In Africa, any meat that comes from wild animals in the forest is referred to as “bushmeat” and it has long been a food source for the forest-dwelling peoples of Central Africa, collectively named “pygmies”. (This term is inaccurate, as studies show that they are not a genetically, culturally, or linguistically unique group; “pygmies” are a conglomeration of ethnic groups each with separate languages, customs, technology, and locations whose only common attribute is that they are traditional hunter-gatherers living in Central African forests.) An increase in populations on the outer edges of the forests has created a demand for bushmeat in nearby cities and towns, and many “pygmies” and illegal hunters have found satisfying this demand to be economically beneficial. The commercial bushmeat trade is ecologically damaging and threatens the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of the African forests.

Typically, foraging societies will practice hunting and gathering solely for subsistence or ceremonial purposes unless influenced by an external force, and have a synergistic relationship with their environment. Modern foragers differ greatly from their ancestors as they are no longer independent societies and are influenced by regional trade, war, nation and international policies, and political and economic pressures. For these reasons, the “pygmies” no longer subsist purely on bushmeat and fruits and vegetables they gather themselves, but trade these items with local farmers in exchange for produce or sell to people in the cities. Rapid population growth in Africa and urbanization contributes to a higher demand.

Historically, limitations to this trade were mainly due to difficulty in accessing deeper regions of the forest. Growth of the timber industry dominated by foreign companies is, according to the Ape Alliance , largely to blame for the increasingly easy access to forested areas by creating logging roads that extend into previously unreachable regions. Hunters now use these roads to transport the meat to urban areas and loggers sometimes hunt in order to provide themselves and their families with food. In addition to deforestation, it also places already vulnerable species in an even more precarious position.

The transition to commercialized hunting of bushmeat is unsustainable, threatening the existence of local species and the health of local ecosystems. Research done by the Ape Alliance found that the crowned geunon monkey of Equatorial Guinea is being hunted at 28 times the sustainable level. A combination of habitat loss and unsustainable hunting means that flagship species such as gorillas or chimpanzees are at risk, as are less emotive species such as the Blue Duiker, shown below.

(http://www.africanbushmeat.org/fieldGuide/done/FGBlueDuiker.html)

While the threat to biodiversity is more than enough to warrant concern over the commercial bushmeat trade, the additional risks to human health and loss of cultural diversity is also concerning. Freddy Manongi of the College of African Wildlife Management in Tanzania stressed in a Rwanda Development Gateway article that eating bushmeat poses a risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as Ebola and Marburg from animals to humans. In addition to decline in wild animal populations, the potential decline wildlife tourism would be detrimental to many local and national African economies and indigenous societies.

Advertisements