Liberia is not known for its wildlife. While in other African countries, monkeys and other mammals small and large are frequently observed, such sightings are relatively rare here – except in markets and roadside stands selling bushmeat.
Bushmeat is consumed on a vast scale in Liberia. In rural areas it often serves as a protein source for villagers, but once it’s transported for sale at roadsides and in city markets, the price rises and it becomes something of a delicacy. Residents of the capital Monrovia who travel to the countryside often bring back portions of antelope, monkey or crocodile, fresh or smoked, along with live pangolins, which resemble armoured anteaters.
A whole fresh monkey usually sells for just under CDN$10, while a haunch of duiker, a small forest antelope, goes for between $4 and $15, depending on size. Pangolins fall into the $15-20 range, and are stuffed live into a sack, to be killed just before cooking.
“A review of the Monrovia markets indicates that most of the bushmeat sold on the Monrovia markets are the carcasses of Liberia wildlife endangered species,” said a 2004 Conservation International (CI) report.
The West African bushmeat trade is causing “widespread local extinctions” of wild animal species, according to a recent bulletin by the U.S.-based Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF), which noted that expansion of commercial logging, with “an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers,” is deepening the problem.
“The bushmeat crisis in West and Central Africa will continue as long as there are individuals who rely on wildlife for protein or income,” said a 2009 BCTF report. No amount of enforcement or awareness will curb this trade in the absence of realistic alternatives.”
Efforts to stem Liberia’s bushmeat trade run up against a data gap: the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), responsible for monitoring and enforcing Liberia’s endangered-species regulations, does not provide necessary information on species populations, the CI report said.
“It becomes difficult at this point to raise an argument with a hunter regarding the hunting of endangered wildlife species because FDA, since prewar time, is yet to conduct a population survey for determining new endangered species and re-qualifying the status of old ones,” said the report, which estimated the value of the bushmeat trade serving Monrovia alone at US$8 million for 10 months of 2003-04.
Among the endangered species found as bushmeat in Monrovia markets were five types of duiker, bushbuck, red river hog, red colobus and black colobus monkeys, pangolins and forest elephant, the last of which was found only once during the 10-month survey period.
People in about 80 per cent of households and small restaurants or “chop shops” surveyed in Monrovia told researchers they served bushmeat. A 2002 survey by the Philadelphia Zoo found that bushmeat ranked second behind fish among Monrovians as a preferred protein source. Of households where bushmeat was served, 80 per cent of residents said they cooked it “once in a while,” while 13 per cent cooked it once a week and seven per cent cooked it daily. Those who didn’t cook bushmeat cited cost and religion – Muslims of the Mandingo tribe said they don’t eat bushmeat – as reasons for avoiding it.
The IC survey was undertaken while Liberia’s civil war was ongoing; researchers concluded that war-related difficulties in access to rural areas and transport of goods limited the bushmeat trade, and hypothesized that in the absence of war, the amount of animals killed for bushmeat could rise tenfold.
Because the survey showed far more bushmeat was being transported to Monrovia than consumed there, researchers believed there was a significant export trade. Government officials told researchers there was no export of bushmeat during the 10-month study period. A couple of courier companies admitted to transporting small, non-commercial amounts of bushmeat overseas. The report concluded that the survey’s scope was insufficient to determine the level of bushmeat exports from Liberia.
While the report described Liberia’s bushmeat trade as a “crisis” for endangered wildlife, it noted economic benefits.
“The revenue accrued from the trade is substantial and provides a livelihood for many persons, particularly women. Based on consumption estimates, the huge revenue was generated, not only by [the] Monrovia populace, but also, by transit traders,” the report said.
Those benefits are evident in rural areas. In most villages and towns, several hunters support their families by shooting and trapping wildlife. These men, usually carrying old, single-shell shotguns and machetes in distinctive wooden scabbards, are often seen coming out of the jungle with sacks of dead animals. The carcasses are sold to traders for sale in Monrovia and other cities, and to women who set up bushmeat stands along roadsides to cater to travellers. Sometimes hunters will simply hang butchered animals from bamboo racks along the road, selling directly to those driving by. Hunters also trap animals, and in the case of pangolins, which resemble armoured anteaters, refrain from killing them, as purchasers buy them alive and slit their throats and skin them just before cooking.
The BCTF proposed in its 2009 report that solutions to the bushmeat problem lie in creating economic alternatives within communities where bushmeat plays a strong role in sustaining livelihoods. The report suggested approaches including community-based management of natural resources to promote tourism; payments to communities for preserving wildlife habitat and ceasing hunting of wild animals; setting up livelihood projects as alternatives to hunting and trading wild animals; promoting production of vegetable protein sources such as beans and nuts; and farming animal species traditionally used for bushmeat – although only cane rats and giant African snails had proven to be viable for farming.