By Alissa Falcone
Jake Owens wasn’t surprised that his stint collecting data from an African bush-meat market was named one of the “worst jobs in science” in the November issue of Popular Science magazine.
“It was definitely one of the worst working experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “There is nothing good about working in a bush-meat market.”
The environmental science PhD candidate isn’t exaggerating.
For one month in 2010, Owens spent eight hours a day sitting at an illegal bush-meat market in Equatorial Guinea where merchants sold meat from endangered primates and other exotic animals. Owens wanted to use hair and tissue samples from the monkey meat to learn ecological information about a little-known primate species on Bioko Island, an island off Africa’s western coast, and determine if the samples could help to identify poaching “hot zones.”
Problem was, he didn’t want to pay for the meat or do anything else that would promote illegal business. His solution? Befriend four youths who charged shoppers a very small amount of money to burn the hair off or cut the scales off of the meat they had just purchased from the venders.
The middle school- and high school-aged boys were friendly toward Owens because of their love of American rap artists such as Lil Wayne, so they let him collect samples from the meat they were given.
Others at the market were not as friendly, and it wasn’t just because Owens was spending all day at the market without buying anything. Owens represented someone who wanted to put an end to their livelihood of selling illegally procured animals, which is why they tried to threaten him by hitting him with brooms, spitting at him, and getting too close with blowtorches and machetes.
“Basically they would wave them at me to tell me to go away, and when I was actually collecting the samples, the guys working around would scrape the burnt hair, scales, porcupine quills and blood off the carcasses, which would fling on me,” he said.
Owens saw the experience as a way to be outside and interact with the environment and the animals he wants to learn about so he can help others with research and understanding.
“Field work can be rough, but there are benefits to it,” Owens said. More....