"Lack of public awareness is a driving force behind the bush meat crisis," actress Stephanie Powers, president of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, said at a news conference organized in conjunction with the meeting. "Many people have never even heard the word 'bush meat.'"
According to a preliminary study conducted by Zoo Atlanta, nearly 90 percent of the U.S. public has no knowledge of the bush meat problem.
Eaves said most people have little understanding of the serious implications of not curbing the present illegal commercial hunting of wildlife for meat. "The need for the development of more formalized education and information regarding the bush meat crisis is urgent," she said.
"Educating people about the bush meat problem will require action at all levelslocal, regional, national, and international," said Anthony Rose, executive director of the California-based Gorilla Foundation.
The conference participants focused on ways of developing greater awareness of the bush meat crisis through community-based education, curriculum development for Africa's regional wildlife colleges, and U.S.-based educational efforts. "We want to help provide everyone from local people to wildlife professionals with the skills and knowledge to address the bush meat issue," said Eaves.
The task force consortium believes the development and dissemination of community-oriented educational materials about bush meat could provide employment opportunities for Africans by training them as community education officers associated with sanctuaries, zoos, and other institutions.
"One of the most underutilized resources in Africa for wildlife conservation efforts is the formal education sector," said Eaves. Africa has three wildlife colleges, in Cameroon, Tanzania, and South Africa. Establishing formal degree programs and including education about bush meat in the required curriculum would ensure the training of much needed professionals, she explained.
At the same time, educational materials about the problem are also needed in the United States. "It is critical that Americans be involved in solving the bush meat crisis," said Christina Ellis, director of Africa Programs for the Jane Goodall Institute. "We must be able to understand the issue in the appropriate cultural and environmental contexts if we are to assist communities with infrastructure and development."
The task force plans to expand and coordinate efforts by schools, zoos, aquariums, and other institutions to raise awareness of the bush meat problem through public displays, posters, interactive computer sites, and teaching modules for the classroom.
"Awareness of the bush meat crisis must permeate the globe," said actress Powers. "It must become part of the everyday global consciousness."
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