In Africa the poaching of animals such as tigers or elephants for their skins or tusks has been a problem well known throughout the world. But the impact of hunting for their meat may pose a greater threat, such a trade is known as bushmeat trade. It refers to the non-traditional hunting of non-game animals for meat. Wild chimpanzees and other forest animals are systematically hunted and sold as meat through markets across Africa and cities across the world. What once was a form of subsistence hunting in rural villages, has now evolved into a commercial trade that has grown in scale over recent decades.
While Bushmeat has been practiced since the late 1800s, the scale of hunting is far greater today and has been increasing, facilitated by road building in the forest for logging and mining operations and fuelled by growing demand in urban markets, where comparatively well-off customers consider wild-sourced protein a delicacy and a status symbol. A smaller international market for exotic meat thrives in Europe and the United States.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF BUSHMEAT TRADING
- Environmental Imbalance
Poachers and hunters involved in the illegal bushmeat market mainly use snares to trap these beasts and often larger animals like jackals, lions, cheetahs, wild dogs get caught in these traps. These carnivores the primary one being lions are the ones most affected due to the trading of bushmeat in two ways; by dramatically reducing the populations of animals that are food sources for lions such as antelopes and other small animals (pigs and boars) and by directly killing these animals who inadvertently are caught in the wire snares that are set to illegally harvest other species. The removal of any animal from the food chain causes an imbalance for both the species as well as other species dependant on it for food.
- Endangering of animals
There are roughly 301 mammal species threatened by hunting for bushmeat including 126 primates, 65 even-toed ungulates, 27 bats, 26 diprotodont marsupials, 21 rodents, 12 carnivores and all Pangolin species. On Bioko Island, off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, for example, hunting for bushmeat has decimated populations of the island’s seven endemic monkey species, which are all endangered. Another prime example is the elephant which have been hunted for their tusks are also for their meat. It has been done to the extent that the bushmeat trade is estimated to be worth higher than the ivory industry. While the ivory obtained from tusks may be sold for around $180 (in 2007), a poacher could sell the meat (approximately 1,000 pounds) for up to $6,000 this may be primarily due to the high demand and the fact that the elephant’s meat is considered prestigious and hence sold at higher costs. The elephant’s population has dropped by 62% in the recent decade and the situation has not improved since with population going from 1.34 million in 1976 to barely 415,00 elephants in 2018
The Impact of Bushmeat on Humans
Animal sources may have been the cause for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera, smallpox, measles, influenza, and syphilis acquired by early agrarians. The emergence of HIV-1, AIDS, Ebola virus disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are attributed to animal sources today. Thomas’s rope squirrel and red-legged sun squirrel were identified as reservoirs of the monkeypox virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1980s. Outbreaks of the Ebola virus in the Congo Basin and in Gabon in the 1990s have been associated with the butchering and consumption of chimpanzees and bonobos. The risk of bloodborne diseases to be transmitted is higher when butchering a carcass than when transporting, cooking and eating it. Many hunters and traders are not aware of zoonosis and the risks of disease transmissions. An interview survey in rural communities in Nigeria revealed that 55% of the respondents knew of zoonoses, but their education and cultural traditions are important drivers for hunting and eating bushmeat despite the risks involved.
Wild meat provides a primary food source for many millions of people throughout the developing world, especially where other food options are not readily available. Unsustainable hunting has now metamorphosed into a global hunting crisis taking the form of a serious threat to the food security of many people as well as the immediate survival of hundreds of mammal species, other wildlife and altered ecological cascades rippling through ecosystems. Averting this crisis requires bold and prompt actions. Approaches that benefit both local people and wildlife will be required to avoid a future of hungry desperate people inhabiting ‘empty landscapes’ across much of the planet Earth.