Disaster struck Héritier Mpo’s tiny NGO in the central Democratic Republic of Congo on Aug. 8, 2022. In a single night, a fire destroyed years of documents and computers with digital records Mr. Ngo hoped might one day bring illegal hunters to justice.
Mr. Mpo says he’s sure the fire was arson, and that it was just one of many threats he and his family have faced for his work rescuing live primates. His NGO, APPACOL-PRN, seeks to conserve and protect wild species at risk due to illegal trade and poaching, often rescuing live primates.
Part of the trouble is that the illegal trade in the meat and body parts of protected species intertwines with legal hunting. The rows of meat stalls in the central market of Lodja, a town of about 70,000 people, provide ready protein in a town where other sources of protein are scarce. Those involved in the hunting and trading of wild animals say it’s one of the few avenues for earning hard currency available to them, cut off as they are from much of the rest of the country.
In Lodja, a bustling section of its market teems with bushmeat.
Mr. Mpo says, “Here, tons and tons enter the market per week.”
The town sits close to the world’s second-largest rainforest and has become a vital node for a network of traders, transporters, and market vendors.
While subsistence agriculture and trade-and-barter systems once provided the bulk of what a household needed in the area, people now need cash to pay for a smartphone and credit to connect to a network, or a solar panel and battery to provide light.
Louise Mpala sells the meat of wild boar, buffalo, antelope, gazelle, and primates, mostly monkeys, from her stall. She says she has no option other than to sell the meat the hunters bring her in Lodja. It pays for her children’s education and their food and clothes.
A few households raise goats, sheep and pigs. Mr. Mpo says the surrounding savannas could pasture cattle and thus provide an alternative source of protein. But herds and flocks are often seen as a form of savings, making it difficult to justify slaughtering an animal for meat. What’s more, scant access to electricity means refrigerating any surplus meat isn’t usually an option.
Those and other factors conspire to make hunting wildlife a quicker way to meet the need for both protein and cash.
Hunting and transporting game is hard work and can be dangerous. But it can yield a meaningful payday in a country where almost two-thirds of the population live on less than $2.15 per day.
A 2022 African Journal of Ecology study  suggests that domestic meat could supplant game and reduce the pressure on wildlife.
The study’s authors say that the risk and cost of bringing meat to Kindu, 270 kilometres from Lodja, has diminished the bushmeat trade there, especially as domestic meat has become more common and affordable in the town’s markets. Cattle and fish farms have become more prevalent. Of course, the authors noted, draining savannah lands and turning them over to pastureland for cattle has environmental challenges. Overgrazing by cattle can lead to desertification, alter naturally occurring plant communities, and displace wildlife species from these ecosystems.
A more stable source of protein may meet the needs of local communities like Lodja, but outside demand may keep the gears of the bushmeat trade turning, leading to continued losses of wildlife in the DRC.
Despite such global challenges, Mr. Mpo says he remains committed to his work to ensure that bonobos and other animals can “live in their natural environment.”
He adds, “If we give in, we open the door to anyone to do anything to these animals.”
This story is adapted from an article written by John Cannon and Didier Makal for Mongabay, , titled “Survival and economics complicate the DRC’s bushmeat and wild animal trade.” To read the original article, go to: https://news.mongabay.com/2023/05/survival-and-economics-complicate-the-drcs-bushmeat-and-wild-animal-trade/