- Conservation International's "Say No to Bushmeat" documentary, which highlights the environmental damage and health problems caused by the commercial trade of wild game in Ghana, has been selected as a finalist at the 2003 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Chosen from a field of 550 international entries, "Say No to Bushmeat" was nominated in the "Best Non-Broadcast" category.
The 9-minute documentary was part of a broad-based international media campaign designed to put a halt to the bushmeat trade. Once a traditional subsistence activity, bushmeat hunting has evolved into a high-impact commercial enterprise, which has driven several species to the brink of extinction and is thought to be worth $350 million per year.
"Since the release of the video and the awareness campaign we launched in Ghana in August 2002, the bushmeat trade has been reduced considerably," said Okyeame Ampadu-Agei, executive director of Conservation International (CI) Ghana. "The campaign has helped dramatically change people's attitudes about bushmeat consumption. Of the 300 restaurants in Accra that were selling bushmeat before the campaign, 92 percent no longer participate in the trade."
Produced by CI's International Communications Department, the film was shot in the markets of Accra and Kumasi, and in the Ghanaian countryside. Written and edited by CI Senior Producer Flavia Castro, the documentary not only highlights the environmental damage caused by the bushmeat trade but also the alarming public health issues associated with the practice.
"It was a dramatic experience to film these animals being slaughtered and sold in the market, and to watch hunters burning large tracts of land to corral wildlife for the bushmeat trade," said the documentary's director and executive producer, Haroldo Castro, vice president for CI International Communication's. "These striking images were counterbalanced by interviews with powerful traditional leaders that believe that bushmeat should be eradicated because it is not sustainable and, in some cases, is threatening the very survival of the animal species that are the sacred totems of their clan."
The campaign emphasized the traditional belief that the survival of each clan is inextricably linked to the survival of the clan's symbolic animal, or totem. But according to a CI study highlighted in the film, almost 98 percent of the totems associated with the country's 110 ruling clans are no longer found in their traditional territory due to bushmeat hunting.
"The bushmeat trade in Ghana has caused a tremendous decline in wildlife populations, and in many cases has left some important forest blocks virtually devoid of all large and visible animals, a condition described as empty forest syndrome," explained the Vice President for Research at CI's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science Mohamed Bakarr. "This documentary, and the Ghanaian public's reaction to it, is reason for hope; if we can continue to change people's attitudes and behavior through the media, we can save countless numbers of species that are currently on the brink of disappearing."
The bushmeat awareness campaign and documentary encouraged widespread media coverage of the issue and was featured on CNN International, Reuters Television and AP Television, among others.
CI video productions aimed at raising conservation awareness in Brazil, Madagascar and Guyana have won top prizes at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 1991, 1995 and 1999. Final judging for this year's award will take place immediately before the festival, which runs Sept. 22-27. Final results will be announced at a gala dinner and ceremony Sept. 25, 2003.