Caring for and Healing the Earth

Wild Animals & Birds

Bushmeat in Africa: Central and West African wildlife threatened by this crisis

Alis B. Kennedy, Ph.D.
June 17, 2002

In Africa, the forest is often called “the bush” and wildlife taken from the forests for their meat is called “Bushmeat”. Bushmeat, illegally hunted and slaughtered for meat and products, includes chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, small primates, antelope, birds, bats, snakes, and much more. You name it and it is on the menu. Dr. Jane Goodall views the “Bushmeat Crisis” as the most significant immediate threat to wildlife populations in Africa. Organized hunting for large commercial markets is more prevalent in the Congo Basin and West Africa; more than one million metric tons of Bushmeat alone leave the Congo Basin forest every year. Many of the animals that are hunted are endangered and will become extinct if the mass killing is not soon stopped. The Born Free Foundation states that up to 90% of Eastern gorillas may have been killed in the past three years due to Bushmeat hunting.
The main problem with most endangered species is that they have slow reproductive patterns (especially the Great Apes and elephants). These animals are often killed before reaching their reproductive years. Furthermore, many of them give birth to only one offspring and it may take a few years more before the female can once again reproduce. 

It is the logging companies that brought the Bushmeat issue to a modern-day crisis. The once inaccessible wild populations of animals that lived in the depths of the Rainforests have now been exposed and made vulnerable. This is due to the fact that the logging companies have made inroads into the forests by indiscriminately clearing land and, in the process, have destroyed natural habitats. In the process, they have also made the forests more accessible for poachers to obtain Bushmeat.

For centuries, the only hunters were the pygmies who lived in harmony with the land, taking only what was needed for their survival. The arrival of the logging roads increased access to remote areas of the forests and made it easier to transport the Bushmeat from the forests to the markets, thus allowing for the commercialization of Bushmeat. It is estimated that the value of the Bushmeat trade is $50 million (USD) annually. 
The chain of distribution begins with the logging companies who hire employees to buy the Bushmeat from hunters, to whom they supply guns and ammunition. The meat is cut up and smoked, then inserted between logs on logging trucks (up to 200 Kilos). The interior railway systems carry the meat to towns and cities, and the city markets sell to international distributors that transport the meat via air. In addition to the traditional paid hunters, professional poachers, and logging and mining company employees also do the hunting. Hunters kill the adults and often take the babies, mainly gorillas and chimpanzees, to their logging camps to play with until the babies get sick and die, or until they are no longer amused by them. 
The consumers of Bushmeat are logging and mining company employees, the urban “elite” such as government officials and members of the clergy, restaurants and local markets, as well as villagers, and ex-patriates and restaurants in western countries. For many “elite” the meat is not simply a source of protein, but is considered a delicacy. They share these delicacies with their visiting friends from abroad, who in turn “export” the meat to their countries and introduce their friends in turn to the Bushmeat.
Unfortunately, many primate populations are being killed faster than the loss of their habitats. The current levels of Bushmeat consumption are unsustainable. Over 24 million people rely heavily on the animals of the forests as a source of protein. In some areas, the forests have been emptied of animals. This causes a threat to biodiversity as well as forest ecology, as the animals have played an important role in the forest by spreading the seeds of trees, shrubs and plants. 

To add to the problems that have been caused by logging, the advances in technology such as laptop computers, pagers, and cell phones have created a need for a new material; coltan (Columbite-tantalite). Coltan is vital to the manufacture of this electronic equipment, as it is used in the production of capacitors that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards found in all of these devices. The mining of coltan has become a lucrative commodity in the Congo. It is done in huge open pits that have been dug in the streambed. This allows the miners to slosh water and mud around in large washtubs in order to collect the coltan that settles in the bottom. According to the World Conservation Union over 10,000 miners work in two universally important World Heritage sites: Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Okapi Wildlife Reserve located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Unfortunately, these miners rely heavily on Bushmeat for their protein consumption. In fact, ABC News reports that the eastern lowland gorilla population from the two World Heritage sites mentioned above has been cut from 258 to 130 individuals.


The alternative to Bushmeat is to increase access to affordable protein sources for local people such as cane rats, farmed chickens, goats, and nuts. Logging companies and mining operators should feed their employees instead of encouraging them to hunt or to pay hunters to empty the forests of Bushmeat. There should also be stricter enforcement of hunting regulations by governments and the implementation of low-impact logging and mining practices. Furthermore, the buyers of coltan should ensure that the product is not from World Heritage sites in the DRC. Additionally, we could establish and maintain a series of protected areas. There should also be regulations to stem the hunting and trade of Bushmeat, still offering alternatives for people to earn their living honestly. Lastly, we need to increase worldwide awareness of the “Bushmeat Crisis” and, perhaps people in general should avoid buying forest products from Central and Western Africa. One of the most organized groups in support of the Bushmeat issue is the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCF). This is a consortium of conservation groups and scientists dedicated to the conservation of wildlife threatened by commercial hunting of wildlife for sale as meat.

As a final thought, did you know that we share 98% of our genes with the chimpanzee, and that the chimpanzee is more closely related to us than the chimpanzee is to the gorilla?




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