Miila Kauppinen organized her internship with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). She took part in the bushmeat alternatives program in mainland Equatorial Guinea in West Africa south of Cameroon. She stayed with the organization for seven months. This is her story.
The project I worked with is about developing, testing and implementing alternative livelihoods to bushmeat hunting. Hunting, though inherently an ecological means of obtaining protein, is in central Africa increasingly commercial and often unsustainable. There is more demand for bushmeat by growing urban populations; in addition many animals are hunted for international pet trade.
One of my tasks was to take part in a socioeconomic study. This is about people’s dependency on various protein and income sources, and about preferences for and feasibility of different livelihoods. We visited the villages to do household and hunter interviews, and to work alongside community assistants to monitor hunted bushmeat. These periods were for me some of the most fruitful, and challenging, of the time spent in Equatorial Guinea. This work included data entry, analysis and preparation of presentations and reports. Later, the most viable alternatives would be planned, piloted and implemented in the villages with support from the government and other parties. Some options are enhancing livestock and agricultural production, or introducing aquaculture and bee-keeping.
I also took part in environmental education activities. A week for biodiversity was organized and for this we prepared activities such as photo exhibition, panel discussions and children’s day. In the summer the ministry of agriculture and forests carried out a confiscation of an illegally kept infant gorilla, enforcing for the first time the law that prohibits the hunting, keeping, eating and selling of primates. ZSL and Conservation International supported the government in the process and we prepared information leaflets about the law to be distributed to the politicians, expatriates and communities.
During the internship I got to put into practice many skills and ideas I had become familiar with during the master studies. I also learned about project management, various administrative tasks, dealing with different people ranging from village farmers to various politicians, and working as full-day member of a multicultural team. These skills will surely be of use to me later whether I’m working on a conservation project or any other field. That’s what the internship should be about; to learn in practice actual professional or academic skills, and to undergo such personal development that overall will be useful in working life. However I am especially thankful for the possible little positive input the experience and all the different encounters might have had on some people’s (or creatures) lives. I was very happy in the end to have a chance to continue with the project after the internship for another half a year, on a topic that to me seems to have a practical, meaningful purpose.