We had a really interesting guest lecture today. We drove out to one of the local towns, Karatu, and had a question and answer session with two men who hunt bushmeat illegally and agreed to meet with us so we could learn. We asked every question that would could think of from inflammatory to sympathetic. Here are some of the things we learned:
They hunt mostly zebra, impala, and other gazelles. They go to the edge local National Parks at night and because no park in Tanzania has fences they are able to kill what they need, harvest the meat and get away. They then sell the meat in the markets. It is a good way to make money because bushmeat is cheaper than beef and it is popular culturally so it is in high demand, with very little loss.
On the other side they don’t enjoy doing it and expressed multiple times that if they were able to work doing something else, or were able to get a loan they would start their own businesses and stop hunting bushmeat.
There are lots of instances like this where we are challenged to consider situations and perspectives we would never have to confront in the United States. For example we have quickly learned how controversial elephants are in this area. We have spent multiple days conducting interviews with local farmers asking them about wildlife conflict in the area. The main issue they all seemed to have was elephants. Their migration route between two protected areas has been completely overtaken by agriculture as Tanzania underwent a food crisis recently. As a result the elephants come through people’s farms, eat their crops, and injure and kill livestock and even humans. I spoke to one man whose neighbor was killed by an elephant last year and he expressed how much the man’s family was struggling now because they had been promised compensation and help from the government and National Parks but never received it.
This program has forced me to reconsider my thoughts and opinions on many issues. Once you meet the people who are actually dealing with the problems of poverty and wildlife conflict it is hard to place the needs of the environment above the needs of the local people. I’ve learned that there needs to be a more holistic approach to solving these issues that helps the people as well as the environment.