No matter where you travel in the world, you are bound to find a few dishes a bit out of the ordinary. From the deadly blow fish, or “fugu”, to side street vendors selling all kinds of creepy crawlers in Thailand, to you guessed it, Africa’s bush meat. So what is this bush meat, who actually eats it, and how is it affecting the local wildlife?
What is Bush Meat
In Africa, forest is often referred to as ‘the bush’, thus wildlife and the meat derived from it is referred to as ‘bushmeat’ . This term applies to all wildlife species, including threatened and endangered, used for meat including: elephant; gorilla; chimpanzee and other primates; forest antelope; crocodile; porcupine; bush pig; cane rat; pangolin; monitor lizard; guinea fowl; and just about any other animal you can think of.
Bush Meat Quick Facts:
- Bush meat accounts for up to 80 percent of the protein intake of people in Central Africa.
- Up to 6 million tons of bush meat are extracted from the Congo Basin each year — nearly the equivalent of the annual beef production of Brazil.
- To produce this same amount of cattle in the region, as many as 25 million hectares of forest would have to be cleared for pasture — an area about the size of Great Britain.
- Not only rural people in the Congo Basin eat bush meat — urban people also consume it. Bush meat can be a necessity for poorer urban households because it is cheaper; for wealthier households, bush meat from larger, threatened species can be a luxury product.
- Hunting has also some strong cultural significance in Central Africa. It is variously associated with rituals and ceremonies, such as circumcision ceremonies in Gabon. Some species hunted for bush meat are thought to have magical or medicinal properties that increase their value. Conversely, taboos on certain types of bush meat are widespread in parts of Central Africa.
Eating Bush Meat
When it comes to eating bush meat, clearly tons of people still do, from local farmers to hunter and gatherers right down to your urban salesman walking the streets of downtown. So what are the risks of eating bush meat and are people taking this tradition to lightly?
The biggest threat comes in the form of a nasty virus, Ebola. Known for it’s early flu like symptoms, this virus is not your typical 24 hour bug, in fact without proper treatment, Ebola can cause internal bleeding, coughing up of blood, and death. Despite the increase in Ebola cases being reported in the area and related directly to bush meat, those who love tradition love to continue their dining on their favorite dish.
The Impact on Wildlife
Due to the ongoing concerns of wildlife impact, the BCTF, or Bush Meat Crisis Task Force, is concerned with bush meat that is illegally, commercially and/or derived from wildlife, including that characterized by:
- Illegal methods of hunting (wire snares, unregistered guns);
- Illegal species (endangered, threatened, or protected);
- Taken from unauthorized areas; and
- Unsustainable off take for commercial trade or non-commercial uses.
Bush meat has been around since the beginning of the hunter and gather tradition, so who’s to say that eating bush meat is right or wrong when it comes to tradition and cultural. However, understanding the potential health risks of eating this often exotic meat, as well as the impact on local wildlife may give you something to ponder the next time you stop by your local side street vendor and order a fresh porcupine tail.