Eaten Out of Existence?: A Look At the Bushmeat Trade

// Written by Alba Tomasula y Garcia //

Although most of the world’s meat supply comes from domestic animals such as cows and pigs, bushmeat, commonly defined as “meat from Africa’s wild animals traded for human consumption”, is increasingly becoming part of the human diet (Jones). Bushmeat hunting has long been a subsistence activity, but in the 21st century it has become a multi-billion dollar international industry involving hundreds of species. This development, facilitated as it is “by the opening up of formerly remote areas by logging companies,” is increasingly pushing many rare and endangered animals ever closer to extinction (Miles 226). The increase in the bushmeat trade and the dwindling populations of numerous species has as much to do with global demands as it does with local appetite, but it is the human populations surrounding the forests where rare animals still live, those who are given no alternative source of protein, who are often saddled with the majority of the blame.

There are numerous reasons why bushmeat consumption is on the rise. For starters, the taboos and restrictions surrounding the eating of certain animals are disappearing. Ape meat, for example, was “limited by tradition in many places, [but] these taboos are beginning to break down as human population increases force many to live at the edge of forests, areas in which protein-rich food is often scarce (Ghose). As such, an increasing amount of apes are being killed for the bushmeat trade. Dr. Cleve Hicks, a member of the research team monitoring the slaughter of chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, estimated that roughly 440 members of this endangered species were being killed every year in this region alone (Randerson). And chimpanzees certainly aren’t the only great apes suffering due to the bushmeat trade; “New roads, guns and cars also enable people to hunt gorillas and bring carcasses to city markets, where they fetch a handsome sum” (Ghose). Although the great apes and other primates have received the most attention due to the high possibility of infection (it is hypothesized that humans contracted HIV from chimpanzees slaughtered for bushmeat (Lovgren), literally hundreds of species are targeted by poachers and traders. By 2000, “the illegal bushmeat trade was estimated to be worth nearly US$1 billion annually,” and the market, both local and international, shows no signs of slowing down (Miles 226). Indeed, a recent study estimated that “as much as 270 tonnes of bushmeat might be coming through a single airport in Paris annually” (Jones). Given the scale of slaughter, it comes as no surprise that “more than a quarter of all mammal species hunted for bushmeat are threatened with extinction” (Jones).

So many animals are being killed for bushmeat that new evidence indicates that the business is beginning to alter Africa’s rain forests. Animals like gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, for example, are seed dispersers for plants such as the bush mango; “When hunters kill gorillas and other primates for their meat, the primates no longer disperse the seeds of some fruit- and nut-bearing trees, and wind-dispersed seedlings take root instead” (Ghose). While the bushmeat trade does provide local people with meat, that is, it is also causing the disappearance of many food-producing trees. It has been suggested that great ape species in Africa are “at risk of extinction over the next two decades if the trade continues at its current rate”; their extinction would likely be followed by the disappearance of the many trees that depend upon these animals to disperse their seeds (Jones).

The bushmeat trade is an international problem, but steps are being taken to alleviate at least a few of its causes. It has, for starters, been recognized that “people who currently rely on the illegal bushmeat trade for their livelihood or as an essential protein source need to be given alternative options” (Jones). While this is one of the biggest challenges to halting the bushmeat trade, some countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda, have given former poachers jobs as park rangers and wildlife guides for tourists (Ghose). Dr. Fa, the chief conservation officer for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, has also noted that in Africa “providing alternatives like frozen fish or chicken could easily alleviate pressure on threatened animals,” as the taste and affordability of an animal is (at least on the local level) often more important than the rarity of the species in question (Nuwer). Yet there are numerous roadblocks to implementing any one of these possible solutions. Many of the countries central to the bushmeat trade are poor and suffer from corruption, and the clearing of forests to make way for mining, logging, and other concessions, both legal and illegal, gives hunters greater access to endangered animals such as the great apes (Randerson). In addition, many Africans have been forced to turn to bushmeat because other sources of protein have been removed by global forces; “Factory fishing by foreign vessels along the coast of West Africa, for example, has contributed to the decline of fish stocks. This in turn has contributed to increased hunting pressures in nature reserves in Ghana, and to a decline of mammal populations there” (Miles 228). While many Africans prefer chicken, fish, and other cheap sources of protein to bushmeat, such sources are increasingly difficult to get (Nuwer).


Ghose, Tia. “Bushmeat Hunting In African Rainforests May Be Changing the Ecology.” In Huffington Post: Green. March 20, 2013.

Jones, Mark. “Is Africa’s wildlife being eaten to extinction?” BBC News, Science and Environment. August 3, 2010.

Lovegren, Stefan. “HIV Originated With Monkeys, Not Chimps, Study Finds.” National Geographic News. June 12, 2003.

Miles, Lera, Julian Caldecott, and Christian Nellemann. “Challenges to Great Ape Survival.” In World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation.Eds. Julian Caldecott and Lera Miles. University of California Press, Berkely and Lost Angeles, California. 2005

Nuwer, Rachel. “Closing In on Africa’s Bush Meat Trade.” In The New York Times Green: Energy, the Environment and the Bottom Line. December 29, 2011.

Randerson, James. “Congolese chimpanzees face new ‘wave of killing’ for bushmeat: Scientists say chimps face ‘major and urgent threat’ as the bushmeat trade expands in country’s north.” In The Guardian Wildlife. September 7, 2010.



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