Of Moratoriums, Monkeys and Men

16 June 2014, By Dizzanne Billy, Trinidad and Tobago

“That is what people do when they find a special place that is wild and full of life, they trample it to death” – Carl Hiassen

Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic Caribbean state with two (2) main islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and 21 smaller islands and islets. Trinidad is the larger of the two islands, with an approximated area of 4,827 km2 while Tobago has an area of 303 km2. This country is held in much acclaim for its biological diversity, relative to its status as a small state. Located a mere seven miles from the South American continent, the country’s rich biodiversity is accredited to its geological position, topography, its microclimate variability, and the various soil types.

However, the biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago faces a very real and present threat, that of human pressure. Habitat destruction, displacement of animals, introduction of invasive species (such as the Giant African Snail and the Lionfish), pollution, and over consumption are hazards that are human-induced and which threaten the species, genetic and ecosystem diversity. However, my focus is on over hunting. In Trinidad and Tobago, as in the rest of the Caribbean islands; there exists a peculiarly high penchant for the taste of ‘wild meat.’ Wild meat is the equivalent of wild game, it is any animal that is domesticated but is hunted for food. It is difficult to find a local citizen with little knowledge of wild meat as a delicacy, the hard task is in finding persons who are aware of the negative impacts that the trade of wild meat is having on the biodiversity, the environment, and the overall ecological system.

Wild meat has become so engrained into the palette of the people, that exorbitant prices (TT$350/US$54 per pound) are paid to satiate one’s culinary desires. As exotic as this may sound, the steady increase in the demand for commercial trade of wild meat has led to drastic reductions in the populations of these animals, according to official statistics released by the University of the West Indies. From deer to agouti, paca, opossum, monkey, and iguana, these animals contribute to the biodiversity that Trinidad and Tobago possesses. Protection of threatened wildlife species must be made a priority. It is in light of this, that the government of Trinidad and Tobago in October 2013, declared a ban on hunting of wildlife. For the purpose of preservation, a two year moratorium has been placed on hunting.

My hope for my country is that this moratorium was not declared solely to placate the conservationists and environmentalists. This two-year period must be used wisely to ensure that it does not do more harm than good. As a young person, I am aware that the mistakes made today will affect my future. I would like to see effective investments into land and ecosystem accounting techniques, proper monitoring of the areas where over hunting occurs, enforcement of laws, and the preservation of wildlife being made a priority in Trinidad and Tobago.

It is noted that there are economic benefits to be had through engagement in the trade of wild meat. However, if we continue to abuse the land and the organisms that exist around us, consequences will haunt the future generations. Viable populations of native wildlife species must be maintained and the ecosystems must be enhanced and protected. As the United Nations Environment Assembly convenes, we must make a call for the active defence of wildlife. In the words of former president of the United States of America, President Theodore Roosevelt – “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will…”

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