*Warning: There are graphic images of slaughtered animals within this post. Viewer discretion is advised*
“I hope you’re OK riding on the back of a motorbike.”
*a moment passes*
“I guess I will have to be.”
Then off we went. I have never ridden on a motorcycle before and I have had no interest in ever doing so. Why would I? They are incredibly dangerous vehicles and statistically you are bound to have a serious crash at least once in your life. So of course, I got on anyway. Because from rock climbing to handling venomous snakes, I definitely partake in dangerous activities. A short ride won’t kill me. Well, a short ride through downtown Kumasi might kill me. So it goes.
Helmet on. Check. Backpack tight on body. Check. Feet. Wait, where do I put my feet? Ok, ok… I got this.
In reality, a short ride was half an hour and it was truly exhilarating, but seriously dangerous. I would not reccommend it for the faint of heart. I never imagined I would be flying down a stretch of busy road in downtown Kumasi at 80KMH, but so it goes. Backstory: Originally I was scheduled to give a talk at the Kumasi Zoological Gardens about amphibian conservation but this event had to be canceled due to time constraints. I still wanted to meet the staff of the Zoo in order to inform them about the work I am conducting in Ghana so we made a trip to the Zoo. I also knew the bush meat market was close to the Zoo and I inquired about making a stop. As over-harvesting of frogs for food is a serious problem in Ghana, I wanted to see if the market was selling frogs.
After we arrived at the zoo, we spent 15 minutes navigating through the busy streets of downtown Kumasi. The bush meat market was tucked away behind a few stands of people selling food and random items. Before we could enter the market we first had to get permission. Luckily we were with members of the Forestry Commission and some students from the local university, so access was granted relatively quickly. Then we continued on into the market.
The first thing I heard was the sound of bone being broken. The first thing I smelled was rotting flesh and burning hair. It was only 10 am, but the heat had already reached 30c. The heat made the smell worse and I thought to myself, this is probably how it feels and smells like in Hell. The market was relatively small, but that is because most of the meat had already been sold for the day. You need to come early to claim bush meat in Kumasi.
This is the first thing I saw at the market. They did not have much available, but from left to right you can see Bush Rats, a Spotted Civit, and some species of Duiker – a type of antelope.
Animals are killed before they reach the market. Usually they are killed in the bush. Most are trapped with snares or are hunted with guns. When the animal is secured, the throat is slit.
Before butchering, the animal is either skinned or burned to remove the hair.
The smell is intense. Some of the animals are butchered into pieces or they are cooked whole.
The Grass Cutter is a small rodent that is native to Ghana. These are a local delicacy and like my most delicacies their numbers will begin to decline over time.
Grass Cutters and Bush Rats that are ready to be sold. I believe one Grass Cutter is sold at about 30 cedis or about 15 US dollars.
As I was photographing this Duiker, the woman next to it immediately started swatting at the meat and dozens of flies arose from the carcass. The child in the background paints an incredible picture about the normality of the trade of bush meat and how it is an acceptable form of gathering food in these local communities.
The Reality: None of this activity is regulated. From the hunter to the woman selling the meat, there is little enforcement of what they can and cannot sell. The Forestry Commission tries to regulate the bush meat market by educating hunters and the people selling the meat about how many of these animals are being harvested unsustainably. They explain that some of these animals are endangered species and it is against the law to hunt such animals. Sometimes arrests are made if there are multiple offenses, but that only happens when they see the hunter with the dead animal. These animals come to the market having already been slaughtered and they are delivered at random times of the day or night. The people selling the meat refuse to give up the names of the hunters and they cannot be prosecuted for withholding information. This makes the trade of bush meat incredibly hard to regulate.
This horn came from the antelope that was being burned at the top of the post. He was 21 years old when he died.
As I was taking this photo, I noticed that a woman was wearing a shirt for Atrazine in the background. Atrazine is a commonly used herbacide in Ghana and in the United States. In the United States, 80 million pounds are sprayed onto crops every year. It is unknown how much is applied in Ghana. It contains endocrine disruptors that feminizes frogs, meaning that the frogs literally change from males to females. Not a good thing to have in the ecosystem.
Why does this happen? It’s simple. These people feel they have no other choice. Poverty is a real issue in Africa.
This photo was taken outside the Kumasi Zoo. He was not the only man we saw sleeping in the street.
If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day.
If you a teach a man to fish, he eats forever.
Until he fishes every last fish.
That is the case in Ghana. I do not blame the people of Ghana for the unsustainable slaughter of so many species. Poverty makes men do foolish things. You cannot blame anyone for the problem of bush meat as there are so many causes to the problems in Africa. It is up to everyone to look ahead and target the threats that immediately impact wildlife populations. People do not understand that these animals will go extinct. Therefore if there are no education efforts conducted and no alternate solution provided, then these practices will continue.
Zoos. Do they hurt or help wildlife? I have been torn about this issue for some time. If I was not taken to zoos as a child then I feel I would not have been exposed to wildlife conservation. Seeing those animals made me want to see them in the wild and I pursued a career in wildlife conservation. Obviously we want more inspired children to become wildlife warriors, but at what cost to the animals?
This elephant is 9 months old. His mother was killed by poachers and he is the only elephant at the Kumasi Zoo.
This poor bloke is destined for a life in captivity as he cannot be returned to the wild. He liked to give me kisses with his trunk. So, I get to touch a baby elephant and so do thousands of others that may come to this zoo. Does that help wildlife populations or does it stop there? How do we measure this question?
Remember the Spotted Civit? Well this one is sleeping, but it is alive. Civits and Genets are the convergently evolved cousins of the Ringtails I studied in California. Convergent evolution is when you have two completely different species in two completely different parts of the world evolve to look and act very similarly to one another. Besides that fact being freaking cool, they are also painfully adorable.
However, there were multiple civits at the zoo. Why couldn’t they be together in one giant cage? Perhaps there is some part of their behavior that I do not understand. Maybe they are extremely territorial or something. It just pains me to see animals in isolation because most animals prefer each others company. Some animals were allowed to be together at the zoo. These Baboons pictured below are grooming each other. Grooming helps alleviate stress and is a form of social connection among primates. Every stroked your lover’s forehead? Yea, it feels freaking awesome.
Ok, but does seeing these animals in cages hurt or help wildlife? Well, let’s assume that animals do not want to be in cages. How can I ask that question? Ask yourself this, would you want to be in a cage for your entire life, fed pre-made meals, and have absolutely no control of your destiny? Right, of course you wouldn’t want that because it’s a miserable way to live life. Most of the enclosures are barren: concrete floor, water dish, food, and maybe a branch to climb on.
Can you imagine living in cages like this for your entire life? On the left there is a Gaboon Viper and on the right is a squirrel. Some animals were allowed to have larger enclosures.
However, an enclosure is still an enclosure if you think about it. The expression on this chimpanzee’s face made me realize that fact.
This young chimpanzee was deprived of other members of his species and left alone in this enclosure. Unfortunately he cannot be with the other troop of chimps as the male will kill him. Like the elephant, his mother was also poached.
Near the end of my time at the Zoo I payed a visit to the Hyenas. This is a Spotted Hyena. There were two in the enclosure, again concrete floors and a water dish. The individual pictured would watch me and when I would move, he or she would come over and stand in front of me. I am assuming he or she was bored out of its mind, but I cannot say for certain. The other Hyena broke my heart. It paid no attention to me and paced from one section of the cage to the other. Back and forth, back and forth… it kept pacing. This is a condition common in zoos and in prisons. It is a neurological disorder that occurs when the animal is deprived of any stimulation. No animal should experience such hell.
Philosophers: So, call me out on this! If we assume that living in a cage for your entire life and being deprived of any stimulation to the point of where neurological problems develop, then can we call this event torture?
At what point do we draw the line? If this is an unacceptable fate for a human then why is it acceptable for an animal? Ok, before I go on a tirade on why it is in fact morally not acceptable, that’s not the point of this post. I want to ask this question: Does it help animal populations in the long term if we keep some individuals in zoos? The truth is that many zoos are part of incredibly beneficial programs that support wildlife conservation efforts around the world. Also many zoos are the only connection that people in cities have to experience nature and wildlife. While some animals may suffer in cages, they typically do more to help wildlife populations than to hurt them. In conservation biology we learn this mantra: It is not about the individual, it is about the population. However, I am an individual, right? I was inspired to care about wildlife from seeing animals in cages as a child and I actually grew up to become a wildlife biologist. However, it was not seeing the animals in zoos that drove me to want to save them, but it was the compassion that I had for all living animals that made me want to save them… in zoos or in the wild. This is why I came to this conclusion: Even if animals in zoos help wildlife, it is still exploiting animals. I think it is shameful that we tell our children they are special, but allow the incarceration of individual animals to be left to rot in cages in zoos because it is for “the good of the population”. We would not sacrifice one human being to save a group of human beings and ironically human beings have come to this conclusion that keeping animals in cages benefits wildlife populations. This is Speciesism. If we truly respected animals, then we would love them from a distance and let them live their lives. If you are still reading this, animals deserve to be left alone. If we are truly trying to be stewards of the environment then we will grant them this peace.
Ok, I got a little tense there… so let’s talk about the good side of zoos. Education is priceless and an educated society is an aware society. The Kumasi Zoo is definitely dated with its animal husbandry skills, but it still tries to educate the culture it lives in. This is a critical effort to save wildlife from extinction.
This poster was hung in the education center at the zoo. I finally learned what Fruit Bat species have been flying over my head while I have been in Ghana. They fly freely at the Kumasi Zoo and their future is theirs to decide. What a wonderful world that grants them this freedom.
So I am totally BUMMED OUT! As promised, the other day I was mauled by a pack of puppies! Here’s the photographic evidence to prove it:
They savagely attacked my legs with licks and gentle puppy nips!
Then they piled on top of me! I had no control as there were so many of them… I was completely out numbered!
*dies from cuteness overload*
Thank you for reading and I promise my next post will not be so depressing. ❤
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