Cambridge, UK , Gland, Switzerland - The lack of meat in refugee rations in East Africa is causing a flourishing illegal trade in wild meat, threatening wildlife populations and creating a food security issue for rural communities, reveals a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
The report “‘Night Time Spinach’: Conservation and livelihood implications of wild meat use in refugee situations in north western Tanzania,” uses case studies from Kagera and Kigoma in Tanzania, host to one of the largest concentrations of refugees in the world, and the largest in Africa.
Illegally-obtained wild meat is covertly traded and cooked after dark and referred to as ‘night time spinach’ inside many refugee camps.
“The scale of wild meat consumption in East African refugee camps has helped conceal the failure of the international community to meet basic refugee needs,” says Dr George Jambiya, the main author of the report.
“Relief agencies are turning a blind eye to the real cause of the poaching and illegal trade: a lack of meat protein in refugees’ rations,” he added.
Sheer numbers of refugees often leads to extensive habitat degradation and dramatic loss of wildlife in affected areas, with rare species like chimpanzees threatened by the demand for meat. Populations of buffalo, sable antelope and other grazing animals have also shown steep declines.
Since Tanzanian independence in 1961, more than 20 major refugee camps have been located close to game reserves, national parks or other protected areas; 13 of them still remained in 2005. In the mid-1990s, an estimated 7.5 tons of illegal wild meat was consumed weekly in the two main refugee camps.
TRAFFIC says that refugees are doubly penalized: their rights to minimum humanitarian care are not always being met and their own attempts to meet them are criminalized. In contrast, humanitarian assistance to displaced populations in Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia during the early 1990s included the provision of corned beef.
“Something has to be wrong if refugees, who have run from guns in their home country, then find themselves fleeing wildlife rangers’ firearms in their search for food,” says Simon Milledge of TRAFFIC and an author of the report.
Trade in wild meat is less expensive than local beef and culturally more desirable for many refugees, also offering refugees the chance to generate income. That’s despite official Tanzanian refugee policy discouraging self-reliance within the camps. Conservation organizations believe the key is to supply meat from legal and sustainable wild meat supplies, as well as rigorous law enforcement on the ground.
“The sad reality is that those who most depend upon wild sources of food are usually the ones who pay the heaviest price for biodiversity loss,” says Dr Susan Lieberman, Director WWF’s International Species Programme. “WWF calls upon humanitarian agencies to provide for basic food security of refugees, including animal protein, to ensure a sustainable future for all.”
“The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species shows that many of Sub-Saharan Africa’s wildlife species are threatened, with around 20 percent suffering recorded population declines from the wild meat trade,” said Dr Jane Smart, Head of the World Conservation Union (IUCN)’s Global Species Programme. “Also the depletion of wildlife is likely to cause an overall loss of income as areas become devoid of species and of less interest to visitors, which may cause economic impacts as well as resentment by local people. ”
The report recommends closer partnerships between wildlife and humanitarian agencies, which have already showed progress to address other environmental impacts of refugee camps such as deforestation. Copies of the full report are available in English (PDF, 900 KB) and of the executive summary in French (PDF, 337 KB).
Contact: Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC, t + 44 1223 279068, m + 44 77434 82960, email email@example.com. Simon Milledge, Deputy Director, TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, (255 22) 2701676, email firstname.lastname@example.org Joanna Benn, Communications Manager, WWF Global Species Programme, t +39 06 84 497 212, email email@example.com Sarah Halls, Media Relations Officer, IUCN, +41 22 999 0127, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
These were the original contacts in 2008; for up-to-date information, please contact Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC, t + 44 1223 651782, m + 44 752 6646216, email email@example.com
• More than 800,000 refugees fled to Tanzania during the mid 1990s in two waves, the first to Kagera in mid-1994 and the second to Kigoma in 1996. Although many have since returned home, Tanzania still hosts the largest refugee population in Africa, around 548,000, the majority from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Almost two-thirds of them reside in formal refugee camps.
• TRAFFIC collaborated with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, UNHCR, WFP and many other organisations involved with both the management of refugee camps and wildlife in the production of this report.