You are here

Chaos in the forest

Published: 
Monday, October 5, 2015
MARC DE VERTEUIL

Lifting of the hunting moratorium with a void of enforcement, a lack of wildlife data and no attempt at a scientifically managed hunt serves nobody. It is the abandonment of any attempt to ensure that T&T’s unique biodiversity will be passed on to future generations. It is a blow to conservation and tourism but a boom to lawlessness.

Reopening the hunt is not based on science or an ability to enforce existing laws. In an election year animal lives are traded for votes. It is the one election promise that will be kept. The sacrificial deer for the voting alter. Well, not for all voters, just the less than 1 per cent of the population that is a registered hunter. 

Oil and gas prices plummet and reserves dwindle. Eco-tourism could become an important revenue earner. This hope is dashed as animals that give tourism value are taken from the forest. 

It is simple: animals alive are worth more than dead. An agouti is worth $300 dead, in the market. A tour operator can earn that same amount, per person, to show tourists local wildlife. Just go to Asa Wright and ask the folks there how much their resident agoutis are worth to the country. The answer will be hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Let’s hope they don’t stray too far from the main house! 

Let’s have a count: how many tourists come to Trinidad to enjoy wildlife and how many come to hunt? 

The Minister of Agriculture gave as one reason for re-opening the near-unregulated hunting season that some hunting households had “lost” $60,000 income per year from hunting and selling wild meat. This seems an endorsement of commercial hunting. 

One thing we learnt from hunting consultations is that there was a consensus against commercial hunting from the hunting associations. Conservation-minded hunters blame poachers and commercial hunters for the depletion of wildlife. 

In an absence of bag limits, what will restrain a greed-driven commercial hunter?

The minister needs to declare his stance on commercial hunting. The only responsible statement that he can make, with current legislation, is that he is opposed to commercial hunting and that the sale of wild meat is herby banned. 

On small islands like T&T there is no room for hunters whose “career” is the relentless extraction of animals from the forest, while giving nothing back. Hunting season is five months per year. What do commercial hunters do during the seven months that the season is closed? I hope it is not poaching. Then again, how will we ever know when there is no enforcement? There are 12-13 game wardens aided by less than 200 honorary game wardens that work part time.

To give you an idea about enforcement in Trinidad: one of the rules in the Conservation of Wildlife Act is that hunters cannot use artificial light to hunt. This law is widely disregarded. A concerned citizen called the police to report hunters with headlamps. The police said call Wildlife. Wildlife’s opening hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. You can fill in the rest!

I’m mystified why the police refuse to handle wildlife crime. The police have a representative on the Wildlife Conservation Committee. Then again, what value is a law if you don’t enforce it? 

The reality of the wild meat trade is that many carcasses sold in Trinidad are smuggled from Guyana and Venezuela. This contraband is sold under the guise of locally caught meat. 

The same boats that bring in the guns and drugs smuggle wildlife. Facilitating this trade empowers the criminal gangs that destabilise the country. It is all interconnected. It is not just animal lives at stake but also human lives. How many more reasons do we need before we become serious about protecting our natural resources? 

The option for those who want to pursue a career in selling wild meat is wildlife farming. Wildlife farming is an oxymoron but it is the only sustainable way that “wild” animals can be supplied to the market while allowing the forest and its animals to thrive in the absence of a scientifically managed hunt. 

The first pictures of protected and endangered animals have shown up on social media, killed as collateral damage by unskilled hunters.

A young, inexperienced hunter killed a beautiful and rare anteater. He said he did not know it was protected. He asked: “Why isn’t there any educational material so new hunters can learn?” He now wants to dedicate himself to helping produce a poster that identifies species and explains laws simply. In the absence of bag limits and enforcement the Ministry has now placed the onus on hunters to show restraint and follow the law. This tactic has its limits. One video emerged of a hunter using a chainsaw to cut a hole in a tree to extract an agouti! Complete the wildlife survey, use that data to formulate a scientifically managed hunt and give the dozen or so Game Wardens a chance by swelling their numbers to a reasonable amount. Maybe some of those commercial “hunter households” can be retrained and employed as Game Wardens so they can make a positive living, protecting wildlife. 

Disclaimer

User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff.

Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.

Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments.

Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.

Before posting, please refer to the Community Standards, Terms and conditions and Privacy Policy

User profiles registered through fake social media accounts may be deleted without notice.