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Wild animals for food and medicine

Wild pig being taken by bicycle to market, Tanzania © Simon Milledge / TRAFFICMeat of wild mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds forms an important component of human diets and as medicinal ingredients around the world.

In some, usually rural areas “wild meat”, popularly termed “bushmeat”, is the only accessible and/or affordable form of animal protein available. In others, including much of the world’s urban settlements, bushmeat is eaten preferentially for its taste or for the very fact of its wildness.

Wild animals are also used as a source of medicines, particularly within Asia and Africa. In Asia, a variety of body parts are included in traditional medicine pharmacopoeia. In fact, there is often not a clear line between consumption for food or consumption for medicine, with some species eaten for their “tonic” properties.

An increasing number of vertebrate species are being hunted to dangerously low levels as a result of increased commercial demand for meat and medicines, with many now in danger of extinction.

TRAFFIC strives to reverse current declines in wild species’ populations and consequent risks to local food security resulting from over-exploitation for meat and medicines, by helping ensure that empty stomachs do not lead to empty forests.

TRAFFIC’s Central Africa programme, based in Cameroon, operates a bushmeat programme that endeavours to monitor the trade in the region. In September 2009, TRAFFIC help convene a workshop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where government agencies and others drew up a National Action Plan to address the unsustainable bushmeat trade, which is driving animals such as Gorillas, Bonobos and other large-bodied mammals to extinction in the region.

TRAFFIC’s work is promoting the development and uptake of such strategies at the national, transboundary and regional level, incorporating tools to support better trade monitoring, encouraging greater enforcement efforts to address trade in threatened and protected species, and considering alternative methods to meet human needs currently being met through unsustainable hunting (see Biodiversity for Food and Medicine leaflet, PDF, 1.7 MB).

In Tanzania, TRAFFIC drew attention to the need to manage the supply of wild meat protein available in refugee camps so that local wildlife populations are not devastated but harvested sustainably, and to ensure residents of such camps have sufficient protein to eat. Similar work is underway in Zimbabwe.

Previously, TRAFFIC had provided the first ever overview on trade in meat for food and medicine in Eastern and Southern Africa (PDF, 150 KB).

Increasing affluence in major consumer markets, particularly in China, coupled with improvements in transport infrastructure is leading to spiralling demand for many wild animal species.

Pangolins are the most frequently encountered mammals seized from illegal traders in the region. In June 2008, TRAFFIC convened a pangolin experts meeting in Singapore. They concluded that despite adequate paper protection, the illegal trade in Asian pangolin meat and scales has caused the scaly anteaters to disappear from the region. TRAFFIC is working closely with enforcement agencies, to encourage clampdowns on the illicit trade.

TRAFFIC has carried out trade investigations into the widespread trade in freshwater Asian turtles exported as meat from southeast Asia to China. Several species are known to be undergoing significant populations declines in the region.

In the Americas, TRAFFIC’s has investigated the trade in reptiles, particularly snakes, in Mexico (PDF, 1.6 MB) and Central America (PDF, 1.3 MB), where animals are targeted for their valuable skins and for their meat. Unsustainable off-take is leading to significant populations declines of many species.

New approaches to reducing illegal and commercial hunting in Yasuní Biosphere Reserve in Amazonian Ecuador include TRAFFIC partnering with existing womens’ groups in indigenous communities to reduce the illicit trade in wild meat.

TRAFFIC has also monitored traditional medicine and meat markets for Asian communities living in the Americas, Oceania and elsewhere to uncover evidence of wildlife products being illegally imported to supply local demand.

In the European Union, recent work by TRAFFIC has revealed the level of illegal trade in wild birds, particularly from countries in Southeast Europe to restaurants in Italy and Malta.

Research in Russia has analysed the socio-economic trends and livelihood aspects of hunting and trapping for fur (PDF, 1.1 MB) in comparison to other wild animal products including meat.

Many of TRAFFIC's reports into the wild meat trade can be downloaded as PDFs. A catalogue listing relevant titles can be downloaded at the publications search page.