Legalizing bushmeat hunting will not solve the food crisis

I am incredulous that the Centre of International Forestry Research (CIFOR) would suggest bushmeat hunting be legalized, giving the local people the task of policing themselves. This position shows remarkable naïveté and totally fails to understand the realities on the ground. A hungry population is never going to practice conservation of food, especially where it can be had free from the forest.

CIFOR argues that since up to 80% of the rural households in central and western Africa already depend on bushmeat for their daily protein requirements then a blanket ban on the trade would endanger both humans and wildlife. They call for regulated but legal uptake of wildlife protein. Maybe, but just how can this be done?

There are no mechanisms to regulate this even with the best legislation. Past experience with forest products, poppies, ivory and charcoal are all legitimate examples of failures of communities to police themselves.

Commercial bushmeat hunting has become the most significant immediate threat to the future of wildlife in Africa and around the world. It has already resulted in widespread local extinctions in Asia and Africa. Elephant, gorilla, chimpanzee and other primates have already been wiped out of several regions. Smaller animals such as duikers, porcupine, bush pig, pangolin, monitor lizard and guinea fowl are rapidly becoming locally extinct in these regions. Legalizing this multi-billion trade will not help the wildlife. It will instead exterminate what remains, species that we are working so hard to preserve.

For instance, there are only 300 Cross River Gorillas left in the world. They are found only in Cameroun and Nigeria. If we give poachers the right to hunt these gorillas, it will take them a very short time to wipe out the entire population. Dr Anthony L. Rose, together with investigative wildlife photographer, Karl Ammann have carried out research in West Africa and estimate that in one year poachers will harvest US$2-billion worth of wildlife from the great ape regions. Part of this haul will include 8,000 endangered great apes. If the slaughter continues at this pace, then the remaining wild apes in Africa will be gone within as little as fifteen years.

This threat to wildlife is indeed a crisis because it is rapidly expanding to countries and species which were previously not at risk, largely due to an increase in commercial logging, with an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers. The argument is that these people are poor and need both the protein and the income.
I do not personally dispute the tragedy of the poor but allowing them to hunt and encouraging a process that will result in exploitation of wildlife will not alleviate their poverty. Why don’t people encourage the rearing of chickens, fish or cane rats to alleviate their protein deficiency? This will bring development and a better and healthier existence.

If I should continue to use the example of primates, there is evidence that conserving primates, rather than eating them, will actually enhance food availability for humans. African scientist operating in the Taï region of Côte-d’Ivoire, for instance, found that seven species of monkeys used about 75 species of plants as a source of fruit, of which 25 were also used by local human inhabitants for various purposes. Now, monkeys are well known seed dispersal agents and they will spread the seeds of these plants that are important to humans. If there are no monkeys, then the chance of survival of such food plants is reduced.

There is a good reason to believe that some very dangerous diseases are haboured in wild animals and eating such animal – or handling them as you would handle food – could provoke new and terrible epidemics among these communities and at the global arena. We have all heard of at least one or more of these diseases: Ebola fever, Hantavirus disease, Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and other diseases noted for their high human fatality per case rates. These and other diseases of wildlife pose increasing challenges for the health of humans already. Do we want to further complicate this problem?

I know that many people are poor and that is why I put forward this question: should we allow people to steal on a sustainable basis, taking a little from the bank on a daily basis as well as robbing everyone of the money they have worked hard for? This will not resolve poverty, nor will allowing people to take protein from the wild as is being proposed in the CIFOR report.

I don’t see any sensible person calling for the legalization of narcotics just because it is the poor who grow poppies and other raw materials. Instead, more resources are being allocated to fight this vice and to educate the public.

I totally disagree with the recommendation of legalizing bushmeat and believe that alternatives for food production and poverty alleviation exist and should be explored.

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  1. Posted September 19, 2008 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I heard the report on BBC and was disturbed the the comments from people arguing for bushmeat. These were not poor people and lets face it the main reason why bushmeat is so important is because it’s commercial, not because it’s as source of protein. This report is unbelievable.

  2. Posted September 19, 2008 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I’m astounded at this report. I’m not at all surprised, however, that people in the comments section on the BBC site are clamoring for the legalization of bushmeat. It’s easier to alleviate poverty and hunger by killing more non-human animals than it is to try and fix those problems in a sustainable fashion. Besides, until humans leave off eating animals altogether this will continue to be a serious problem for the non-humans.

    I recommend that we all contact CIFOR and tell them what we think of this plan.


  3. Posted September 19, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I forgot to add that I’m sure many of us can come up with examples of how bushmeat doesn’t benefit the poor people looking for protein. The clouded leopard subspecies in Taiwan isn’t extinct in the wild because of poor people hunting for food, but because of wealthy people who wanted to wear their pelts and eat their flesh (the ubiquitous aphrodisiac properties).


  4. Judy in CA
    Posted September 19, 2008 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Surely those who would recommend such an idea are not the poor but those who would benefit by allowing it, like you said Paula, a commercial opportunity. Are there successful programs to get those living near wildlife the food, protein they need? Alternative food sources? Once the animals are gone, the poor will again be in the same predicament with no food because it is not a sustainable option. It makes no sense. Locals have lived in harmony with wildlife for centuries, but that was before overpopulation, war, famine, global warming, grab for wealth, etc etc., right? What a horrific idea!

  5. Annie
    Posted September 19, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Just sickening pictures……wth? When will the madness stop?

  6. TheTeach
    Posted September 19, 2008 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    This makes no sense atall. Once the animals are extinct, the people will have no protein source and will be forced to pursue such sources as commericially produced chicken and fish, anyway. Why not save a step, stop extinction, and pursue production of marketable and affordable fish and fowl NOW. This could gradually get the people off bush meat for good and all, and allow them to conserve wildlife for eco-tourism, another benefit to the local communities. Revenue from eco-tourism can then be pumped into domestic animal production at affordable cost, and an actual improvement in the living standard and protein diet of the locals. That’s a win-win-win, even if it will cost more upfront to start the process. The alternative for these people is extinction of all their edible mammals and starvation of the people from complete protein deficiency in a completely impovrished and sterile ecosystem. That’s called slow suicide. In the end, it will be individual people who end up extinct, by their own hand, in these regions. Very depressing. Is there no wisdom anywhere in policy making in this day and age? The same scientific method that has allowed humanity to progress to its present level is equally valid and applicable to environmental assessment and prediction, yet on these matters, noone listens or accepts the findings at face value. Why is it we will trust the science to get us to the moon and back safely, but will discount it off-hand when it tells us our planet’s climate is changing, or the ecosystem that sustains us is in danger of complete collapse! Despite our amazing accomplishments and progress, our species may yet be proven a race of fools. Thank You, Dr. Leakey for your wisdom and leadership in waking up the world to the plight of our planet and the creatures with whom we share it. We ignore the scientific evidence at our own peril, and risk a seriously diminished state of existence in the future.

  7. Posted September 20, 2008 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this important point of view, I have submited this article at the

  8. Posted September 22, 2008 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I hardly think those using cell phones to tout their illegal trades are starving — these people do not do it because they are poor –
    the whole argument is so uncivilized I can’t believe this is even happening. What world we now live in — completely upside down!

  9. Posted September 22, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    How terrible! As usual there will be some greedy person/s who see
    this as just another opportunity to fill their pockets with blood

    I am just so grateful to organisation like wildlife direct and
    many others for the good work they do and I sometimes wonder how
    you can bear all the horror.

  10. Posted September 26, 2008 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Our friends at CIFOR seem to be fogetting that behind every good willed
    governmental initiative, lies corruption that is harshly abused by those
    in power. Whatever the arguments CIFOR presents for this move, they can’t
    honestly expect fair use of such allowances.

  11. Pirjo
    Posted October 17, 2008 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I just heard stories about bushmeat being on offer, under counter, in UK! The African communities resident in UK have access to bushmeat, which must smuggled to the country? Aren’t there any customs rules for stopping this kind of illegal traffic? So it’s not a question of saving starving people in Africa if they still have the taste for bushmeat while living in a western country.

    This all makes me so angry…

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] September 19, 2008 by Wildeles Dr. Leakey’s statement from Wildlife Direct […]

  2. […] A hungry population is never going to practice conservation of food, especially where it […] Go to Source Posted in Wildlife Direct | […]

  3. […] Richard Leakey, in his statement against proposals to legalize bushmeat, cited the spread of these dangerous diseases as a good reason not to allow the killing and eating […]

  4. […] million tonnes of bushmeat are harvested in the badly ravaged African forests. a CIFOR report that Dr Richard Leakey felt had erred in its recommendations says that 80% of proteins and fats in rural Africans’ diets come from bushmeat. This is a big […]

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