A taste for the wild
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CTA. 1987. A taste for the wild. Spore 10. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Why should so much attention be given to beef and chicken when many wild animals could be used to provide more flavoufful protein at a lower cost ? According to recent research, game ranching and the raising of small, wild animals that are both...
Why should so much attention be given to beef and chicken when many wild animals could be used to provide more flavoufful protein at a lower cost ? According to recent research, game ranching and the raising of small, wild animals that are both prolific and adapted to the local environment offer considerable potential. In many regions of the world, particularly Africa, hunting provides an important part of the meat consumed by local people. And in some isolated areas, it often provides all of the meat. In Zaire, for example, 87 % of the animal protein consumed comes from hunting or fishing with people eating on average more than 20Og of game meat per day. Even in densely populated countries like Nigeria, hunting still provides about 20 % of the animal protein. In the Cote d'lvoire, it is estimated that the annual consumption of wild meat is worth about 50 billion Fcfa. This gives an idea of the importance of this sector which tends to be underestimated, if not totally ignored, by official statistics. Game meat, which is highly regarded by both rural and urban dwellers, can be found in all markets, in roadside stands, and on the menus of restaurants in urban areas. It sells very well, often for high prices when supplies are low, and thus makes hunting a profitable activity. A major consideration, however, is that huntinq is illegal in most ACP countries, including many in Africa where a widespread poaching industry has developed. When done with traditional techniques and limited to provisioning local needs, poaching generally poses little threat to wildlife. Except for areas where the human population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the local environment, most hunting activity tends to be predatory, not destructive. But when done systematically with modern techniques and arms poaching can result in the decimation of wildlife populations. Environmental degradation, the extension of cultivated lands and the reduction of forest cover, all exacerbate this situation. Wildlife stocks are decreasing almost everywhere and some species are being threatened with extinction. National parks and game reserves have been established to protect wildlife but such areas are seen as sources of a forbidden food by their often hungry human neighbours. Local people resent not being allowed to hunt such animals, especially when they damage their crops, eat their chickens or transmit diseases to their livestock. Poaching is thus a permanent temptation and often the only way to feed one's family. Traditional game reserves may thus help endangered species to survive and attract tourists but they usually offer little to their neighbours. But this need not necessarily be the case. With better management it is possible to increase the production of wildlife in order to supply more meat to local people and encourage rural development. Because local wildlife is perfectly adapted to local conditions, it has many advantages over domesticated animals. Wild herbivores, for example, can withstand prolonged droughts because their concentrated urine and faeces, as well as high body temperatures, enable them to reduce transpiration and thus retain body moisture. Some of them can literally survive, if not flourish, by consuming only the morning dew. Such animals are able to live on marginal lands, where domesticated animals cannot, because the mixture of species enables a more efficient use of local resources. Some browse only on grasses, others on shrubs or litter, while still others prefer to forage on roots that they uncover. Under normal conditions, therefore, they do not contribute to overgrazing but actually help to maintain an ecological balance. Furthermore, with high birth and growth rates, they have a high production capacity. Last but not least, wild animals are highly resistant to local diseases, particularly trypanosomiasis which decimates cattle in humid areas. Game ranching The protection and systematic hunting of wildlife can thus make substantial contributions to the development of marginal lands. Such 'game ranching' basically consists of improving wildlife habitat and controlling hunting. By ensuring an ecological balance between species, especially large carnivores, one can increase the numbers of wild herbivores such as antelopes, buffaloes or zebras whose natural body weight outshines that of famished lookina cattle. To be successful, wildlife management must not only inform local people but involve them in such activities to ensure that they benefit from them. In this way, they have an investment to protect, whether it be a better food supply or the income generated directly or indirectly by tourism. Guiding safaris or selling trophies, skins and local crafts can provide complementary sources of income for people living near such attractions. These projects are being planned in many countries, notably in the Sahel, in order to reduce environmental degradation, desertification and migration to the cities. Game ranching is already practised in some African countries. Antelopes, for example, are now being studied in the Cote d'lvoire and Zaire in order to determine the most appropriate techniques for raising such animals. Both their behaviour and the slaughtering methods used differ from those of cattle requiring people who have been well trained for such activities. According to the results of initial research, it seems that game ranches involving several species are more cost-effective than standard cattle ranching. Game ranching need not be limited to animals designed to replace cattle. Crocodiles, for example, produce not only their highly valued skin but also an edible meat. Contrary to their image, they are more lethargic than vicious and are excellent producers, transforming 2kg of feed into 1kg of meat. Furthermore, they hardly take up much space given their predilection for clambering on top of each other: small ponds are enough to keep them happy. In Thailand, where crocodile meat is not eaten, it is used as animal feed once the valuable skin is removed. For over 15 years, Papau-New Guinea has had a crocodile farming programme designed to conserve natural resources while improving the standard of life of local people. The hunting of young animals was outlawed and people were encouraged to protect and capture such crocodiles in order to raise them. The sale of skin from old animals was not only permitted but encouraged. In addition to large farming operations, many small farms were established at the village level. Several such experiences have been undertaken in Kenya and Zimbabwe and an experimental crocodile farm was started in 1982 at the Abidjan zoo. In Madagascar, turtle farming has been going on for several years providing not only the precious shell but also the meat used for turtle soup and other local dishes. Other species, such as antelopes, are also candidates for such farming activities, but not enough is yet known to ensure a cost-effective operation. Non conventional breeding Antelopes and crocodiles are not the only alternative supplies of protein. Research has now begun on 'mini-livestock' and the initial results are promising. This concerns small, native animals that are already quite familiar to many African hunters. Rodents, for example, are particularly favoured by some people who consume considerable numbers. Some are already domesticated, like the guinea pigs that are commonly kept and fed with kitchen wastes. Traditionally regarded simply as laboratory animals, guinea pigs have not been studied for their food production potential in rural areas. Their undemanding and prolific nature, however, is a major advantage. Among small rodents, considerable attention is given to the Gambia rat and the cane rat. These two species produce a succulent meat that is appreciated to such an extent in Central and West Africa that its price in cities often exceeds that of beef. The Gambia rat has been raised experimentally since 1982 at the University of Kinshasa. When treated well under captivity, this notoriously vicious rat becomes quite docile. Given its burrowing nature, it must be kept in metal cages, but it feeds quite well on leaves and grain. Research on the cane rat Tryonomys swinderianus, a native African species which can weigh 8kg when mature, is even more advanced. It can be kept in cages or enclosures provided that the fence is high enough. It feeds primarily on green fodder, particularly the young, tender shoots of sugarcane or maize that it carefully peels. The females bear two litters per year of 4 to 6 young on average. Although many do not survive the first few weeks, those that do adapt well to captivity. Some of the first research on the cane rat was done in the 1970's in Nigeria, Ghana and the .Cote d'lvoire. It was taken up again in 1984 in Benin where attention was given to selecting among the 600 wild animals collected for a strain adapted to semi-intensive farming with good growth rates, high reproduction levels and a docile character The follow-up of this programme envisaged an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of such farming as well as the methods appropriate for rural use. At the same time, the Central Laboratory for Animal Nutrition in the Cote d'lvoire began working on the development of feed farms based on local agroindustrial residues. Another project, in Zaire, plans to start field trials next year on such farms in rural development centres before launching an extension programme for small farmers. Many people have shown interest in cane rats because of the high prices received for their meat. It seems a little premature, however, to make investments in this field before more research is done. Another non-conventional protein source worthy of attention is snails, particularly giant snails which can be up to 30cm long and weigh over 500g. Well known to local people who appreciate such luxuries (it is estimated that 500 tonnes of fresh snails are consumed per year in Abidjan in addition to smoked snails), these creatures are relatively easy to raise as they can be fed on wastes, by-products and leaves. Smaller strains are even exported to Europe where snail production does not meet demand. A pilot project in the Cote d'lvoire is currently investigating the best farming methods. Apart from human consumption, dried and ground snails can replace imported animal feed, particularly for poultry farming. Furthermore, these gasterpods can transform agricultural wastes into excellent compost. The same is true for earthworms that can be used, either fresh or pulverized, as a feed in pig and poultry farms while also producing a good compost. If just established in Western countries, vermiculture remains to be developed in the tropics. Other animals and some insects more than make up for this lag. One may conclude that there are numerous protein sources found in nature for both people and domestic animals but they are often not well known. If one looks beyond the standard Western model, however one can find many kinds of alternative protein sources including both large and mini-livestock that are well adapted to the local environment and familiar to consumers. By providing a complementary food source for an often protein deficient diet, while increasing supplies to the cities and thus the incomes of rural residents, game ranching or minilivestock can improve both food self-sufficiency and rural employment. To exploit this opportunity, researchers and development workers must get off the beaten track and propose simple solutions that local people can really benefit from. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Hardouin. 1982: Mini-elevage et sources meconnues de proteines animales. Annales de Gembloux, 92 pp. J. Hardouin. 1977: Exploitation de la faune sauvage, 83 pp. J Paulus. B. Malaky and M. Vula, Universitei de Kinshasa BP 190, Kinshasa Xl Zaire For more information on the project in Benin. contact: Ministere du developpement rural et de ['action cooperative BP 03 2900 Cotonou Benin or Institute on animal production in tropical and semi-tropical countries University of Hohenheim (480) 7000 Stuttgart Germany
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