He uses a machete to cut off the antelope’s head and three of its legs, before heaving the torso onto the fire, which starts to crackle. Another butcher takes over, rotating the carcass by its remaining leg with one bare hand, and scraping the charred fur off with the machete he holds in the other, sending a shower of scorched fur in every direction. You can smell the acrid odor of burning hair and flesh.
After about 10 minutes, the rust-colored fur is gone. The butcher heaves the carcass up onto his shoulder and carries it out of the burning area and across the lane, trailing the smell of freshly cooked meat and a raw, metallic tang. He dumps the steaming carcass onto the blood-spattered slaughter slab.
The bushmeat at Atwemonom comes from rural areas like Barekese (north of Kumasi), the road between Kumasi and Sunyani, and Konongo, which is on the way down to the capital Accra. Some is hunted as far away as the neighboring Côte d’Ivoire.
The freshest specimens were caught during the darkest part of the night before, when the cane rats stepped on metal traps that snapped their necks, the antelope was shot and the hares caught the sharp end of a machete.
Forestry Commission inspector Moses Akologu is in charge of keeping track of the catches he encounters, recording the species, method of death, sex, weight and price of each, along with whether the specimen was pregnant and where it was hunted.
It is August, so Akologu is only counting the grasscutter that arrives at Atwemonom. Over 80 million greater cane rats are hunted in the region every year. Their population, he says, is pretty healthy: “Every three months, they give birth, and they can give birth to 10.”
Hunters will occasionally deliver protected species like hyena and pangolin. “If you bring it here and I catch you, I will seize it all for the government. They will send you to court,” says Akologu. The only sanction for illegal hunting is being fined a (usually modest) sum of money.
In Ghana, the Forestry Commission regulates hunting. They issue licenses to hunters and permits to the market women who sell bushmeat. They also set hunting seasons, says David Kpelle, Tourism and Commercial Manager at the Wildlife Division, at his office in Accra.
When we speak it’s closed season, which runs from August 1 until December 1. During this part of the year hunters are only supposed to go after grasscutter, which are farm pests.
During open season hunters can kill a rapidly shrinking list of species that are not on the endangered list (including bushbuck, duiker, civets, warthogs, and squirrels). “There are animals which are not supposed to be hunted at any time. We have the lions, the elephants, the black-and-white colobus monkeys, the Diana monkeys—they are the ones that we consider as threatened species,” says Kpelle. Those animals have been heavily hunted, or have had their habitats destroyed by growing farms and logging roads.