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4.1.3. Wildlife farming and domestication

The idea of domesticating wild animal species for meat production to improve protein supply in Africa is not new. As far back as 1848, the domestication of the eland and buffalo was mooted in South Africa (Surujbally, 1975). However, despite these early intentions, the only African wild animal species which have been successfully domesticated completely are the ostrich and the camel. A number of species, e.g., the crocodile, are farmed on large scale under semi-domesticated conditions. Domestication of wild species has been particularly popular in the West African sub-region where bushmeat is a most important dietary item. Conservationists and advocates of wild animal domestication have argued for the farming of favourite species to increase bushmeat production and supply in the sub-region and also to reduce pressure on wild populations. Species advocated include the grasscutter (Cane rat). the giant rat Cricetomys gambianus, a number of duiker species, the guinea fowl Numida meleagris and the giant African snail Achatina sp. and Archachatina sp. Pioneering work on domestication of the grasscutter was undertaken by the Game and Wildlife (now Wildlife Department) in Ghana in the 1970s, while the University of Ibadan, Nigeria concentrated on giant rats. Work on snails has been carried out in both Ghana and Nigeria for a long time e.g., a study on various aspects of biology and ecology of snails and captive rearing of snails has been going on in the Zoology Department of the University of Ghana for over 20 years.

While there is no doubt at all that domestication and farming of favourite wild animal species could provide viable complementary or alternative sources of animal protein the key to its acceptance on a wide scale depends on the development of technical know-how and cheap methods of production. It is obvious that rearing of wild species will only be widely embraced if production costs and efforts are lower than that of bushmeat obtained through hunting and the returns are comparable to what pertains in traditionally acceptable livestock ventures (e.g. chicken, goat, sheep and cattle).

Crocodile Farming

Unregulated hunting of crocodiles, mainly for their skins but also for meat, led to major declines in the populations of all the three species on the African continent and the introduction of trade controls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered

Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES). In response to the need to satisfy the demand for crocodile products, crocodile farming ventures were initiated. Over the past two decades, FAO has provided direct assistance in crocodile farm management to several developing countries. Within Africa, crocodile farms were first started in Zimbabwe but have now spread to many parts of the continent, particularly Southern and Eastern African countries.

Crocodile eggs are collected from the wild and brought to the farms to be incubated and hatched, and the hatchlings are raised in captivity. In Zimbabwe, the farmers are required to return a proportion of hatchling to the wild. This has led to significant increases in the wild populations. Earnings from the industry have also grown significantly, from US $300,000 in 1980 to US $2.6m in 1989 (Muir, 1994). In 1991, over 58,000 eggs were collected from the wild, mostly from Lake Kariba, and the industry earned US $2m in hide sales (Makombe 1993). Crocodile farming, therefore, not only generates income for households, thereby increasing household purchasing power and food security, but also has direct conservation benefits.

Ostrich Farming

Ostriches are farmed in many areas in southern Africa for their skin which is used in making luxury, high fashion leather goods and also for their high quality low fat and low cholesterol red meat. In Zimbabwe, the birds are farmed intensively and earn substantial foreign currency (see Table 3.2). The birds are slaughtered at 14 months old when the skin has reached the desirable size of 120sq decimetres and after the first picking of the feathers (Conroy and Gaigher, 1982). In a few areas e.g., Zimbabwe, birds with pure wild blood are being re-stocked into areas where they occurred in the past.

Grasscutter domestication

The grasscutter (Cane-rat) is a hystricomorph rodent endemic to Africa. The animal occurs in savannah grasslands, forest clearings, cultivated lands and secondary forests, where it is very common and is heavily hunted as a food resource in many areas on the continent. Grasscutters are herbivorous, their favourite food being savannah grasses (Asibey, 1974b). In captivity, they will also take sugar cane, corn stalks and cassava peelings. The animal is a wasteful feeder, cutting the grass at a characteristic angle with its very powerful incisors to eat the more nutritious, succulent inter-nodes, leaving behind scattered pieces of stem on the feeding grounds. This characteristic feeding behaviour is exploited by hunters who look for the feeding sites, an indication of where the animals were active the previous night and concentrate hunting efforts in such areas. The animal does not burrow? but may shelter in hollows and burrows made by other animals. This means enclosures for captive rearing can be fenced in by mud walls. The grasscutter has a long gestation period, about five months, a relatively small litter size, maximum of four in the wild but up to twelve has been recorded in captivity. The young are born with their eyes open and the coat fully developed and are able to follow the mother immediately after birth. Females can be re-fertilised after parturition if paired with the male, thus two litters are possible in a year. Average weight of wild grasscutters is 4 - 5kg, males can reach up to 10 kg. Captive grasscutters can be kept in cages or boxes but are best kept in open areas enclosed within mud walls or other fencing material where males and females can be kept together. Depending on the size of cages used, stocking rates of one male to five females are possible. Pregnant females must be separated at full term since cannibalism of males on the newly born young ones is common.

Within the West African sub-region, grasscutter is the favourite bushmeat species and accounts for the greater proportion of bushmeat sold in markets. In most of the countries within the sub-region, grasscutter meat fetches higher prices than that of beef. The popularity of grasscutter meat led to the choice of the animal as the subject of several studies during the early 1970s, aimed at domesticating the species for large scale farming and production of the meat for human consumption.

Ewer's studies in Ghana in the 1970s demonstrated that the animal could be kept in captivity (Asibey, pers. com.). Her work was followed by studies on several aspects of the biology and ecology of the animal in Ghana (Asibey, 1974b; Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1980) and in Nigeria (Ajayi, 1971). In addition to the field studies on feeding and reproductive ecology, Asibey also worked directly with farmers. Interested farmers were provided with a starting stock of a male and a female grasscutters (mostly captured from the wild) and a cage. The performance of the animals was monitored by trained extension workers. The idea was that the research findings could be applied directly by farmers and that both rural and urban households could rear grasscutters in their back-yard to provide meat to feed the family The studies confirmed the feasibility of rearing the grasscutter in captivity and demonstrated that its litter size could be increased with good feeding. However, the initial interest and efforts put into the project did not result in the establishment of any large scale, grasscutter farms and only a few people continued with the idea of back-yard grasscutter farming. The waning support could be attributed mainly to the relatively large initial capital investment required, the lack of readily available breeding stock, problems of feed during the dry season and the many unresolved and poorly understood issues associated with diseases in captive grasscutters.

More recently, a major research programme on grasscutters has been initiated in Benin under the Project Benino - Allemand d'Aulacodiculture (PBAA). The aim of the project is to select improved grasscutter stocks genetically adapted to life in captivity and to promote the rearing of the animal in rural and sub-urban environments (Baptist and Mensah, 1986; Mensah, 1991). The research focused on the ethology of the animal, feed, pathology and reproduction as well as on the technical feasibility of farming grasscutters at the level of small scale farmers.

Feasibility reports on grasscutter farming ventures indicate that the long term profitability is comparable to that of poultry farming and higher than cattle ranching (Tutu e' al., 199(i). However, the high costs of initial inputs (cages. breeding stocks), the slow returns and the limited technical expertise has hampered the adoption of back-yard grasscutter farming by rural households and the development of large scale commercial ventures. The market for both fresh and smoked grasscutter meat is effectively unlimited and there is therefore the need to invest in research to develop cheaper ways of production and extension services to enable the transfer of appropriate technologies to small scale farmers.

Domestication of the Giant Rat

The giant rat is a nocturnal, burrowing rodent which is exploited for food in many rural areas in Africa. A programme to domesticate the giant rat was initiated at the Department of Forest Resources Management, University of Ibadan in the early l 1970s (Ajayi, 1971; 1975; Ajayi et al. 1978) with the aim of maximising meat production from the species. The reports from the studies indicate that giant rats adapt very quickly to captive conditions wild caught individuals settle within two months of capture and start to breed; and by the fourth generation, all evidence of agonistic behaviour characteristic of wild rats had disappeared. Caged animals soon became habituated to their cages and readily adopted new diets. While the studies amply demonstrated that giant rats could be kept easily in captivity, large scale rearing of the animal never materialized. This is attributed to the wide-spread superstitions and cultural aversion towards rats which makes the meat unacceptable to many tribal groups within West Africa.

Snail Farming

Attempts at wild animal domestication have not been restricted to vertebrate species; invertebrate species including snails and caterpillars have also been the subject of domestication. The Romans farmed snails for decades (Elmslie, 1982). In Africa, the feasibility of farming the giant snail was demonstrated by a number of researchers in West Africa in the early 1970s (e.g. Ajayi, 1971; Plummer, 1975; Ajayi et al., 1978; Hodasi, 1979). Snails have been raised in small pens in many areas within the sub-region and currently in Ghana, there is a major campaign to promote snail farming both as a back-yard activity to supplement household income and protein supply and as large scale commercial activity.

The edible giant snails in African belong to two genera Achatina Lamarch and Archachatina Albers. Species of both genera are common south of the Sahara; Achatina achatina being the most common species in West Africa, while Archachatina marginata occurs more commonly in Southern Nigeria and in the Congo basin (Hodasi, 1984). The West African species prefers primary rain forest habitats but also occurs in moist secondary growth and in the undergrowth of cocoa and rubber plantations. Snail populations are highest during the rainy season when they are collected in large numbers by rural communities, Snails are marketed fresh or smoke-dried and can be very cheap during the season when they are abundant. Attitudes of people to snail consumption vary within the sub-region with three main tendencies. In the southern forest regions, snails are a delicacy for a large number of people and such people are prepared to pay high prices for them. In the northern areas, snails are a taboo and many tribes will not touch them, let alone eat them. In between the two extremes, are those who would prefer other forms of animal protein, but who would take snails, particularly during the season of abundance when snails can be collected freely from the wild or purchased cheaply from the markets. It is the first category of people that snail farming ventures could target.

In the wild, snails actively grow and reproduce during the rainy season and estivate in the dry season. In captivity, they can grow and reproduce throughout the year if they are provided with regular supply of water, food and lime (Ajayi et al., 1978). In the wild, they are predominantly vegetarian, browsing on tender leaves, vegetables and fruits which have dropped to the ground. Captive snails have been fed on wild lettuce Lactuca taraxacifolia and a wide range of other leaves and ripe fruits including pawpaw. Ajayi et al. (1978) listed 28 species of dicotolydons and six species of monocotolydons eaten by A. marginata and reported mean incubation period (measured from onset of egg laying to hatching) of 38 days (range 30 - 45 days). Body weight at hatching averaged 2.14 gm with a weekly growth of 0.85 gm and adult weights of up to 230 gm were recorded. Young snails reach sexual maturity at approximately 7-8 months of age.

The snail farming industry is growing rapidly in West Africa, and with adequate support, both financial and technical, the industry has a high potential as a source of animal protein for both rural and urban households. Apart from being cheap, snails have the advantage of being easily transported and easy to store alive for a considerable length of time. The small unit size also means that producers for household consumption can harvest just what is required for a meal.

4.2. Harvesting of wildlife

4.2.1 Game cropping and culling
4.2.2 Subsistence hunting and gathering
4.2.3. Bushmeat processing and marketing

4.2.1 Game cropping and culling

Eltringam ( 1994) defines game cropping as the taking of a sustainable yield from a completely wild population. This definition implies regular harvest from a wild population. Cropping would have the objective of either wild animal population control or harvesting to provide bushmeat and other wild animal products for local consumption and/or for income generation. Culling, on the other hand, can be a one time activity with the primary objective of reducing animal populations. Provision of meat in this case becomes an ancilliary objective.

Culling of animals in conservation areas continues to be a controversial issue. While conservation scientists and protected area managers argue for its use as a management tool to control herbivore populations, extreme conservationists consider it morally wrong. Culling, as a game management tool has been used in some protected areas within southern and eastern Africa (see e.g. Hanks et al., 1981, Walker et al.. 1987) and has been undertaken for two reasons:

i) to prevent or reduce habitat degradation caused by high densities of herbivorous animals;

ii) as a species protection strategy e.g., in cases where there is competition between a locally abundant and a rare species, a proportion of the population of the abundant species may be culled to reduce the competition.

An additional very important reason for culling locally abundant species in Africa should be the need for animal protein, and the social injustice of allowing large numbers of common species to roam in and out of protected areas destroying habitat and crops when local people living around the protected areas are mar-nourished from protein deficiency.

Game cropping and culling operations are not restricted to state initiatives in protected areas but may also be a regular harvesting technique on game ranches and private lands. This is particularly common in countries such as South Africa where game animals have been kept on private lands for both conservation and sport hunting purposes for many years. Blankenship et al. (1990) provides a review of earlier attempts at game cropping within the eastern central and southern African sub-regions. While the game cropping ventures in eastern and central Africa have been initiated and sponsored mainly by governments. attempts in southern African have been primarily private enterprises.

During the 1960's the most intensive culling of large wild animals in tropical Africa, organised at government level, took place in Uganda. The aim was to reduce animal numbers in the Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks over a short period of time (Bindernagel, 1968). Approximately 12,000 hippopotami and 2,000 elephants were killed. The hippos were butchered and sold fresh in the field to traders who then retailed the meat outside the parks, while the elephant meat was smoked and sold in nearby villages and towns. The success of the Ugandan operation was due to several factors including: high densities of people (51.4 per square ha) financially able to purchase the meat in communities surrounding the parks so that there was no need for long distance transportation; the absence of domestic livestock and consequent shortage of meat in the area; the existence of good rural road system and the fact that the authorities imposed no rules about meat hygiene.

Experimental cropping of elephants and buffaloes were also undertaken in the Luangwa Valley in the 1960s by the Game Department of Zambia. The meat was smoked using traditional methods and offered at low prices to local people who were believed to be protein deficient. It appears, however that this assumption was totally wrong since the people were themselves successful subsistence hunters and their response to the offer was poor (Marks 1976). Up to a total of about 1,464 elephants, 1,353 hippos, and 237 buffaloes had been killed by 1972 when the cropping ceased. According to Blankenship et. al. (1990) the project was said to be an economic loss.

Government-regulated game cropping in Kenya began with the establishment of the Galana Game Management Scheme in 1960. The aim was to develop commercially viable and sustained game cropping scheme and at the same time provide employment for people living around protected areas. The scheme concentrated on the sale of elephant meat and ivory. Like the Zambian attempt, this scheme was also an economic loss and the government finally handed over to a private enterprise. During the 1970s other cropping experiments were undertaken in Kenya to develop techniques for game cropping and to investigate the potential market for game meat on the Kekopey Ranch and Suguroi Estate. Procedures had to comply with strict standards laid down by the Kenya Veterinary Department. A total of 1.320 Thomson's gazelle and 1,083 impala were cropped at both Kekopey and Suguroi. The skins and 35 tons of dressed carcasses obtained from the total of 2,358 antelope cropped were marketed for profit of KSh 65,292.00 (US $9,144.54) and the project was considered successful (Table 4.6). In 1989, there was only one cropping company in Kenya operating on three ranches and producing approximately 45 tons of meat per annum. The Kenya Wildlife Service estimated that demand for game meat would reach 500 tons per annum by the end of 1995 (Byrne et al., 1994).

Table 4.6 Costs and income from the Kekopey and Suguroi cropping experiment. (`Source, Blankenship et. al., 1990)

1. Staff  
Management 27,500.00
Subordinate 44.096.65
Extra Hunters 3,898.00
Sub total 75,494.65
2. Transport hire 30,264.60
3. Cropping equipment and tent hire 10,360.00
4. Aircraft use 5,900.00
5. Expendable materials (salt, straw, etc.) 5,608.00
6. Fuels 4,899.90
7. Administration 3,113.40
8. Refrigeration hire (Kekopey operation only) 2,773.10
9. Marketing and publicity 2,766.65
10. Game Department fees 2,375.00
11. Ammunition 1,745.00


1. Carcasses 120,672.53
2. Skins 87,165.00
3. Horns 2,755.00


NET INCOME 65,292.18

The Kamwenje culling scheme provides a more recent example of a game cropping scheme with the primary objective of providing cheap game meat for local communities. The scheme was established in 1989 near Nsefu Upper Lupanda Game Management Area (ULGMA) of Zambia. Large mammals culled under the scheme included buffalo, bush-pig, hippopotamus, impala, warthog, wildebeest and zebra. Unfortunately, a survey of local people's perceptions of wildlife in the ULGMA area showed that although 81.5% of the respondents were aware of the scheme, only 18.5% had actually had the opportunity to purchase some of the meat sold under the scheme (Balakrishman and Ndholovu, 1992). Nearly half of the sample population had not purchased meat from the scheme because of lack of money, and as many as 88% of the few people who had purchased meat from the scheme rated the price as too high.

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