Eating the Wild: Bushmeat crisis global, pervasive and still a threat


Bushmeat Q&A

Q: What is Bushmeat?
A: In Africa, the forest is often referred to as 'the bush', thus wildlife and the meat derived from it is referred to as 'bushmeat.’

Q: What is the Crisis? 
A: Commercial, illegal and unsustainable hunting for the meat of wild animals is causing widespread local extinctions in Asia and West Africa. It is a crisis because of rapid expansion to countries and species which were previously not at risk, largely due to an increase in commercial logging, with an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers


February 19, 2009 – The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF) marks a decade as a center for action and information on the bushmeat crisis in Africa and around the world. But despite the many accomplishments of the past ten years, the coalition stresses the bushmeat crisis remains a threat to wildlife, biodiversity and local communities.

BCTF first convened in February 1999 as a consortium of conservationists, biologists, animal welfare advocates, humanitarian agencies, medical researchers and experts dedicated to the conservation of wildlife populations threatened by commercial hunting for sale as meat. WWF is among the 28 organizations and agencies that are part of BCTF and has served in the Steering Committee over the years.

Richard Carroll, WWF’s managing director in the Congo Basin who was present at that first meeting recalls, “'After years of work in the field, we realized that the bushmeat trade was the leading cause of biodiversity loss in the Congo Basin and that concerted action and awareness raising was essential.”

Bushmeat trade and utilization is at the convergence of biodiversity conservation, livelihoods and food security in many developing countries. Wildlife is critically important as a source of cheap and preferred protein and can, when traded, provide a source of cash where few alternative sources of income are available.

The crisis is particularly acute in conflict areas where refugee camps near protected areas have led to extensive habitat degradation and dramatic loss of wildlife with rare species like chimpanzees threatened by the demand for meat. “Night Time Spinach”, a TRAFFIC study in Tanzania, found that the lack of meat in refugee rations caused a flourishing illegal trade, threatened wildlife populations and created a food security issue for rural communities.

The approach
BCTF adopted a multi-pronged approach to the crisis, supporting field projects and anti-poaching operations, engaging policy makers, scientists and development officials, and educating the public.

From a collaboration with the École de Faune de Garoua (Garoua Wildlife School) in Cameroon to develop and implement a bushmeat curriculum for mid-career wildlife managers to the current MENTOR (Mentoring for Environmental Training in outreach and Resource Conservation) program that is providing a wealth of bushmeat management capacity-building opportunities for conservationists in East Africa, BCTF has led important collaborative efforts.

BCTF’s expertise has been important in many bushmeat policy efforts adopted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity, the African Forestry Law Enforcement and Governance agreement, the World Conservation Union, and the Society for Conservation Biology.

“It’s very encouraging to see the awareness of bushmeat as a threat to biodiversity raised substantially as a result of BCTF’s work over the past 10 years,” said Matthew Lewis who leads WWF’s species conservation work in Africa and serves on the BCTF Steering Committee. “Many conservation organizations have now developed bushmeat strategies in recognition of this as an explicit threat that must be addressed directly, not only in Africa but also in Asia.”

Going global
The bushmeat issue today is widely recognized as one of the highest priority conservation threats facing global biodiversity. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN, has observed a marked increase in international trade too, notably African bushmeat trafficked to North America and Europe. 

“The bushmeat crisis took a new turn when  trade went global – wildlife is now shipped and smuggled to provide African expatriates with a welcome taste of home,” said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC in North America. “BCTF has brought together partners to address the persistent and growing demand for bushmeat, which continues to endanger wildlife and risk human health in countries outside Africa.”

Learn more:

Wildlife trade

Congo Basin