The issue



Bushmeat - meat from wild animals – is a regular source of food and income for many of West and Central Africa’s poorest inhabitants but crisis is looming for both wildlife and people.


Hunting has increased as roads built to serve the logging industry allow hunters with guns and wire snares to penetrate ever deeper into the forest. Meanwhile, urbanization and population growth has led to increased markets for bushmeat in towns and cities.

  • 155 million people in West and Central Africa live on less than a dollar a day


Unsustainable bushmeat hunting and habitat loss threaten the very existence of the endangered Great Apes – gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. However, increasing scarcity of forest and wildlife resources will also have devastating consequences for people who depend on the forests for their everyday needs.



  • Often the most destructive hunting is not carried out by local hunters but by “professional poachers” with access to better weapons and transport


On a global scale, all of humanity relies on the huge rainforests of the Congo Basin to store carbon and keep the global climate stable. Indeed, “there are significant risks to the achievement of all Millenium Development Goals, and not just MDG7 about environmental sustainability, if the current pace of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity losses continues unchecked” (EU TEEB report 2010).





This is a complex problem. Corruption, poor law enforcement, and human rights issues all need to be addressed to counter habitat loss and unsustainable exploitation of environmental resources.






One of the driving forces behind the bushmeat crisis is the demand for timber products around the world, as logging roads open up new areas and workers in logging camps add to demand for meat from the forest. Bushmeat is often transported on logging trucks to markets in fast-growing cities.


The Forestry Stewardship Council is an international organisation set up to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of the international timber trade. Timber companies can apply for FSC certification which means that their timber operations are monitored by an external auditor against a set of principles, including protecting workers and forest-dwelling people from exploitation and protecting ‘high-value’ species and habitats. It should be noted that some observers believe that the process needs to be stricter, particularly in countries where law enforcement is challenged by corrupt regimes and civil conflict.


If you are buying timber products - furniture, building materials, paper, or charcoal - look out for the FSC label, but remember the certificate only applies to the product not everything produced by that company. You may also want to do some research yourself into whether Chatham House have any concerns about certification or illegal logging in the country where your potential purchase comes from.


Reducing dependence on bushmeat


hunters with bee keeping certificates

Conservation projects in Cameroon and other Congo Basin countries aim to establish alternative livelihoods for hunters and communities dependent on bushmeat for protein and income. One example is the Lebialem Bee-keeping Initiative, where former hunters have learnt how to keep bees and take part in a co-operative to sell the honey. In some areas, ex-hunters have been trained as ecotourism guides. Projects like these also offer environmental education, making hunters and communities aware of the unique nature of the wildlife in their area and the benefits of conservation.


Community development initiatives can make it easier for people to stick to rules on the conservation of local resources. As an example, Projet Grande Singes in Cameroon supports community farming initiatives and helped launch a Community Wildlife Management Committee to develop and apply rules for sustainable hunting. Another example is ERUDEF - the Environment and Rural Development Foundation - a Cameroonian non-governmental organisation which aims to conserve wildiife and protect fragile environments through research, education and community engagement, including the development of eco-tourism in gorilla habitat.


This is a video interview with Community Forest Manager Janvier Mondoa, recorded for the Silent Forests project during his study visit to the UK. The Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest is near Limbe, Cameroon and works to improve people's livelihoods through sustainable forest management and ecotourism.



Stricter law enforcement


Some projects and government initiatives also use a ‘stick’ as well as or instead of a ‘carrot’ approach. Endangered species like the Great Apes are already protected by national and international law, and enforcement of these laws with fines and even prison sentences is becoming more common in some countries whilst national parks and other strictly protected areas often employ eco-guards to police rules on hunting and other uses of the forest by local people.


In some areas, there are concerns that the costs of conservation are borne by the poorest members of society - people who are used to relying on forest resources - whilst the benefits are controlled by more powerful national or international organisations.



Someone does have to pay in the short term to conserve valuable resources for the long-term: Who and how this is organised are important issues for local, national and international debate. Each case needs to be assessed with regard to both wildlife conservation and actual economic benefit to the local community.




People have always hunted wildlife and for many, it is still central to their way of life. There is an on-going controversy about whether it is possible to manage hunting of some highly productive wildlife species so that the harvest can be sustained. Great Apes and other primates usually have so few offspring that any hunting is very likely to cause population decline. There are also huge animal welfare concerns about hunting such sociable and intelligent animals. Some people think that common wild species, such as the cane rat and some arteriodactyls (pig/deer-like species), ought to be freely hunted. Others say that a hunter with snares and guns can’t or won’t discriminate and that people should find ways to farm these species instead, or should eat other alternative protein like chicken, fish or soya beans.



  • Should hunting only meet needs not wants?
  • Should all bushmeat hunting be strictly banned?
  • Should ‘human rights’ be extended to our closest relatives - the Great Apes?
  • Who should pay for conservation of wildlife and forest resources?






Read more about the bushmeat crisis on


Look into current research and conservation initiatives by UK Zoological Society of London on


Take action on this issue



Recommended reading and link details


The timber industry



Alternative livelihoods






Other factors in the bushmeat crisis




Bushmeat facts references and links



  1. D. S. Wilkie &  J.F. Carpenter Bushmeat hunting in the Congo Basin: an assessment of impacts and options for mitigation. Biodiversity and Conservation 8: 927–955, 1999; Fa, J. E., Peres, C. A., & Meeuwig, J. Bushmeat exploitation in tropical forests: an intercontinental comparison. Conservation Biology 16, 232-241, 2002
  2. Conservation and Use of Wildlife-Based Resources: The Bushmeat Crisis CBD Technical Series No 33, 2008
  3. Anne-Lise Chaber, Sophie Allebone-Webb, Yves Lignereux, Andrew A. Cunningham, J. Marcus Rowcliffe. The scale of illegal meat importation from Africa to Europe via Paris. Conservation Letters, 2010 reported at:
  4. The Gorilla Foundation:
  5. Anthony D. Barnosky, Nicholas Matzke, Susumu Tomiva, Guinevere O. U. Wogan, Brian Swartz, Tiago B. Quental, Charles Marshall, Jenny L. McGuire, Emily L. Lindsey, Kaitlin C. Maguire, Ben Mersey and Elizabeth A. Ferrer. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction crisis arrived? Nature. Vol 471, Issue 7336, March 2011:
  7. ...and those are only the ones that were recorded before they disappeared. For a list of creatures that will never be seen again visit:
  8. IUCN Redlist 2010: For a summary, visit:




Bushmeat Facts

Between 1 and 5 million tonnes of bushmeat are removed from Congo Basin forests every year (1)



Harvest rates are almost certainly unsustainable:

"...we are witnessing massive and completely unmanaged harvesting, in conditions of ever-increasing public access, improvements in destructive technologies, wide availability of arms, ammunition and growing penetration by high spending and strategically-positioned “elites"..." (2)



A 2010 study estimated that up to 5 tonnes of bushmeat is smuggled into Europe each week via Paris airport (3)



With few offspring and high rates of natural mortality, gorillas and other primates are especially vulnerable to over-hunting (4)



The bushmeat crisis is part of what people are calling the sixth mass extinction, the biggest loss of species since the dinosaurs disappeared (5)



Major threats to wildlife in the 21st century include over-hunting, deforestation, introduced species and pollution (6)



Over 700 species of animal have gone extinct in the wild since 1500AD (7)



1 in 5 mammals, 1 in 8 birds, and 1 in 3 amphibians are at a very high risk of extinction (8)


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