Published 16 October 2009


New analysis sounds alarm over scale of bushmeat trade in Central Africa

Cambridge, UK, 16th October 2009 — New analytical techniques have revealed that the scale of bushmeat trade in Central Africa may be much larger than originally thought, according to a study published today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. 

Bushmeat market, Makokou, Gabon. © Natalie van Vliet / TRAFFIC

The study, based on an analysis of food balance sheets provided by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s statistical database FAOSTAT, strongly supports the view that the current situation surrounding bushmeat hunting in Central African rainforests is precarious. According to the analysis, bushmeat extraction rose considerably in the Congo Basin between 1990 and 2005, despite the overall decrease in forest cover in Central Africa.

Cameroon appears to be exceeding—by more than 100%—an estimated sustainable offtake of 150 kg of game meat per square kilometre of forest, and Gabon and the Republic of Congo are both close to this limit. The greatest rise in bushmeat production was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the yield rose from 78,000 tonnes in 1990 to 90,000 tonnes in 2005. In the Republic of Congo, production almost doubled, from 11,000 to 20,000 tonnes per year in the same time period.

“While the FAOSTAT bushmeat data are probably underestimates and should be regarded with caution, they are the most readily available official sources of information on wild meat production in the Congo Basin and are valuable indicators of production and consumption trends,” says Stefan Ziegler, Programme Officer with WWF Germany, and report author.

Wildlife is a significant and direct source of protein for more than 34 million people living in the Congo Basin and bushmeat hunting is a key component of many peoples’ livelihoods in Central Africa. 

Earlier studies have demonstrated that bushmeat extraction increases with human population growth. However, the latest study finds that bushmeat consumption increases significantly with personal wealth too.

“Bushmeat consumption is higher in countries with large urban populations, and the increasing urbanization in the Congo region is likely to place even greater pressure on wild animal populations there,” says Ziegler,

“The danger is unsustainable offtake of wild game will lead to a collapse in wild animal populations and widespread human hunger in the region,” says Ziegler. 

Unsustainable harvest levels are widely believed to be the most immediate threat to the region’s forest mammals. 

“Local people have hunted for centuries, for food and for barter, but the last 20 years have seen the emergence of a commercial bushmeat market due to rural people being increasingly drawn into the cash economy,” says Nathalie van Vliet, TRAFFIC Bushmeat Strategic Advisor. 

“The impacts of subsistence hunting was previously balanced by the fact of the hunting was done on a rotation basis on alternate tracts of forest areas. However, shifts in human population dynamics and socio-economic factors are leading to rising, and increasingly unsustainable demands on wild animal populations.” 

An earlier WCS study found that offtake by commercial hunters in south-eastern Cameroon was ten times more per immigrant hunter than for local subsistence hunters.

“What is clear is that management strategies to prevent over-harvesting need to be implemented and measures put in place to provide alternative sources of protein for the inhabitants of the region.”

However, the study also indicated that the development of animal husbandry may not be an ideal solution to provide substitute protein for game meat.

The study, Application of food balance sheets to assess the scale of the bushmeat trade in Central Africa, was launched today at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Bushmeat Liaison Group Meeting, currently taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Further to the results of the study, TRAFFIC is encouraging countries in Central Africa to enhance enforcement efforts and establish concrete law enforcement mechanisms targeted at curbing commercial bushmeat poaching. “Central African countries can cooperate in addressing this growing problem through the development of a regional enforcement plan and creating the political will to combat commercial bushmeat poaching in regional fora such as the upcoming Yaounde +10 Summit." says Germain Ngandjui, TRAFFIC's representative in Central Africa.

The reportApplication of food balance sheets to assess the scale of the bushmeat trade in Central Africa