West Africa

May, 2023

Warning – blog contains sensitive imagery

In May from east of the African equator, we headed West where I was invited to be a guest speaker on Seabourn Cruises https://www.seabourn.com/en  for a trip up the West Coast of Africa.  My particular interest here was to learn about the region, what marine species occurred here, and what the threats facing this area were.

I also felt it was important to visit the animal fetish markets and learn about Vodun, a religion heavily practiced in Ghana, Togo and Benin, all countries we were going to visit. As much as I knew I would be disturbed by what I saw, I needed to understand what drives these markets and what their scale was like.

Our journey from Cape Town to Benin was mostly uneventful with less than a dozen sightings of significant marine wildlife. Disembarking in these countries you are struck by two things – colorful vibrant strong people, and a part of a continent stuck in a time warp.

The scale of Vodun is very significant with deities, effigies and sacrificial temples in abundance. My first bit of enlightenment came when I was told by a Vodun priest that Vodun is predominantly not a religion where spells are cast to cause harm, but rather to ward off harm and evil spirits.

In the fetish markets themselves, you cannot but be disturbed by the amount of endangered species for sale that have been dried and will ultimately be ground down into powder for some or other potion or charm.

We saw dozens of dead vultures, the casks of huge hornbills, crocodile heads, a profusion of civet pelts, thousands of dead dried chameleons, tables of dog heads, and so it went on.

The animals would later be ground into a powder to amongst many other things increase fertility, prevent stomach pains and even make those that wear the pastes and chalices immune to bullets. From the poor and uneducated, to the well dressed and coiffed, they all bought from the markets and believed in it’s powers.

It was deeply saddening and disturbing, and it is easy to be judgmental and say how can people do this? But upon reflection, is it any different to a well-heeled hunter coming to Africa and shooting a male lion or big tusker, and then hanging it’s head on a wall to self-aggrandize their act of supposed bravery?

Is it any different to a Chinese kingpin getting a poor poacher to kill a rhino for its horn in order to sell to some person who believes the ground down powder will cure cancer?

No, there is no distinction, and it is all collectively having a devastating impact on the planet’s wildlife, and it is all without moral or scientific support in its depravity and ignorance.

Copyrighted by Chris Fallows @2020