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IBCP presents wildlife trade research at the European Congress for Conservation Biology 2022

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

20 August, 2020

A stall at the Lomé fetish market features species including: Red-capped Mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus; Endangered) heads, Olive Baboon (Papio anubis), Crocodile (Crocodylus suchus), Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris), Crested Porcupine (Hystrix cristata) quills, Central Bushbuck (Tragelaphus phaleratus) and Defasssa Waterbuck (Kobus defassa) horns, Lake Chad Buffalo (Syncerus brachyceros) skull, Four-toed Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris, Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus), Barn Owl (Tyto alba), Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus; Endangered), Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Mona Monkey (Cercopithecus mona), Pied Crow (Corvus albus), and Common African Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis; Endangered). Photo Olivier Boissier.

Overhunting is one of the most pressing threats to wildlife worldwide. Globally, a major driver of overhunting is the thriving trade in wildlife, including both live animals, such as parrots and snakes in the pet trade, as well as dead animals and their parts for use as food (“bushmeat”) and traditional medicine. Most research on wildlife trade in Africa has focused on bushmeat, with comparatively little attention to other practices. Yet despite the spread of Islam and Christianity over the past centuries, traditional animist beliefs and practices remain very strong in West Africa, including the use of wildlife in folk magic or “fetish” practices.

From left to right, skins of African Civet Civettictis civetta, Olive Baboon Papio anubis and Central Bushbuck Tragelaphus phaleratus (33 skins of the latter species were found in this shack alone). “Cheetah” skins are fake. Live rats and tortoises are kept in cages on the ground. Photo Olivier Boissier.

With this in mind, IBCP’s postdoctoral fellow Olivier Boissier and University of Lomé graduate student Lin-Ernni Mikégraba Kaboumba set out to fully survey the species and numbers of items for sale at the fetish market of Lomé, Togo. Reportedly the largest fetish market in West Africa, this market is run by traders from neighboring Benin, which many consider the heartland of voodoo. Almost all wildlife offered for sale here is dead, and the sheer diversity of species for sale is mind-boggling. Virtually any West African animal seems to have a chance of ending up in the market stalls, but some species are particularly conspicuous due to their numbers. Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) heads are displayed at the forefronts of stalls and Barn Owls (Tyto alba) and Northern White-faced Owls (Ptilopsis leucotis) feature prominently, as do Four-toed Hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris, bats (especially Pteropodidae), Bell’s Hinge-back Tortoises (Kinixys belliana), and many species of chameleons (Chamaeleonidae), snakes, frogs, and starfish.

The skull of a Roan Antelope (Hippotragus equinus, with many others in the background) sits on top of the skulls and lower mandible of three Common Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius; Vulnerable). Horns of Western Hartebeest (Alcelaphus major; Vulnerable) and skulls of Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) are visible on the left. Photo Olivier Boissier.

Wildlife items are offered to cure body ailments, bring good luck or protect oneself from evil spirits or attacks, among many other uses. In addition to many widespread and still abundant species, body parts of many IUCN-listed globally threatened species are for sale, such as Critically Endangered Hooded Vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus), Endangered African Savanna Elephants (Loxodonta Africana), Common African Pangolins (Phataginus tricuspis), and African Spurred Tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata), and Vulnerable Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), Leopards (Panthera pardus), Common Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius), and Black Crowned Cranes (Balearica pavonine).

Three Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus, a Critically Endangered species. Photo by Olivier Boissier.

This trade is international. Those working at the market come from Abomey, Benin, and the wildlife comes from all over West Africa, from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana in the West to Burkina Faso and Mali in the North and Benin and Nigeria in the East. Likewise, international customers travel from neighboring countries to buy wildlife products at this market. For many threatened species, such transboundary trade violates CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), to which Togo has been a party since 1979. The ongoing trade at the Lomé fetish market poses a direct threat to the survival of many globally threatened species. Olivier will present results of this market survey on Tuesday, August 23rd, at the 6th European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB). We hope that this study will shed light on a poorly understood challenge to protecting threatened and endangered species in West Africa from extinction.

A brand new delivery of hundreds of fresh starfish has just been laid out to dry in the sun. Hundreds of cow tails (on the ground), the skull of a Lake Chad Buffalo (Syncerus brachyceros), and a fake Cheetah skin are visible in the background. Photo by Olivier Boissier.

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