A subsistence activity that’s now grown into a ‘taste of the exotic’ around the world.
Wild animals have always been used as a source of food for the subsistence of local people in many countries, particularly in Africa, but also in Asia and wider afield. However, the globalisation of trade, combined with the urbanisation of people across Africa and beyond, and the establishment of ex-patriot communities of all kinds all over the world, has led to the commercialisation of bushmeat to supply a growing international demand.
What is it?
In Africa, forest is often referred to as ‘the bush’, thus wildlife and the meat derived from it for human consumption is referred to as ‘bushmeat’ (in French – viande de brousse). This term applies to all wildlife species, including threatened and endangered, used for meat including: elephant; gorilla; chimpanzee and other primates; forest antelope (duikers); crocodile; porcupine; bush pig; cane rat; pangolin; monitor lizard; guinea fowl; etc. The bushmeat trade is the illegal, over-hunting of wildlife for meat and income.
What you should know
- According to the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, the hunting of and trade in bushmeat now represents “the most significant immediate threat to the future of wildlife in Africa”. It is a multi-billion dollar international trade, involving hundreds of species. It is estimated that more than a quarter of all mammal species hunted for bushmeat are threatened with extinction.
- Rural and urban people are inextricably tied to the bushmeat crisis. They form the network of hunters, traders, truck drivers, market-resellers, restaurateurs and consumers, which moves wildlife from the forest to the cooking pot. Wildlife provides protein, cultural and religious links, and a source of income for many families. People do not typically view bushmeat hunting as a problem; rather wild animals are viewed as crop pests, threats to lives and livelihoods, an inexhaustible resource free-for-the-taking, and a new source of income. However, growing human population and changing economic conditions are driving demand for bushmeat that now exceeds the rate that hunted wildlife are replaced within the forest. Bushmeat consumption can lead to risks such as zoonotic disease infections and diminished livelihoods for local communities and the risk of being sent to jail. There are alternative proteins and income activities available.
- The increasing value of bushmeat has attracted criminal syndicates, with sophisticated and efficient logistical capabilities. Law enforcement agencies in many countries do not have the resources to keep up, and in some cases high level involvement in the trade may protect it from official interference. Modern infrastructure projects are facilitating access to previously impenetrable wildlife habitats, and these habitats are being increasingly exploited for the bushmeat trade.
- While the size of the trade is difficult to determine, Central African consumers alone may be consuming over 2.5 million tonnes of bushmeat each year. Many target species have already vanished from parts of West Africa. Wildlife in Eastern and Southern African countries is increasingly being targeted, and Kenya has experienced a loss of around 50% of its wildlife in recent decades, largely as a result of the bushmeat trade. Worldwide, bushmeat is part of wildlife trade in Asia and Latin America, and exports to North America and Europe are a growing concern.
- A recent study estimated that as much as 270 tonnes of bushmeat might be coming through a single airport in Paris annually, destined for both personal consumption and to supply the lucrative trade in high value products. Similar quantities are doubtless arriving in other European and North American airports and ports.
What you can do
- Many animals killed for bushmeat are endangered and protected under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) list. Member countries often have laws in place to prevent these species from being killed. Do not consume bushmeat as you are supporting an illegal activity.
- Bushmeat is often considered a symbol of luxury and prestige. So-called delicacies such as elephant trunks, monkey limbs and gorilla hands are sold in restaurants for more than $60 a dish. Do not patronise restaurants where wildlife is on the menu, either at home or overseas.
- By consuming bushmeat you are potentially putting your health at risk through zoonotic disease infection.
- Many tourists visit countries to view its wildlife, bringing much needed income for the economy. By taking wildlife from the wild for human consumption, there will be no wildlife left to see and valuable income will fall.
- Bushmeat hunters will often kill animals with young who are then sold as pets in markets, used as photo props or raised as farm animals until they are big enough to eat.
Where does this occur?
Bushmeat is most commonly found in Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australia and the Pacific Islands, Europe, United States and Canada.