Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lemur Steaks & Pigeon Pickings - The Malagasy Bushmeat Conundrum

While casually devouring a roasted pigeon,
Golden gave me his uniquely informed take on the many
challenges facing this rising nation of Madagascar.
Last night I had the fortune of sitting down with the leading researcher in Madagascar focused on the intersection of wildlife conservation and human health, Dr. Chris Golden from the Harvard School of Public Health.

I'd been reading up on Golden's work - 13 years of research, deep in the northern Malagasy jungles; producing an impressive body of research that is leading to real change in how the conservation community looks at it's challenges. That he's just my age truly gives pause for thought on what a determined individual can achieve!

As he ordered a whole-roasted pigeon for the table, I wanted to talk with him about his research connecting the issue of bush meat harvesting to the issue of human health. Bush meat (any non-domestic meat, usually illegally harvested from conservation lands) occurs on such a scale across the country, that it threatens multiple species survival, and ultimately the sustainability of the human food supply as well. Perhaps paradoxically, this very action that threatens the survival of future generations - is supporting the health of the current generation. In a land where starchy cassava and rice reign supreme; the meats of the iconic lemurs, and up to 23 other forest dwelling mammalia, offer critical nutrition to the growing rural youth. What's to be done? Is it a classic "man vs. nature" situation?

Far from it - Golden's connected vision of society and nature have yielded critical insights and are leading to genuine long-term solutions. Meat is of critical importance for childhood nutrition here, of this there is little doubt; but it need not be the flesh of the island's precious endemic species. In seeking solutions, Golden used his academic entrepreneurialism to bring a cavalcade of veterinary experts across the ocean; discovering that the manageable Newcastle's disease was a leading and devastating killer of rural poultry flocks. Rather than the "hands-off" descriptive sciences so often the rule of thumb here, this researcher is rolling up his sleeves and conducting an empowering action-research project to help small-scale poultry farmers improve flock health and productivity. This work seeks to simultaneously raise nutritional standards while reducing the need and desire to harvest the rainbow of illegal meat diversity that fuels the majestic aura of this rising island nation.

Dr. Golden's research is far more complex and interesting than I can report here - the full story can be found at http://www.chrisgoldenresearch.com/ - but the take home message is clear; meat plays a complex and dynamic role in the balance of humans and nature; the prevailing dichotomies in discourse on the subject are rarely if ever helpful; what we need are integrated, pragmatic solutions to build resilience across and between society and nature.

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