Thursday, 3rd September
I bought a ticket on local airline CEIBA for a flight at 1300, then took a taxi to explore the local bushmeat markets in Pointe Noir. The only animals in the first market were massive Merou fish being filleted among crowded fruit and veg stalls, so we quickly moved on. Pointe Noir main market is a warren of narrow passageways between stalls selling every conceivable product, and I struggled to keep up with my guide without knocking over the displays with my camera-bag.
Once past the smoked and salted fish section, the stalls were piled with portions of wild animals – porcupines, pangolins, cane-rats, antelopes and monkeys. It brought to mind the game butchers where I grew up in Beverley, Yorkshire, where venison, rabbits and pheasants were usually on display.
The difference (apart from the variety of species) was that the African bushmeat trade (link to www.4apes.com/bushmeat) has grown to unsustainable levels as commercial hunters gain access to previously inaccessible forests. I chatted to the traders to ask what other species they sold, and whether there was still a demand for ape meat. They were quick to explain that inspectors from the Ministry of Water and Forests came by every week to check, and that no endangered species were sold. They had been well informed by the nearby Jane Goodall Institute sanctuary, Tshimpounga, and no longer sold chimpanzee or gorilla. “But surely older people who have always eaten it must still be trying to get some?” I said. “They have to change their meat!” came the reply. I asked if he would say that on video for the YoG website, and he said he would but felt it would be better coming from the President of the Bushmeat Traders. When introduced, the President agreed to speak on video, and once we get these HD video files compressed and on-line, you’ll see what he has to say. Mind you, it contrasts sharply with the recent exposé by Endangered Species International, reported at http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8256000/8256464.stm
Africa’s Green Heart – a new film by Steve O Taylor, partially supported by the CMS (UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species), which includes dramatic bushmeat sequences, will soon be available from the Ape Alliance. It is hoped that this educational resource will stimulate discussion in schools, governments and among the various interested parties in this complex issue.
Enforcing existing wildlife law is a crucial and immediate challenge in the fight for gorillas’ survival. The YoG supports a project in Congo Brazzaville. Find out more about the project here! You can also donate for it through this site.
Got back to the airport in good time to check in, get my passport stamped and just as I was putting my pocket contents into the basket for the X-ray the word came through that Gabon was closed due to the post-electoral disturbances. The presidential elections had been close with all three main candidates declaring victory, and the situation was tense. The next flight to Libreville wasn’t until tomorrow evening, so not wanting to waste a day and a half, and being advised that there were more flights to other range states from Malabo (the second scheduled destination), I decided to take flight anyway.
Once we were off the plane in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on the island of Fernado Po, a friendly young customs officer seemed to think a transit visa wouldn’t be a problem once the Comisario returned to his desk and asked me to wait. I waited.
I could see how busy everyone was; two women sat in the corner deep in conversation, two men stood huddled over a laptop exchanging messages with someone, somewhere (I sneaked a peek) and a young guy with a games console plugged in next to the non-functional metal-detector got to the next level, did a little dance, then grinned sheepishly at me before returning to slay whatever monsters next came his way.
No-one seemed to have within their job description ‘assisting stranded passengers’. Now and again I’d experiment to see where exactly ‘the point they shall not pass’ was, and I’d catch someone’s eye, or a different uniform would walk through, so I would ask if I could please have a transit visa or a receipt for my passport so I could go and find a hotel for the night. “Attendez s’il vous plait,” came the reply.
The Comisario was a big man and once he realised he had a room full of passengers next door he took charge. In French and Spanish he asked, “where are you all going?“ The babble of destinations was confusing, so he told everyone going to Nigeria to sit here, to Benin, sit there, and so on. People obediently sorted themselves geographically as his assistant collected their passports. That was much tidier, so he walked back to his office. There was a moment’s silence before everyone looked at each other and burst out laughing.
I followed him to his office – well furnished with a big desk and well-upholstered leather armchairs – and tried to explain that the tidy room full of people were just here until the aircraft sitting on the tarmac outside was ready for take-off. My situation was different and to find the next flight to one of the countries I needed to visit a travel agent, probably tomorrow, so please could I have a transit visa and all would be well. He eventually got the message and extracted my passport from the pile, then placed it in isolation on a separate part of his desk and asked me to wait.
I tried the ace up my sleeve, and showed him my UNEP-CMS Ordre de Mission, which listed Equatorial Guinea and asks ‘To Whom it May Concern’ to assist with a visa for my mission. He called the flight controller down and they conferred, then the flight controller apologised and led me past the tidy but increasingly angry passengers (now rebelling by re-sorting themselves and saying they’ll never fly woth CeiBA again), upstairs to the VIP lounge where he left me in splendid isolation. Here I could enjoy the well-upholstered leather sofas and ornate gilded glass coffee table, upon which a hostess presented me with a cold tonic (sadly no gin), and I was left alone. But there was power, and comfort, so I blogged until I was falling asleep, then curled up under my kikoi and got some kip.
Read Ian’s previous post here!