One of the best things about traveling in East Africa is the abundance of muchomo, barbecued kebabs of unidentified (but delicious) meat. We ate the muchomo without ever being sure what sort of meat it was. It’s not like anyone would tell you if it were anything less traditional than beef or goat, and I don't think it was—but then, I’m known for mistaking possum for highly seasoned chicken, and “bush meat” (monkeys, duikers, bush pigs, lizards) isn’t so uncommon in rural parts of Africa.
But a recent report by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) highlights the role of bushmeat in a new argument for conservation: the sustainability of hunting. Yes, hunting.
“An upsurge in hunting bushmeat in tropical forests is unsustainable,” the report’s press release states, referring mostly to commercial hunting for the nearly $3 billion wild animal products industry. (In Africa, around one million metric tons of bushmeat are hunted each year, WCS reports.) “It poses serious threats to poor inhabitants of forests in Africa, who rely largely on bushmeat for protein.” The report’s authors are concerned with animal diversity, but their humanitarian angle may be just what it takes to attract a different kind of support for conservation. The report urges policymakers to limit bushmeat hunting to those who do it sustainably, in an approach reminiscent of the deal governments struck with Native American populations on “sustainable” whaling.
Regulating bushmeat hunting won’t be easy, and it’s hard to imagine it could block poaching entirely; indeed, the report cautions that an outright ban on bushmeat hunting would only hurt rural populations that rely on it and would encourage a bushmeat black market. But linking human survival with sustainability—or in the words of Frances Seymour, CIFOR’s director general, “reframing the bushmeat problem from one of international animal welfare to one of sustainable livelihoods"—might be a good start. The connection between biodiversity and sustainable living is real, but sometimes it takes the different lifestyles of vastly different regions for us to recognize it.
Read more about the bushmeat industry at www.bushmeat.org