Day 4: Toumbara, Bankouba & Koussan
We had a long and bumpy ride to the village of Toumbara, arriving just before sunset on our third night. But, with our campsite just above the Faleme river that separates Senegal and Mali, the ride was well worth it. The rocky banks were bursting with trees, and the frigid water was teeming with villagers washing off or fetching fish for supper. The only drawback was the 100-kilogram door of our hut deciding to throw in the towel on my right arm as I entered with our bags. But, we rigged an ingenious substitute door with a mattress and a pickaxe, which worked surprisingly well at warding off the cold night.
That night, we headed to the mayor’s house in search of provisions. The Boundou is split into four districts, each with a mayor at the helm. The four mayors were those who proposed and created the reserve, and they hold the supreme power over what occurs in the Boundou. Unfortunately the mayor had not yet returned from his bush hunt.
Yes, I said bush hunt.
Hunting of wild animals is verboten under the edicts of the reserve, and yet one of the mayors who helped form it is one of the main perpetrators of illicit hunting. To his credit, the mayor is very strict about the illegal harvesting of timber by outsiders, but not because the trees are inherently important, but because they belong to him. (It should be noted that the residents of the reserve are allowed to take trees, although there are quotas and removal should be limited).
Reptiles such as snakes and chameleons are viewed with much suspicion and are often killed as they are considered ''dangerous''. In some cases this is obviously true, and in others it serves only to highlight the difficulties of overcoming cultural obstacles for the benefit of conservation. (Photo credit Jono Gilbert)
It is unlikely, with the new rightwing wave sweeping European and US governments, that poaching problems will be enforced. In fact, the l’Isere, the environmental faction of the French government that financially supports the reserve and the volunteers sent to help it, has been taken over by people who see such places only as valuable for game hunting. Thus, any supported policy to boost animal populations is done with the mindset of the trophy hunter, not the people or the ecosystem. Indeed, a tourist camp across the Faleme from ours was housing a group of white game hunters, though precisely where they practiced their sport is unknown to us.
Such policies seem a shocking stance from an environmental government body, and yet the same story seems to be cropping up in the most powerful Western countries. Post-Brexit, with the appointment of Theresa May, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs is now Andrea Leadsom, an open climate change denier who supports fracking and opposes wind farms and other forms of renewable energy. A similar case is anticipated with the election of Trump, who not only plans to revitalize the dirtiest of all dirty energies, coal, but also plans to put Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This man not only denies climate change, is blind to the perils of fracking, and is supported by fossil fuel giants, but also has spoken out against a clean energy initiative, claiming its too expensive, despite having no evidence for this claim. The 2017 elections in France and Germany both house disconcertedly rightwing candidates, and their appointments would mean conservatives control the most powerful counties in the Western world.
This is no longer a simple clash between the between local utilitarians and conservationists. This is a systematic undermining of conservation efforts in the wide scale pursuit of profits and personal interests. How can we genuinely expect a mayor of a 300 man village in a forgotten corner of Senegal to stop hunting bush meat, when the leaders of their idolized nations show even less regard for the land and those living on it? Why shouldn’t he kill a warthog to feed his village, if the tourists are just gong to come hunt it for fun anyway?
We as Westerners appear to set an example for how life should be lived, but rather than demonstrating a reverence or concern for, let alone a sustainable use of, the environment, we are represented by people who loudly denounce conservation as even a necessity. In fact, I was amazed to find that many people I’ve met in Africa like Trump. But they don’t see him for the orangesicle nightmare he truly is, they see him as a successful business man, a man with money, a man with money he will bring to Africa. They don’t care that the money will be spent for the exploitation of their land and labor, only that he has it to spend. Until we can shift our own narrative on the use of land and animals, we can expect little progress abroad. Let’s just hope the pockets f fauna and flora left somewhat intact can remain so until then.