Initiative to Achieve Sustainable Harvesting
Almost four centuries ago there were twenty four land based mammals, and two water based mammals, as well as two types of macaws (large parrots) native to Tobago. Hunting by the early residents for food, fur and feathers destroyed fourteen of these mammals and both macaws. Among those exterminated were the monkey, a second type of opossum (manicou), the fox, the musk rat, the ocelot (wild cat), a second type of peccary (wild pig), the deer, the manatee and the river otter. The last of these to be killed off was the deer. It is reported that the last member of the Tobago deer population was shot in the 1970's at Lowlands.
As expressed by three people closely associated with wildlife:
Mr. Haynes Cowie-Clarke, President of the Tobago Hunters Group and member of the Tobago Wildlife Farmers and Breeders Association:
"(Game animal levels) are not as they should be and something must be done about it. There needs to be some controls on hunting to allow the animals to repopulate. The Group wants to have input on any decisions made in this matter. The Tobago Hunters Group strictly prohibits its members from hunting in the closed season."
Mr. Raye Sandy, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Tobago House of Assembly Division of Forestry:
"The numbers of game species are much less than they should be. (In some cases) such as the agouti and tattoo, numbers may be too low to be viable. The catch per hunting effort is steadily decreasing. The Division of Forestry is planning a scientific survey of the game species of Tobago."
Mr. David Rooks, past President of Environment TOBAGO and nature tour guide:
"There is a serious depletion of Tobago's wildlife, especially the game species. I am in the Tobago forest almost every day and I see no signs. Twelve years ago I could see a few signs in every part of the forest."
It is clear from these statements that there is general agreement that most games species in Tobago are being over-harvested and all of them are steadily declining.
Environment TOBAGO has begun an initiative promoting the sustainable harvesting of game species on Tobago. We are using as a guide a paper written by Professor Stanley Temple and Mr. Howard Nelson, entitled "Sustainable Harvesting of Game Populations in Trinidad and Tobago".
To paraphrase the authors:
The fundamental obstacles that stand in the way of sustainable harvesting of game animals in Trinidad and Tobago include:
- Lack of organised knowledge about the species being hunted, such as population densities, population growth rates and their response to hunting and habitat change.
- Failure to use sustainable harvesting techniques in the management of game populations.
- Totally ineffective hunting regulations.
- The inability to enforce current regulations
- The tragic indifference of the general public to the over-exploitation of natural resources, such as game populations and wildlife habitats on public lands.
- Lack of a close working relationship between wildlife managers and the many responsible hunters and conservationists who must be more closely involved in the planning and implementation of solutions to these problems.
The steps to achieving a sustainable harvesting of game animals are:
- Adopt a biologically sound strategy for the sustainable harvesting of game species.
- Recommend regulations that support this strategy and how they would be enforced.
- Insure that the strategy and its implementation represent a shared vision of the future.
On the 28th of April, 1998, Environment TOBAGO convened a public consultation and workshop on the issue, which was attended by representatives of the Hunters Group, the Wildlife Breeders, the THA Forestry Division as well as independent hunters and other concerned people.
By the end of the day all parties had reached a consensus that there was a need for action. It was decided to establish a Tobago Wildlife Conservation Committee, which would work towards achieving sustainable harvesting of game animals in Tobago.