THE ILLEGAL BUSH MEAT TRADE The second half of the 20 th century has seen the continent of Africa in continuous turmoil. Civil wars, the AIDS epidemic, deforestation, and desertification are just a few of the problems facing Africa. A more recent threat to this ancient and fragile environment has emerged and is quickly gaining strength at devouring life - the bush meat trade. "Bush meat" refers to the smoked carcasses of various wild, and often endangered species that are sold illegally at rural markets of undeveloped countries and even at ethnic markets in developed nations. The meat of gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants are considered delicacies and the demand for these endangered species is increasingly high. Countries at the center of this crisis are Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Cameroon, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.
Bush meat plays a crucial socio-economic role to many in Africa, and as such epitomizes the need to balance protection against such factors as poverty, health, and food security. Certain key issues are necessary to understand the bush meat trade: 1. Bush meat is not purely a tropical forest-related phenomenon, but is Africa-wide and indeed a global problem. - Bush meat utilization is a significant conservation, economic, and cultural issue in non-forested areas of eastern and southern Africa- Bush meat is regarded as one of the most beneficial wildlife resources available to local communities. Demand is high and is increasing at alarming rates 2. Bush meat crucial as a source of cheap protein for malnourished people throughout Africa- Over 90% of rural peoples in Central Africa eat less than half of the recommended protein intake 3.
With growing populations, demand for bush meat will continue to grow 4. Poverty in the face of diminishing alternative resources, means that traditional taboos restricting the consumption of certain animals is increasingly ignored-Some claim that since we humans are 97% related genetically to chimps and gorillas that eating them is tantamount to cannibalism 5. Even though subsistence use of bush meat still predominates over most areas of eastern and southern Africa, an emerging trend of increased commercial trade is evident- Bush meat is making its way into Europe in large quantities and is even found in ethnic markets in the UK The core of the problem appears to be logging. Logging companies build roads to previously inaccessible areas making contact to bush meat much easier. Some companies actually hire employees to buy the meat, while others supply hunters with guns and ammunition and even transport the catch between forests and markets.
Some blame governments for not expelling poachers. The governments turn around and say that logging companies have the power to expel the poachers themselves. Environmentalists charge that governments fail to enforce laws against illegal guns and poaching. One obstacle of effective regulation is that many law enforcement personnel are not concerned with illegal trade in bush meat due to the belief that it is purely subsistence motivated. Identification of species can become tricky once the carcasses are skinned or the meat has been dried, a frequent practice in the trade to deceive enforcement officials. Another obstacle is found in the civil wars that have killed or dislocated millions of Central Africans in the past decade.
These conflicts have made gorillas more vulnerable to depredations, and even now significant portions of gorilla habitat are unreachable by conservation forces. Not only are animals being murdered in mass quantities, but also orphaned great apes are being sold as exotic pets, a trade detrimental to the animals' health. For every one chimp that survives to be sold, more than 50 will have died or have been killed en route. In the Congo Republic alone 600 lowland gorillas and 3, 000 chimps are killed for their meat each year. Ghana harvests a volume of about 350, 000 tons of bush meat valued at $350 million per year. Plant species are also being lost as wildlife has a role in perpetuating plant life.
Certain species of trees will not grow without elephant dung. Humans, like the indigenous Akan, are in danger of losing the whole fabric of their culture by the bush meat trade. The Akan practice a form of animism that relates humans to animals, but as species disappear, so do their intricate clan networks. Things do not look like they will be quickly improving for the Akan, as only 5% of their native Ghana is protected, leaving the remainder of the country to the mercy of hunters. Solutions to the bush meat problem will only be found by an international effort. Conservation of wood products as well as boycotts of such businesses like the Boise Cascade logging company is necessary to reduce loggers' power in preventing government enforcement.
Alternatives to bush meat have also been suggested, and it is said that smoked beef and mutton taste like bush meat and could help reduce the demand for the progressively more rare meat of endangered species.