National Geographic News
Rampant logging and the illegal trade in forest animals is slowly eroding the traditional lifestyle of the Bayaka Pygmies in the Central African Republic, according to researchers.
The Bayaka are a seminomadic people who traditionally survive by hunting and gathering the animals and plants of the rain forest. Among their more revered traditions are the net hunt and its associated musical ceremony (see sidebar).
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The net hunt traditionally secured enough meat to feed an entire camp, but decades of logging and a subsequent increase in illegal hunting for the bush-meat trade is emptying the forest of its resources, according to Richard Carroll, the director of World Wildlife Fund's Africa program. (See bush-meat photo galleries and news.)
"This is a major issue for people like the Bayaka," Carroll said. "When those resources are depleted, they don't have an alternative source [of food]. They don't have a place to go back to. No Social Security will kick in and give them meals on wheels everyday."
According to Carroll, the root of the problem is the Central African Republic government's desire to open its forest resources to the international market. Starting in the 1970s, logging has been on a boom-and-bust cycle in the landlocked country.
For example, Carroll said, a logging company will come in and make promises to hire hundreds of workers. This spurs immigration from neighboring countries such as Cameroon.
After a few years the high costs to export the timber cause the logging companies to go belly up, Carroll said, leaving hundreds of immigrants without jobs. To supplement their income, the immigrants fan out into the forest to hunt wild animals to supply the lucrative bush-meat trade.
The Bayaka, Carroll added, are lured to work for the logging companies as guides. This has caused the traditionally seminomadic hunter-gathers to adopt a more settled lifestyle. Among the Bayaka, alcoholism and disease tend to follow this shift.
"This is all related to changes in the forest brought on by logging," Carroll said.
Park and Reserve
In an attempt to reverse the trend of increased logging and bush-meat trade in the Central African Republic and its impacts on the Bayaka, Carroll and WWF helped in 1986 to establish the Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve and the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park.
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