Bushmeat Debate: How Can We Save Gorillas Without Starving People?

By Eliza Strickland
Sep 16, 2008 9:31 PMJul 13, 2023 4:00 PM


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The debate over bushmeat, meat from wild animals like gorillas, elephants, and antelope in Central Africa, just got more complicated. While some environmentalists have argued that a strict hunting ban is the only way to save endangered animals, a new report from the non-profit Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) argues that a blanket hunting ban would help neither the animals nor the people who depend on them for food. However, bushmeat hunting also can't continue at its current rate, the report states.

"If current levels of hunting persist in Central Africa, bush meat protein supplies will fall dramatically, and a significant number of forest mammals will become extinct in less than 50 years" [Telegraph],

says report author Robert Nasi. The best solution is to legalize some hunting while enacting tough regulations and enforcement, says CIFOR director Frances Seymour:

"Criminalising the whole issue of bushmeat simply drives it underground. We need to decriminalise parts of this hunting and trade and give local communities the rights and incentives to manage these resources sustainably for their own benefit" [BBC News].

The report says that bushmeat is a vital resource for local communities:

bushmeat currently provides up to 80 percent of the protein and fat needed in rural diets in Central Africa, a region that is rife with poverty.... "People that eat bushmeat or sell bushmeat to pay for medicines or school fees of their children, should not be presented as 'criminals,'" said Nathalie Van Vliet, an associate expert for CIFOR in Cameroon [LiveScience].

The report suggests that people could sustainably hunt some common antelope and large rodents, while leaving the larger animals like endangered primates alone. However, a peek inside a restaurant in Cameroon's capital city, Yaounde, reveals that an appetite exists for larger and more exotic animals, and officials might have a difficult time cutting off the supply.

Elegant waitresses offer patrons a menu of mainly common game -- pangolin, antelope, bush pig, monkey, cane rat and viper.... But in a fridge outside, a Reuters reporter saw two arms of what appeared to be a gorilla or a chimpanzee -- thick black fur and hands still attached -- together with a piece of what a restaurant employee said was elephant meat. "If you want to eat meat of big animals like chimpanzee, gorilla and even the elephant, you make a special arrangement with her and she will supply it to you," a military officer who frequents the restaurant said of the owner [Reuters].

Recently, bushmeat has been turning up in American and European markets; read about it in the DISCOVER article, "Extinction--It's What's for Dinner."

Image: CIFOR/Nathalie van Vliet

Related Post: New Threat to Primates Worldwide: Being "Eaten Into Extinction"

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