Logo Bushmeat Africa

Bushmeat Africa

Culture, Economy & Conservation
in Central Africa

What’s bushmeat ?

Bushmeat, also known as game or wild meat, is the meat of wild animals hunted for human consumption in Africa. Hunting is widespread in many rural regions of Africa where people rely on bushmeat for food and income. Monkeys, antelopes, pangolins, porcupines and crocodiles, are among the species commonly consummed. Although bushmeat hunting is a traditional and cultural activity, it has detrimental consequences on wildlife populations and ecosystems, as well as on human health due to the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Bushmeat Africa Book

Bushmeat - the book

This book is an interdisciplinary account of eating wild animals in Central Africa, where doing so is quite simply normal, desirable and commonsensical. Culture, economy, biodiversity and deforestation, infectious diseases, urban street food patterns, conservation strategies and law enforcement are the book’s main themes. Practically all forms of wildlife from the largest emblematic mammals to the smallest invertebrates are eaten. The shift from subsistence rural consumption to commercialised urban use can be accounted for by the development of trade networks, urbanisation dynamics, cultural and symbolic attachment and institutional constraints. All of these elements translate into soaring bushmeat consumption on the urban landscape – be it at home, as street food or in restaurants. As a consequence, the wildlife of Central Africa is being decimated, provoking direct consequences on biodiversity, local economies and public health. As Covid-19 has taught us, bushmeat consumption is also a global issue that extends well beyond Central Africa. Based on extensive ethnographic field interviews and a comprehensive review of the relevant literature, this volume presents a startling account of one of the Anthropocene’s catastrophes in the making.
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Wildlife governance expert

Theodore Trefon (PhD Boston University) has devoted his career to Congo/Zaire as a researcher, professor, project manager and consultant. Political Economy Analysis, State-society relations, aid delivery strategies and environmental governance are his primary areas of expertise. He has coordinated European Union-funded nature conservation projects and has been advisor to USAID’s Central Africa Program for the Environment. He has advised CIFOR, UNESCO, CARE, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the World Bank, the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors, the Dutch government and private consultancy firms.

Researcher at the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa and professor at ERAIFT/Kinshasa, he is contributing editor to the Review of African Political Economy. His other books include Goma: Stories of strength and sorrow from eastern Congo (2018 – with N. Kabuyaya), Congo’s Environmental Paradox: Potential and Predation in a Land of Plenty (2016) and Congo Masquerade: The Political Culture of Aid Inefficiency and Reform Failure (2011).
Théodore Trefon

Book Excerpts

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.
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Quotes from book

This book draws on hundreds of formal and informal conversations. These compelling ethnographic declarations give voice to the people who hunt, trade and consume bushmeat in Central Africa.

Bushmeat is everything: it’s money and food, it’s what makes me feel good.

Yes, meat is my alpha and omega. God, family and bushmeat – those are the things that really matter to me.

Stewed monkey and my mother’s bosom go together.

If I were at a village feast and had the choice between fish, chicken, goat or red river hog – my choice without thinking for a second would be the hog.

God filled our forests with animals for humans, he gave them to us, so we have to eat them to respect His plan. We have the duty to transform these animals into food. Why would we just leave them there?

Going into the forest without my shotgun would be like going to church without a Bible.

It’s essential for a hunter to know the forest – which means its signs, sounds, noises, smells, the trees and the animals’ habits. There are no miracles for us – to be successful you have to know what you’re doing.

Success as a hunter and secrecy go hand in hand. A key to my success as a hunter is knowing how to keep my mouth shut.

I’m a businesswoman and bushmeat is my livelihood. Everyone has the right to earn a living, no?

Who do the NGOs think they are telling me not to hunt? Are they going to pay my kids’ school fees? Are they going to send my mother-in-law to town to see a doctor?

Before, women were told by their fathers not to eat animals with a strong smell but they’ve figured out that that was just a trick to keep the good meat for themselves.

Ten years ago, no one would be bothered for selling a chimpanzee. Today, such a trader would definitely be brought to trial.

The city is a huge open mouth, always hungry and never satiated.

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