Bushmeat Crisis
In West Africa and the Congo Basin, Bushmeat is Now the Leading Threat
to Great Apes and Monkeys
By Natasha Tworoski

While the term “bushmeat” can simply stand for any wild animal killed for the purpose of eating its meat, most often in media it is used to refer to the illegal hunting of endangered, protected animals in Africa. The meat is either eaten by the hunter or sold to earn much-needed income. Ultimately, it is one of the few resources people in impoverished countries can use to meet basic protein requirements.

However, there are many factors that determine which species have the most pressure put on them and they can vary significantly by region. In countries of West Africa as well as in the Congo basin, bushmeat is now the leading threat to great apes, along with monkeys, elephants, antelope and almost any species that hunters opportunistically find in their forests.

Meat from illegally poached, endangered animals is often sold for much-needed cash.
Part of the problem lies with expanding human populations and thus an increase in demand for food. In some areas, consumption of great ape meat is believed to hold medicinal value or to be equated with high status. However, the biggest demand of bushmeat comes from commercial hunters who typically work for the timber industries and opportunistically hunt whatever animals they happen upon in the forest. The meat is then dried and distributed, not just within Africa, but across the globe, including cities throughout the United States and across Europe.

Spanning across six countries in central Africa is the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the Congo Basin. From within the Congo basin alone, 6 million tons of bushmeat is taken from the forests each year. There is no easy solution to this, as keeping livestock here is not common. Additionally, trying to replace this amount of meat with livestock such as cattle would bring with it a new type of environmental disaster, including major deforestation and large amounts of waste products.

Monkeys and apes mistakenly caught in traps like this one, or metal snares like the one at the top of the page, often die or suffer deformities.
In some African countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, great apes are not targeted for their meat and it is considered taboo to eat them. Great apes are still unfortunately affected by the bushmeat trade when poachers use wire snares or horrific metal traps meant for other animals, such as small deer and monkeys. Great apes will unknowingly place a hand or foot in the loop and when the wire tightens, their reaction is to pull away, which constricts the loop more. Animals are sometimes left for days in agony before a poacher returns to find them. As a result, great apes can suffer severe deformities or the loss of hands or feet, potentially leading to death. In countries such as these, habitat loss is the leading cause of declining ape populations.

An additional factor in the culture of bushmeat is availability and taste preference. For example, in major cities in DRC and Central African Republic, bushmeat is viewed as a cheap form of protein and readily available. Countries like Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea have easier access to fish and chicken, making bushmeat more of a luxury item.

Besides the threat of extinction looming over African wildlife due to the bushmeat crisis, there is also the risk of disease transmission. For example, great apes are as adversely affected by the Ebola virus as humans. Ebola can be transmitted to humans from contact with contaminated meat and eating bushmeat is believed to be a cause of Ebola outbreaks in humans. With 180,000 pounds of bushmeat being smuggled into the United States annually, this problem could quickly affect any of us.

PASA is working hard to get the message out about the threat of bushmeat and there are ways for you to help.Please make your voice heard by signing our petition to U.S. Customs to improve security and prevent the illegal import of bushmeat.

You can also fight the bushmeat trade by donating to PASA. Our 23 member sanctuaries across 13 African countries are committed to educational outreach and working with African communities to create culturally relevant plans to decrease bushmeat hunting and consumption, while providing communities with viable alternative sources of income. Please contribute today, before our closest relatives are extinct.

The biggest demand of bushmeat comes from commercial hunters who hunt whatever animals they happen upon in the forest.
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