The introduction – Chapter 1 – sets the stage by outlining people’s reliance on bushmeat, why there is a bushmeat crisis, local perceptions and international responses to it, and a discussion about wildlife sustainability and major threats.
The first background chapter – Chapter 2 – explains deforestation drivers and trends. It is a necessary starting point because wildlife habitat is under serious pressure. As the forest area shrinks, wild animals find it increasingly difficult to reproduce, survive and thrive.
The second background chapter – Chapter 3 – offers an historic analysis of conservation efforts in Africa with a focus on protected areas. These spaces have become highly politicized arenas in which actors with different visions and agendas compete with each other over access and resource rights.
Chapter 4 presents the hunter’s universe – his motivations, world views, constraints and opportunities. It also addresses the paradox of hunters being empathetic to the animals they kill. This chapter highlights both change and continuity in the hunting realm.
Chapter 5 presents the drivers of consumption by responding to the question ‘why eat it?’ The response is complex, sometimes contradictory and gives no over-riding motivation. Tradition, taste, availability, cost and lack of alternative proteins are some of the intertwining reasons. While other chapters focus on bushmeat as nourishment for the soul just as much as it is sustenance for the stomach.
Chapter 6 looks at bushmeat as money. Its sections present a discussion of how to manage open access resources, a price-cost-earnings commodity chain analysis and an overview of supply and demand drivers.
Chapter 7 is the most ethnographic chapter and recounts the personal trajectory of Mama Régine who runs a bustling bushmeat restaurant in one of Kinshasa’s most populous districts. Before delving into her narrative, it presents some of the problems of food insecurity that the urban poor have to grapple with.
Chapter 8 makes the connection between consumption of wild animals and zoonotic diseases – meaning diseases that are transmitted to humans from wild animals. Although there are thousands of them, this chapter looks at three case studies: Covid-19, the origins of which remain unclear, and HIV and Ebola, which both emerged in Central Africa through human-wildlife contact. Instead of delving into medical and biological complexities of zoonotic diseases, the value-added of this chapter is its focus on the social and cultural dynamics connecting people, wild animals and disease.
The final chapter – Chapter 9 – argues that the legal frameworks adopted by the governments in the countries of the Congo Basin are unable to sustainably manage wildlife for a host of reasons – one of which is the persistent problem of poor public service provision. It analyses the legality-legitimacy dichotomy and points out the overwhelming obstacles to enforcing laws, concluding that despite important advances in designing alternative livelihood strategies and launching behaviour change campaigns, laws without social appropriation cannot be effective.
‘Game over?’ is the question addressed in the book’s short general conclusion. These chapters make up the book’s main focus: bushmeat is food for the heart, mind and soul just as much as it is money and food for the stomach.