Chris Opondo, an African anthropologist, and Dr. Ann Stroud, a systems agronomist, both of the African Highlands Initiative (AHI), say Christian missionaries are responsible for the growing consumption of bush meat. They say the churches’ efforts to change traditional African beliefs have eroded taboos which helped to protect many species.

They also say tourists need to be sensitive to their effect on African culture. The two are themselves Christians. Opondo is researching cultural changes in the mountainous Kigezi region of south-west Uganda. He says, “Clans in the highlands and many parts of Africa had totems. Some of the totems in Kigezi clans prevent people from eating bushbucks, cattle with dark stripes, and even monkey flesh. However, game meat is currently being promoted. These practices are new, especially to those communities that did not eat meat and had taboos about them. Christianity has discouraged the ancestral rituals that were performed in the mountain forests to a peace god.”

Stroud says, ?There are restaurants in Nairobi where you can find not only crocodile and zebra meat, but species like impala and eland. Most of it is ranched, but when people in places like Kigezi start hearing that game meat is saleable in the outside world, that changes their mindset.”

Bush meat consumption is a growing problem in parts of West Africa, where it is believed to be driving some species, especially apes, to dangerously low levels. Eating monkeys infected with the simian form of AIDS has been blamed for the spread of human AIDS in Africa. Both researchers blame Christianity for undermining traditional African ways of life. Opondo says, “The missionaries came to ‘civilise’ the Africans, to end their ‘barbaric, satanic’ rituals. That is continuing – even today they are still discouraging our traditions.”

An Ethiopian farmer was recently told by the church to get rid of his second wife, who was pregnant. Opondo says, “The churches should have to negotiate with African communities about the positive aspects of their religions. It should be an open discussion.”

Stroud says, “There are other ways of promoting religious principles without being dogmatic. I can foresee a negotiation to that sort of discussion which would end with the churches accepting polygamy or other traditional practices that are part of the culture.”

Tourism was effecting huge changes in the lives of people in the Kigezi highlands. Opondo says, “The tourists who come to enjoy the mountains trigger change among the inhabitants, leading to assimilation of cultures and the diffusion of new lifestyles. The prevailing attitude of using Western culture as the mirror of what is good has modified cultural norms. Those working in the tourism sector enjoy high esteem in their communities. They copy European accents, hairstyles and dress. The perception that Western culture is superior is dominant. People see Europeans as more prestigious. They think: ‘You want to talk like a white man.’ In Kenya tourism is second only to agriculture as the country’s biggest foreign currency earner, so it’s hugely important to East Africa. What we want is for tourists to recognize that the mountains don’t just offer wildlife and stunning scenery: people’s culture matters, too.?

According to Opondo, “There are cultural sites and villages being set up where tourists can go and see beer being brewed from bananas, and people farming in the traditional way with hoes. Some of them have never seen anything like that. People in Africa have all sorts of fantasies about the technologies in Europe, but they’ve got to have confidence in themselves if they’re to retain their identity.”

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Poachers in Rwanda have killed two of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas in an attempt to capture and sell their young, Rwandan wildlife conservation officials report. “With just some 350 of them remaining the population is so fragile that every individual lost is significant in terms of the viability of the mountain gorilla,” says Katie Fawcett, director of the Karisoke Research Center in the northwestern town of Ruhengeri.

The poachers, who attacked just before nightfall last Thursday, try to capture and sell baby gorillas. They made off with one baby gorilla after killing two females. Officials say it was the first time since 1985 that poachers attacked the gorillas for this purpose.

Two men are being held in custody over the killings but officials believe they are part of a larger criminal ring. “This cannot be an operation mounted by a couple of guys,” says Solange Katarebe of the Rwandan Tourism Authority.

The gorillas live in bamboo thickets on the slopes of the Virunga mountains which straddle northwestern Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, and have become Rwanda’s biggest tourist attraction. They move freely across national boundaries and experts say that it is difficult to tell the total population of the mountain gorillas for the three countries.

Tourists pay around $250 each to spend an hour with the animals. It was the work of the late American primatologist Diane Fossey in the 1970s and 80s that first brought the gorillas to the attention of the general public.

In Rwanda the animals are heavily guarded and viewed as a national treasure. While the more numerous western lowland gorilla found in the Congo basin is often killed and eaten as bush meat in the Republic of Congo and Gabon, eating gorilla meat in Rwanda and other eastern African countries is regarded as a strong taboo.

Last year a group of Rwandan rebels returning from Congo broke that taboo after several days of wandering hungry in the mountains, by killing and eating two gorillas in Virunga Park.

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Dr. Richard Leakey, who saved Kenya’s elephants from destruction by ivory poachers more than a decade ago, says the species is at risk across the world. As director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Leakey introduced stringent anti-poaching measures in the late 1980s. He says a new market for ivory has arisen since then and Asian elephants have suffered horrendous losses in the last decade. He fears African elephants will be targeted next.

Leaky says, “It’s entirely plausible that 80% of wild Asian elephants have gone in the last 10 years. There are now only about 35,000 left, maybe 30,000. A large part of the success of the ban on the international ivory trade introduced in 1989 wasn’t a piece of legal paper – it was a change in public attitudes. That was why the bottom fell out of the trade.”

He thinks the new explosion of wealth in China is to blame. “In 1989 China was a poor country, but it’s grown phenomenally. Since the earliest emperors, ivory has been a mark of value in China,? he says. “Now, in effect, you’ve got a hundred million emperors, with traditional ivory carvers on their doorstep in places like Hong Kong. I think that will create a demand that will be fed by an illegal supply.”

Ivory is now worth $150 a pound in south-east Asia, which will inevitably encourage renewed poaching in Africa. “Whether or not there’s a trade ban is irrelevant. There’s a huge new market, and we have to return to the trenches,? he says. “That means Africa is going to have to protect elephants effectively again – more money, more people, more guns.”

He is trying not to antagonize China, since he needs their help to protect the elephants. “I don’t think the government in Beijing wants to be responsible for the elephants’ extinction”, he says. “The Chinese are very practical people, they have a credible environmental record. Tell them the facts, get Chinese non-government organizations, which are good, to create the public attitudes which made such a difference in the West. The conservation community must reach out to China. As for the poachers, I’d go back to my old policies – hit them hard.”

Leaky believes the Earth was probably approaching a sixth mass extinction. He says, “From palaeontology there are precedents for loss of biodiversity, and they’re pretty catastrophic. Habitat loss through human pressure and climate change is having – and will have – fantastic implications. I don’t know the timescale, but from the geological record we know that climate change moves along pretty fast once it gets going. All the signs are that it’s going very fast now – and we’re not responding quickly. “The next 50 years will be pretty dramatic.?

He adds, “It’s quite wrong to propose a doomsday scenario, but I think a wake-up call is required. For tropical countries like Kenya, beset by problems like poverty and the balance of trade, rising to the challenge is a tough call. But this is one world, and its health is important to all of us. The isolationist view of the US on climate change and other environmental conventions is very dangerous.”

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A new economic model, developed by New Zealand-based resource economist Dr. Robert Alexander and researcher Chris Fleming, could improve our understanding of how to help endangered species. It can help determine how much money a particular species costs or how much it benefits humans.

The Massey University researchers believe their work gives a clearer insight into the socio-economic pressures that push animals to the brink of extinction. The model could be used to establish whether conservation program have any realistic chance of success.

Understanding the economics of protecting species is crucial, Alexander says, because “the simple and perhaps unpleasant truth” is that species must pay their way or risk extinction. “People say what causes extinction – and ecologists say it as well – is loss of habitat, excessive hunting, exotic species being introduced, etc. And that’s all true. But that’s a direct cause. What’s underneath that, what makes those things happen? The fundamental causes are economic and social. It is only by discovering what motivates human behavior that we can discover ways to change it.”

The researchers have built a model that takes these factors into account. “We believe that people will behave in accordance to what this model says,” says Alexander. “If the model suggests that the optimal population [of elephants, for example] is significantly lower than the current population, we believe that people will then behave in such a way that they will basically cause the elephants to decline in population.”

While the idea of figuring out how much it costs to allow animals to live on the land they occupy is not new, other models have tended to concentrate only a single species, for example, the elephant. “The elephant effectively is being charged with the entire land which it needs, alone, even though that same land is occupied by lions, and rhinos and leopards and all sorts of other valuable species,” says Alexander. The new model allows for multiple species to be included and also addresses the relationships between species, such as that between predator and prey. “What makes this different is it’s the first model – at least as far as we know – that includes multiple species and the land component,” says Alexander.

The economists illustrate their work using the examples of a single species elephant model, a single species rhino model and a two-species elephant and rhino model. “The single species elephant model shows elephants declining to extinction, but when rhino are added, they maintain a positive population level,” says Alexander. “Rhino continue to survive in both models, but the variation in populations is reduced after elephants are added.” These outcomes match the real world much more closely.

As an example, Alexander points to The Campfire Project in Zimbabwe, which gives local communities rights over animals such as elephants. “Elephants knock down buildings. They are dangerous to your children. They eat your crops. They’re a big pest if you are an indigenous person living where elephants live. So, if some poacher comes along and wants to shoot the elephant, what incentive do you have to notify the authorities, or try to stop them? But if that’s your kids’ school, textbooks for your kids’ education – if that’s worth a couple of hundred Zimbabwean dollars to your household, then you care,” he says.

“There are a lot of species all over the world that are endangered, that are technically owned by the state, and that are illegal to hunt. But who is there to prevent it?” he asks.Alexander is about to use the model in a South African program to try and restore the populations of the African wild dog on private land. The wild dog, now endangered, has been culled for years for killing farmers’ stock. The model will help determine if the value from potential tourism can outweigh the cost of stock killed by the dogs.

Read about a U.S. medical doctor learned how to shape shift into animal forms in ?Shaman, MD? by Dr. Eve Bruce,click here.

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