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Part of African culture

Mankoto Ma Mbalele

In a special issue of Unasylva in 1977 on "Game as food", Zaire's Mankoto Ma Mbalele, a member of his country's Institute for Nature Conservation and a former FAO Fellowship student at Canada's Laval University, discussed the importance of game-hunting in African life and the need for extensive game-raising. The article is reprinted here as part of the retrospective on 40 years of forestry at FAO; but its content is also relevant to the theme of this issue of Unasylva - forestry and the crisis in Africa.

· Throughout Africa, hunting for food constitutes the most extensive single form of wildlife utilization. It is carried out in a generally haphazard, uncoordinated way. In regions rich in wildlife where there are almost no other sources of animal proteins, the rational organization of a carefully studied hunting system could resolve, to a large extent, the problem of protein shortage.

This objective can be attained by adopting measures specifying the hunting zones, the species to be hunted and the hunting season by region and by species, based on biological and ecological knowledge of the species.

Game cropping is a controlled, but still extensive, method of wildlife utilization. One formula adopted in this type of utilization is to cull the annual surplus of animals in national parks and wildlife reserves - the culling being done only by responsible authorities. The meat is sold on the spot to the nearest dwellers. The bones are turned into fertilizer. The trophies and skins are auctioned off, usually to craftsmen who turn them into objets d'art or souvenirs for tourists.

Game farming or rational livestock-raising is an intensive and artificial form of wildlife utilization resembling animal husbandry. It is concerned only with certain particularly profitable species and requires a certain degree of organization:

· Choice of wild animal species suitable for ranching. Elements to be taken into consideration are high rate of reproduction, precocity, meat yield, resistance to disease, behaviour under controlled conditions, ease of rearing, the quality of the product, etc.

· Analysis of biophysical and socioeconomic conditions leading to selection of a pilot zone suitable for experimentation.

· Preparation of infrastructure (accessibility, provision of water, construction of enclosures and buildings) and installation of animal husbandry and sanitary equipment, together with the equipment essential for the preparation and storage of the products.

· Setting up of a collective facility for marketing of the products, social promotion of the project and the training of personnel.

· Dissemination of knowledge on production, processing and marketing methods, together with provision for the information and participation of the local populations so that they can benefit from this applied research.

The indisputable usefulness of national parks is here clearly seen: on the one hand they make possible the basic ecological studies necessary for obtaining the best returns from the regions around them; and on the other they provide the livestock raisers with the animal breeds best adapted to these regions. Seen from this angle, national parks constitute real natural laboratories for scientific study and the advancement of knowledge.

TANZANIAN WILDLIFE TRAINING wise management is essential

In addition to its usefulness for nutritional purposes, wildlife plays a far from negligible role in the national economy of many African countries, through the sale of collector's items or through tourism: hunting tourism (search for trophies) or visual tourism ("collection" through observation). And we know that the "hidden" contribution of tourism to the balance of payments through the hard currencies it brings in can assume enormous proportions, as in the case of Kenya and Tanzania.

In order to reduce the dangers of this commercialized aspect of wildlife utilization, control is essential.

Wildlife utilization consists, for practical purposes, in reconciling man's, recreational requirements with his nutritional requirements.

African wildlife could thus constitute a powerful natural factor in development. Yet the food potential of certain animal species - in Zaire, for example - is far from being exploited in a rational manner. Research aimed at making the best use of this potential could therefore help to solve the particularly acute problem of malnutrition.

The rational organization and utilization of "domestic game" would be of benefit, above all, to those living in rural areas, among whom many cases of protein deficiency are found, and who are usually exploited by urban profiteers.

This type of research is also justified by the fact that no work in this field is being carried out in Zaire, any more than in the other French-speaking African countries.

Encouraging progress has been made in experimental farms in southern and East Africa. In Zaire, projects are under study for the rational utilization of wildlife through organized hunting activities in the immense hunting reserve of Bili-Uere. Much of the basic infrastructure for this reserve has already been installed thanks to a Zaire/UNDP/FAO project. Wildlife inventories have been carried out and show the presence of abundant and varied wildlife. At a later stage it might be possible to undertake rational ranching of the large Derby eland, an antelope characteristic of this reserve.

A further justification for wildlife utilization is of a biological and ecological nature. In this respect, wildlife offers a number of advantages as compared with domestic livestock. Studies have shown that the biomass per hectare is much greater with wild ungulates than with domestic animals under extensive stock-raising systems.

According to Alain Monfort, in the Sudanese-Zambezian savannahs of East Africa the biomasses of wild ungulates are fairly stable and lie between 6 and 3 tonnes/km² while in the same phytogeographic field, charges of barely 2.3 tonnes/km² are obtained with traditional domestic livestock and an average of 4.6 tonnes/km² in the managed ranches.

The reason for this difference is that the wild herbivores make better use of their habitat than do the domestic livestock, by utilizing fully all the food resources of the savannah. One may observe, for instance, that each one of several species feeds on a different part of the shrubs and explores different vegetative levels, thus avoiding considerable wastage of the nutritional possibilities of the environment. This is not the case with domestic cattle, which browse only on certain grasses, ignoring those for which they have no liking.

The big antelopes are infinitely better adapted to the African biotope. As a result of natural selection over a very long period of time, they are usually very resistant to diseases and withstand droughts better. Even if they cannot find anything to drink, the oryx, for example, manage to keep their weight.

Moreover, practical trials have shown that the large elands such as the oryx become as docile as cattle provided they are captured young and raised on the bottle. Africa's big fauna, through the play of death and birth, constitute a renewable natural resource that can be easily utilized, provided no inroads are made on its capital. Despite the massacres which have taken place, certain countries of Black Africa, including Zaire, still possess considerable wildlife potentials.

The fairly diversified network of national parks and associated reserves already in existence in Africa could provide the animal surplus needed for carrying out original trials on the raising of animals better adapted to our conditions. This would constitute a real "recourse to African authenticity".

The need is already being felt in the Sahelian countries, where the Sahara is steadily advancing, taking over the poor Savannah. This means that a plan of control should be established without further delay, and new methods of cultivation and livestock-raising should be adopted immediately, capable of guaranteeing higher food resources with species better able to withstand natural calamities (drought, famines).

But this does not mean, of course, that wildlife can resolve all the world's troubles. Wildlife is only one alternative among many others, and represents primarily a solution for the benefit of rural populations.

It is through wildlife management that we begin to see how African countries can find reasonable and inexpensive solutions in their search for ways and means to solve the problem of hunger and provide food for their peoples.

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