the flies.
One evening, I sat above the Congo River in Mbandaka and watched the boats. The trade of products was so wrapped up in the act of daily living that it was difficult to separate the bodies engaged in work from those engaged in play. Somehow life and economy had seeped into each other and become entwined. Life was transactional. It wasn’t always so difficult to transport goods in Congo. When the Congo was run by dictators—both colonial and African—there was a sense of things working, even if this order was imbued with violence. Smooth roads, national bus systems, and on-schedule river ferries reduced time and space. Today, there is a more vibrant, dysfunctional sense of time. Life takes as long as it takes. “God gave the white man a watch,” my Congolese coworker told me one night, “but he gave the Congolese time.”
Today, a heavy state military presence in Salonga has led to a decrease in rampant hunting. But the market forces driving urbanization and demand for game that began in the 90s did not disappear so easily. The military and poorly paid park guards are still involved in the trade, either directly or through the taking of bribes. Vast quantities of game turn rancid during transport through the many detours of this illicit network. The remote villages on the edge of Salonga are now colonized by conservation NGOs concerned about “empty forest syndrome”.25 Their generators and motorcycles bring new noise to a forest they are worried is becoming silent. Their presence not only brings material goods but also creates the desirefor material goods—it’s hard to know you want something until you see it. Media beamed down via their satellite internet brings images of pornography and consumption culture. The military captains spend their days at a mobile court prosecuting poachers under Operation Bonobo and their nights drinking warm Primus at the village’s thatch-roofed nightclub. “Our money has become the message,” one conservationist told me. In preservation lies the vision of all worldly benefits.
Today, Kinshasa is a chaotic city of 10 million people. The new president likes to drag-race down the Chinese-built roads in the center of town, alone in his fancy cars, his military attaché trying to keep up behind him, lights blaring, trigger fingers tense. Armored SUVs ply the streets, carrying foreign officials who pay exorbitant rents to live in the homes once owned by Mobutu’s ministers. The rising middle-class in DRC wants a comfortable life. Billboards advertise the born-again saviors who promise ascendance from poverty and hardship, whitening cream, and Irish butter. In the poorer neighborhoods, live wires run along open sewer pits. Graffiti for the Autopsy gang26 adorns crumbling walls. While the West is plagued by the corruptions of material wealth, Congo has settled into the corruptions of material poverty. Both geographies exist in the modern world, but only one is considered primitive.
One chilly evening in Kinshasa, I ate antelope. It was stewed with tomatoes and spices. It was tender and smoky. It tasted neither wild or domesticated. It tasted like the sadness of the many millions killed in war, like the pulsating beats of Congolese music and the vivacious colors of the tailored fabrics. It tasted like the hard labor of many hands and of the polluted Kinshasa air. It tasted like the cool wet quiet of a threatened forest. It tasted embedded.
This research was conducted under the generous support of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP) and the Tropical Resources Institute at Yale University. Additional logistical support came from USAID through the Central African Forest Ecosystem Conservation (CAFEC) program, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. I would also like to thank Michelle Wieland and Jonas Abana Eriksson for their invaluable support, as well as the many individuals who took the time to speak with me.
Bennett, E. Blencowe, E., Brandon, K., Brown, D., Burn, R.W., Cowlishaw, G., Davies, G., Dublin, H., Fa, J.E., Milner-Gulland, E.J., Robinson, J.G., Rowcliffe, J.M., Underwood, F.M. & Wilkie, D.S. 2006. Hunting for consensus: Reconciling bushmeat harvest, conservation, and development policy in West and Central Africa. Conservation Biology 21, 884–887.
Bodmer, R.E. 1995. Managing Amazonian wildlife: Biological correlates of game choice by detribalized hunters. Ecological Applications 5, 872–877.
Bulletin de la Société Royale Belge de Géographie. 1911. 35: 229, 234, 502.
Cheru, F. & Obi, C. (eds.). 2010. The Rise of China & India in Africa. Zed Books, London & New York.
Draulans, D, & Van Krunkelsven, E. 2002. The impact of war on forest areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oryx 36, 35–40.
Dugland, C. 1929. Wanderings in Central Africa: The experiences & adventures of a lifetime of pioneering & exploration. Seeley, London, UK.
Freund, B. 1998. The Making of Contemporary Africa: The development of African society since 1800 (2nd ed.). Palgrave-Macmillan, Basingstoke, UK.
Hochschild, A. 1999. King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, USA.
Hopson, M. 2011. The wilderness myth: How the failure of the American national park model threatens the survival of the Iyaelima tribe and the bonobo chimpanzee. Environmental and Earth Law Journal 1, 61–102.
Little, B. 2007. The Buccaneer’s Realm: Pirate life on the Spanish Main, 1674–1688. Potomac Books, Washington, DC, USA.
Nasi, R., Brown, D., Wilkie, D., Bennett, E., Tutin, C., van Tol, G. and Christophersen, T. 2008. Conservation and Use of Wildlife-based Resources: The bushmeat crisis. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor. Technical Series. 33. 50.
Naval Staff, Intelligence Dept. 1919. A Manual of Belgian Congo. London, UK.
Newing, H. 2001. Bushmeat hunting and management: Implications of duiker ecology and interspecific competition. Biodiversity and Conservation10, 99–118.
Price, S. 2003. War and Tropical Forests: Conservation in areas of armed conflict. Food Products Press, Binghamton, NY, USA.
Pryor, F. 1992. The Red and the Green: The rise and fall of collectivized agriculture in Marxist regimes Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.
Rau, B. 1991. From Feast to Famine: Official cures and grassroots remedies to Africa’s food crisis. Zed Books Ltd., London and New Jersey, USA.
Redford, K.H. 1992. The empty forest. Bioscience 22, 412–422.
Revue de Geographie. 1901 T.49. Librairie Ch. Delgrave, Paris, France.
Robinson, J. & Bennett, E. 2002. Will alleviating poverty solve the bushmeat crisis? Oryx 36, 332.
Stanley, H.M. 1891. In Darkest Africa. v. 1. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, USA.
Steel, L. et al. 2008 The Scale and Dynamics of Wildlife Trade Originating in the South of the Salonga-Lukenie-Sankuru Landscape. WWF-Democratic Republic of Congo. December 2008 (Draft – Not for Circulation).
Waterman, P. Secondary Metabolites. In Alexander, I.J., Swaine, M.D. & Watling, R. (eds). 1996. Essays on the Ecology of the Guniea-Congo Rain Forest. Proceedings of The Royal Society of Edinburgh (section B) 104, 225–242.
Yumoto, T., Maruhashi, T., Yamagiwa, J. & Mwanza, N. 1995. Seed-dispersal by elephants in a tropical rain forest in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Zaire. Biotropica 27, 526–530.
Gina Rae N. La Cerva is a MESc candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Her research examines the role and value of wild food in society and the philosophy of domestication. She holds a MPhil in Geography from the University of Cambridge, UK, and a BA in Earth Science and Society from Vassar College, USA.↩
To avoid this, I will herein refer to “bushmeat” as game.↩
DRC is often called “the richest, poorest country on earth.” It is one of the largest countries in Africa, covering just under one-fourth the area of the continental United States. It has incredible untapped wealth in the form of timber, oil, coal, diamonds, rare-earth minerals, cobalt, copper and ivory. Half of Africa’s forests are within its borders, which amount to 6% of the world’s total. Its rivers could produce half of Africa’s potential hydro-electric power, a total of 13% of the global capacity. The majority of this wealth in concentrated in the cities, and in a few hands. The per capita GDP is $484 USD (World Bank 2014).↩
A staple food, often made from cassava root flour. Alternately it is made from maize or semolina.↩
Of the 14 restaurants I surveyed, only four did not serve game. Of these, one was a chicken-BBQ place. The other three were owned by non-Congolese. They said they didn’t serve game because it was dangerous as they were unsure of quality and preservation techniques. In contrast, many Congolese I spoke to felt that domestic meat was unsafe because it was artificially preserved with dangerous chemicals. These varying conceptions are important in light of recent fears of Ebola transmission from bushmeat. The only people during my interviews who brought up the Ebola risk were Westerners. Exposure risk from bushmeat did not seem to be of concern for the Congolese. In fact, the opposite was true: rather than being a site of potential disease, bushmeat was a source of health.↩
Little, B. 2007. The Buccaneer’s Realm: Pirate life on the Spanish Main, 1674–1688. Potomac Books, Washington, DC, USA.↩
For instance see: Nasi, R., Brown, D., Wilkie, D., Bennett, E., Tutin, C., van Tol, G. & Christophersen, T. 2008. Conservation and Use of Wildlife-based Resources: The bushmeat crisis. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor. Technical Series. 33; Robinson, J. & Bennett, E. 2002. Will alleviating poverty solve the bushmeat crisis? Oryx 36, 332; Bennett, E. et al. 2006. Hunting for consensus: Reconciling bushmeat harvest, conservation, and development policy in West and Central Africa. Conservation Biology 21, 884-887; among many others.↩
At 36,000 km2 kilometers, Salonga is the largest tropical forest park in Africa and the second largest in the world. It is divided into two blocks (North and South), with a corridor of secondary forest and cleared land in the middle. It is entirely located within the sedimentary “cuvette centrale” of the Congo basin.↩
For an interesting discussion of metabolites, see Waterman, P. 1996. Secondary Metabolites. In: Alexander, I.J., Swaine, M.D., & Watling, R. (Eds). Essays on the Ecology of the Guniea-Congo Rain Forest. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK. pp 225-242. They can be affected by soil nutrients, variation in incident light, carbon/nutrient balance, specific trace elements, drought and salinity, damage caused by pathogens and herbivores, seasonality, plant habitat, plant form and stage of development. It is an incredibly complex system that we still don’t fully understand.↩
For an interesting overview see: Rau, B. 1991. From Feast to Famine: Official cures and grassroots remedies to Africa’s food crisis. Zed Books Ltd. London and New Jersey, NJ, USA.↩
Hunting can change animal behavior and plant dispersion. In cases of over-hunting, ecosystems may lose primary seed-dispersal agents, fundamentally altering the plant compositions. For instance, see: Yumoto, T., et al. 1995. Seed-dispersal by elephants in a tropical rain forest in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Zaire. Biotropica 27, 526–530; Newing, H. 2001. Bushmeat hunting and management: implications of duiker ecology and interspecific competition. Biodiversity and Conservation 10, 99–118; Bodmer, R.E., 1995. Managing Amazonian wildlife: Biological correlates of game choice by detribalized hunters. Ecological Applications 5, 872–877.↩
Stanley, H.M. 1891. In Darkest Africa v.1. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, USA. For more information about this period in DRC, including the slave trade that led up to it, see: Hochschild, A. 1999. King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, USA.↩
A Manual of Belgian Congo. 1919. Naval Staff, Intelligence Dept. London, UK.↩
This treaty was the grandfather of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), enacted seventy-one years later.↩
For instance, see the Bulletin de la Société Royale Belge de Géographie35 (1911), pages 229, 234, and 502; and Revue de Geographie 49 (1901). p. 369. Librairie Ch. Delgrave, Paris, France. Mentions of the Salonga River can be found in A Manual of Belgian Congo (1919), p. 242.↩
Initially, colonial authority restricted migrant workers from making permanent homes or owning land in the city, but slowly rules were relaxed. A deeply segregated city grew, and by the 1940s and 50s there was extensive urbanization. Congolese were trained in administrative tasks, and as doctors and lawyers. This new middle class of évolués meant Congo had a wage labor force twice as large as any other African colony. For more on this process see: Freund, B. 1998. The Making of Contemporary Africa: The development of African society since 1800(2nd ed.). Palgrave-Macmillan, Basingstoke, UK.↩
The wild rubber harvested in DRC was a species of liana (Landolphia owariensis P. Beauv.), not the tree variety typical of other locations. It was traditionally used as a medicinal plant.↩
For example in Dugland, C. 1929. Wanderings in Central Africa: The experiences & adventures of a lifetime of pioneering & exploration. Seeley, London, UK, Campbell writes about la route royale, a newly built motorway north east of Mbandaka and the various opportunities for “luxurious travel” by rail and river that connected DRC to the Nile and the east coast of Africa.↩
Generally, road and river transport in DRC has worsened since the early 1990’s. Yet Chinese-funded and built roads are rapidly changing this dynamic. For instance, see: Cheru, F. & Obi, C. (eds.) 2010. The Rise of China & India in Africa Zed Books, London & New York. p. 232. There are conflicting notions of what effect roads have on the bushmeat trade. For instance, Draulans and Van Krunkelsven (2002) argue “the collapse of the transport system increased the reliance on bushmeat to about 80% of protein consumed.” Draulans, D. & Van Krunkelsven, E. 2002. The impact of war on forest areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oryx 36, 35–40. Others argue that better transport increases the rate at which game can be moved from forest to urban areas. One study found that roads completely changed the direction of where meat went: Steel, L. et al. 2008. The Scale and Dynamics of Wildlife Trade Originating in the South of the Salonga-Lukenie-Sankuru Landscape. WWF-Democratic Republic of Congo. December 2008 (Draft – Not for Circulation). This was particularly the case for logging roads, which increased access to previously remote forest areas.↩
Historically and contemporarily, hunters are always men.↩
Because of the long distance, and the many middle-men, products must be worth a certain price in Kinshasa to justify the long transport from Mbandaka. Game is a particularly high-value product as it does not degrade much over time and is relatively compact and lightweight. The price of meat in the city is four to five times the initial cost (Table [tab:value]). Live animals are also transported. Vegetables, on the other hand, are bulky and will rot.↩
It is also interesting to note that you can tell the health of a forest by the kinds of animals found in a bushmeat market. For example, if there are a lot of red colobus monkeys for sale then the forest is likely still relatively intact, as they are the first to be hunted out. The smoked monkeys are identifiable by their paws.↩
For a good discussion of these politics see: Pryor, F. 1992. The Red and the Green: The rise and fall of collectivized agriculture in Marxist regimes. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA. For more on periods of civil war see: Price, S. 2003. War and Tropical Forests: Conservation in areas of armed conflict. Food Products Press, Binghamton, NY, USA, and Hopson, M. 2011. The wilderness myth: How the failure of the American national park model threatens the survival of the Iyaelima tribe and the bonobo chimpanzee. Environmental and Earth Law Journal 1, 61–102.↩
The Salonga National Park was initially established as the Tshuapa National Park in 1956 in order to preserve a large forest area from being harvested for timber. Mobutu’s presidential decree ordinance 70-318 created “une reserve naturelle integral”’ that was “intended to be a wildlife preserve specifically for the relocation of the nation’s now endangered forest elephants, Loxodonta africana cyclotis.” (Hopson 2011, 81) It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.↩
For instance see: Redford, K.H. 1992. The empty forest. Bioscience 22, 412–422.↩
A local street gang↩