We routinely received startled expressions back in India when we made the decision to move to Cote D’Ivoire, Africa. The imagery that revolves in one’s mind on hearing that one word is likely to be that of deep dense forests and jungle safaris. Knowing that I live in Africa, you probably still imagine me taking walks in the wildlife and witnessing an assortment of animals first-hand.
Well, I had similar expectations from my life here as well. So imagine my surprise when I land in Ivory Coast and discover that one is hard-pressed to see animals in this country. No jungle safaris, no wildlife parks and for that matter, even dogs and cats can rarely be seen! It wasn’t just because I was experiencing city life. Ivory Coast has actually managed to lose a majority of its fauna over the years.
Here’s the ultimate irony
Cote D’Ivoire or Ivory Coast was named after the ivory of the African elephants that were once found in abundance on this piece of land. Today, you are more likely to spot an elephant rambling down a road in India, than you are to see one in Ivory Coast. Other species that have been declared endangered or vulnerable in the country are the chimpanzee, the Diana monkey, the wild dog, the lion, the pygmy hippopotamus, the zebra, the African golden cat and many varieties of bats.
So, where have all the animals gone?
It has taken me a year of questioning, reading and listening to find some answers to that question.
Ivory Coast is the world’s leading producer of cocoa, the core material that goes into chocolates. In fact, about a third of the entire world’s cocoa supply comes from this little country. With cocoa being the backbone of their economy and a key source of livelihoods, it is not a wonder that deforestation has occurred at an alarming speed to pave way for cocoa fields. Not just cocoa, large sections of Ivorian land are today dedicated to rubber, palm and coffee plantations. Land is also being plied for petroleum, diamonds, manganese, cobalt and copper.
This has been happening not just in Ivory Coast, but all over West Africa. Senegal, Gambia, Liberia have all shared the same destiny. As the once-famous West African rainforests diminished in size, the exotic wildlife it had been home to was increasingly exposed. What happened next was inevitable. Chased from their sanctuary, these animals were hunted and poached indiscriminately. Be it for the value of their ivory, horns and hide, or for the purpose of being eaten, humans descended on these beasts mercilessly.
While most of the crops grown here remain cash crops, meant to bring in money, little or no land is devoted to the growth of food. Animal meat remains a vastly popular source of nutrition. From bats to monkeys, reptiles to rats, anything and everything that moves is eaten. Bushmeat, in fact, is considered a delicacy in this part of the world.
The result of all these factors put together, is for all to be seen today.
Or rather, the result lies in its haunting absence.
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PIyushi Dhir is the author of the romantic novels, 'In Search of Love' (2014), 'I'm Yours, The Next Time' (2015) and 'Enmeshed Evermore' (2015). A voracious reader, a keen traveler and an ardent dog-lover, Piyushi currently resides in Ivory Coast, Africa. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.