African Pygmy Hunt Threatened by Logging, Animal Trade

John Roach
National Geographic News
June 3, 2005
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).

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."

Forest Drain

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.

The reserve and park encompass more than 5,500 square miles (14,000 square kilometers). Though hunting and logging are prohibited in the park, "in the reserve, hunting and use of the forest is allowed by traditional means," Carroll said.

According to Carroll, WWF has worked with the Bayaka to establish health-related and educational programs. The conservation organization has also helped them find work as forest guides for tourists who want to learn about net hunts and local medicinal plant uses.

"This has been such a huge hit with visitors and the Bayaka people," Carroll said.

However, several challenges remain. Chief among them is how to establish sustainable forestry practices in the reserve. Carroll said corrupt government officials and the boom-bust nature of the logging industry stifle progress toward sustainable forestry practices.

Alternative Management?
Jerome Lewis is an anthropologist at the London School of Economics in the United Kingdom. He has worked with Bayaka communities since 1994. He agrees that the industrial extraction of forest resources and corruption are the root causes of the environmental problems facing central Africa.
However, Lewis said that the creation of protected areas is often used by international financial institutions and national governments to justify opening up neighboring areas to unsustainable industrial activity.
New roads permit outsiders to flood into areas of abundant resources and low human population densities. Urban centers develop around the industrial activities and forest resources that local people depend upon are rapidly depleted, he said.
As an alternative management strategy, Lewis said that the entire region ought to be recognized as an abundant forest where only ecologically and socially sustainable industrial and commercial activities are permitted.
For example, Lewis said, only logging companies certified as using sustainable practices by the Forest Stewardship Council should be allowed to operate in the Congo Basin and traditional hunter-gatherer activities should be permitted in all areas.
"If these principles were applied rigorously, it would eliminate the need for protected areas because the forest would be managed in a sustainable and equitable manner," he said. "But by having the band-aid solution, we are encouraging devastation in most other areas." In the meantime, he said the Bayaka "feel cheated." They reap no benefits from the logging of their traditional hunting grounds and are denied access to the good areas of forest that remain.

Carroll said decades of logging and subsequent demographic shifts have already made central Africa's resources less abundant, necessitating some level of protection. Open access, he said, would eliminate what remains.

According to Carroll, the Bayaka understand that protected areas allow wildlife to reproduce and maintain its populations in the hunting zones. He added that 90 percent of the revenues from the Dzanga-Sangha protected areas are reinvested locally to pay salaries and fund community development programs such as health care facilities.

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