The presentations addressed the implications that bushmeat consumption has on human health as well as the rapid extinction of species in the region. Scientific Officer of the Ghana Standards Board Yaw Agyei-Henaku informed the plenary that 30 percent of bushmeat samples collected contained chemical poisoning. Laboratory analysis of bushmeat carcasses revealed the presence of organochlorines, carbamates and organophosphorus, elements commonly found in pesticides. Indeed, a survey carried out in 2001 by Conservation International-Ghana disclosed that 32.5 percent of the bushmeat supplied to Ghanaian markets contained chemical poisoning. The study indicates that "this hunting method using pesticides is particularly dangerous, as it poses health hazards to bushmeat consumers." Agyei-Henaku concluded that "not only is our wildlife in peril, but we are also at risk."
The role of traditional leaders in the management of Ghana's wildlife was an important topic of discussion. Historically, traditional rulers held administrative, judicial, legislative and spiritual authority. They enforced a set of rules, taboos and social sanctions that prevented their people from overexploiting natural resources. However, since the colonial era, their authority has been considerably reduced. "We need to revisit the role of traditional authorities," said University of Ghana's Osman Alhassan. "Partnering with them, we can learn from their vast experience and knowledge to better conserve our natural resources." Several paramount chiefs, representing the National House of Chiefs (NHC), participated in the conference, which was chaired by the President of NHC and a member of the Council of State Nana Odeneho Gyapong Ababio II.
The keynote address prepared by Lands and Forestry Minister Kasim Kasanga strongly supported the initiative to reverse the imminent extinction of wildlife in Ghana. In addition, a statement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Africa confirmed the need to address the bushmeat crisis in the continent and praised Ghana's leadership in this endeavor. Representatives of hunting, bushmeat trading and traditional catering associations (local restaurants) agreed to explore alternative protein sources, such as the establishment of wildlife farms.
As a result of the conference, the "Accra Declaration on the Bushmeat Crisis" compiled a set of nearly 50 recommendations aimed at key stakeholders, including the Government of Ghana, the National House of Chiefs, NGOs, research institutions, international development agencies and the general public. Recommendations ranged from more effective protection of endangered wildlife species to the periodic chemical analysis of bushmeat sold in local markets. All participants agreed to adopt the "Accra Declaration" as their main action plan.
Local media extensively covered the event. An editorial in The Ghanaian Chronicle, one of the top national newspapers, published today under the title "Poisoned Meat on the Market", asks stakeholders to "step up the war on these anti-social elements to save nature and human beings."
Once a traditional way of life, bushmeat hunting in Ghana has evolved into a $350 million dollar industry that threatens endangered animals and has driven several primate species in the Upper Guinea forest to the brink of extinction. Using deadly hunting techniques such as poison, brush fires, automatic weapons and snares, the trade has become the driving force behind what is known as the "empty forest syndrome" - the absence of wildlife in otherwise intact forests. In the markets of Accra and Kumasi alone there are an estimated 300 "Market Queens" who run the bushmeat trade and thousands more are thought to be working as hunters, drivers, restaurant owners and intermediaries. Foreign markets willing to pay top dollar for "exotic" bushmeat have also fueled illegal exports.
The conference was part of Conservation International's (CI) broader Bushmeat Crisis Campaign entitled "Say No to Bushmeat", an initiative organized in collaboration with governmental institutions and local NGOs to generate awareness about the environmental and health problems associated with bushmeat consumption. It also is spearheading efforts to encourage sustainable alternatives like fishing, animal husbandry and wildlife farming.
"The socio-cultural life of many communities in Ghana are inextricably interwoven with our wildlife," said CI-Ghana Director Okyeame Ampadu-Agyei. "Some of these animals are totems - symbols of our clans - but are hunted with impunity to the extent that there are a number of forests without animals or wildlife. Our history and culture are all in danger."
Currently, almost 98 percent of the totems associated with Ghana's 110 paramouncies are no longer found in their traditional territory. In addition, Ghana is home to 59 endangered mammal species, including many that are prized bushmeat, such as duikers, royal antelopes and bushbucks. It is also home to three of the world's top 25 most endangered monkey species: Miss Waldron's Red Colobus, the White-Naped Mangabey and the Roloway Guenon. The Red Colobus has only been sighted once in the last decade and its virtual extinction is blamed on over-hunting.
With a population of 20 million, Ghana is located in the heart of the Upper Guinea Forest that stretches across 10 countries from Guinea to northwestern Cameroon. CI has identified this forest as one of the 25 world's critical Biodiversity Hotspots. It is home to 551 mammalian species - more than any other Hotspot - and some 514 species of birds.
In 1957, Ghana became the first country in colonial Africa to gain its independence; with this bushmeat initiative it becomes the first nation in the region to seriously confront the bushmeat crisis that is threatening the environment and their cultural heritage.
"The proverbial porcupine is the symbol, or totem, of the Ashanti nation and we used to find them here, but now they have completely disappeared," explains Okatakyie Agyeman Kudom, the Omanhene of Nkoranza, a traditional ruler. "If we are not careful, all our wildlife will disappear and we will have nothing to show our future generations."
Conservation International (CI) was founded in 1987 to conserve Earth's living natural heritage, our global biodiversity, and to demonstrate that human societies are able to live harmoniously with nature. CI, a field-based organization headquartered in Washington, DC, works in more than 30 countries on four continents, drawing upon a unique array of scientific, economic, awareness building and policy tools to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. CI employs more than 1,000 employees worldwide, most of whom are residents of the countries in which they work.