What is the Bushmeat Crisis?
Bushmeat is the term used to describe any wild animal used for food, living in the “bush”. It is most common in reference to the area of Western and Central Africa. This can be apes, lemurs, rhino, elephant, antelope,etc.
Endangered lemurs in Madagascar killed for bushmeat.
Today bushmeat is important both as a food source and a trade item for poor families in rural and urban areas in Western and Central Africa. It is also often a status symbol for urban elites trying to retain links to the “village”, and often commands a high price in city restaurants.
The commercial bushmeat trade is in direct competition and threatens the livelihoods of rural communities dependent on these resources to meet their basic needs.
“People in the Congo Basin eat as much meat as do Europeans and Americans; approximately 80% of animal protein is derived from wildlife.”
While wildlife has been hunted and used for food since the beginning of time, things have changed considerably. The population density in these areas is greater than the animal population, in addition, factoring in the number of threatened and endangered species, the wildlife can no longer be viewed as a free, sustainable resource.
Forestry road through Gabon.
The Logging Industry’s contribution
The growing problem of the bushmeat industry is exacerbated by the construction of new roads to facilitate logging and mining operations, allowing poachers easy access to remote forests. Truck drivers also get involved, as they are routinely bribed into carrying loads of up to 200kg of bushmeat, including gorillas and chimpanzees, out of the forests.
Why not raise cow, chickens and goats?
Domestic “farm” animals are raised in the rural and urban households, but they are viewed as savings and insurance, since inflation is high and access to banks or credit is extremely limited. Even if they wanted to use their animals for a protein source, the area is plagued by tsetse flies which cause the disease, animal trypanosomiasis, making it unfeasible.
Of course hunting in the short-term yields immediate benefits, yet in the long run, this damages their economies in the future.
What does this mean for the environment?
While deforestation is also a threat to wildlife, over hunting is comparable, if not worse to the Western and Central African areas. Even in places where there is intact forests, there are no large animals, This is known as Empty Forest Syndrome.
“Experts estimate that the bushmeat trade could eliminate all viable populations of African apes within the next five to 15 years.”
Loss of wildlife means a loss of seed dispersing animals that play a key role in determining tree composition and distribution. Over time this will potentially cause irreversible global damage.
Human health jeopardy
Gorilla hands are considered a delicacy in the Congo.
In addition to environmental and economic consequence, the increased contact between humans and wildlife populations raises the risk of people transmitting animal-derived diseases. Consumption of bushmeat has been linked to zoonoses, including anthrax, ebola, monkeypox, HIV, SARS and foot and mouth disease. Additionally, there is also risk of transmitting human diseases to apes and other species.
Not just an African issue, thousands of pounds of primate parts, antelope, and other bushmeat are smuggled annually into the United States and Europe. The environmental concerns, the health risks and the responsibility are ours to share. From Lion meat tacos in Florida to Rat meat in London it’s becoming a black market pandemic.