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Nicole Singh  

ANT 302 – Final Research Paper

Prof. Raaum

December 12th, 2017

Combating the Bushmeat Trade

Since humans have roamed the earth, we have hunted for food.  In our early history, bushmeat, defined as wild or undomesticated animals found in the wild, was just meat.  It was all we could find to eat, and it wasn't until we began to domesticate animals around 11,000 years ago that there was a shift from hunting wild game meat.  However, while many countries around the world have continued to eat and rely on bushmeat as a source of food, today the bushmeat trade is illegal in many countries.  

Today, the bushmeat trade involves the killing of animals that are endangered for meat to be sold at higher prices, like elephants and great apes.  Smaller primates are also used for bushmeat, mainly consumed in local villages in various African countries, where the trade is largely illegal.  The implications of the bushmeat trade and its impending crisis hold consequences not only for the primates and other species who are targeted, but for humans as well.  Combating the bushmeat trade, which has complex inner workings that rely on not only the presence and wellbeing of its prey but also on the cooperation and wellbeing of the people at the heart of the trade.  Finding ways to combat the trade include increasing conservation efforts, partnering with communities that rely on bushmeat to find alternatives, and educating people on the unforeseen consequences of bushmeat consumption.

The consumption of bushmeat was relatively harmless until the turn of the century.  With the rise of industrialization all over the world and urbanization allowing populations to grow, more and more people started to move into spaces that were previously inhabited by only animal species.  As more people appeared, that meant more demand for food resources, some of which included meat classified today as bushmeat.  Since then, in areas where bushmeat is consumed, the species targeted have rapidly decreased in population or even become extinct.

When it comes to primates, 60% of primate species are endangered.  The greatest threat to primates are us – humans who hunt them, destroy their homes and remove their sources of food and shelter, and who capture them for the pet trade.  Finding ways to combat the bushmeat trade is vital to further understanding primate behavior and evolution.  The very act of being able to study primates, whether it be to study their evolutionary history, or their social behaviors, is threatened.  Given that humans are also primates, the evolutionary connection that has been studied for decades is also threatened.  The bushmeat trade is one of the leading factors contributing to the decline of primates in the wild and a force in the possible extinction of various species. If primates are hunted to extinction for means of consumption when there are more accessible and environmentally affordable options, then it would put an unwarranted end to future primate studies.

In the 1980's, foreign logging companies moved into Central and West African countries and the bushmeat trade rocketed as they opened up forests to make way for roads and targeted areas primates lived in (Goodall 2014).  Since then, the effects of the bushmeat trade of wildlife, great apes specifically, has been tracked beginning in the 1990's when significant changes were being seen.  Studies reported in 1996 found that in Gabon, 50% of meat in markets was bushmeat with 20% of that being primates (Rose 1996, pg. 2).  It was also reported in the same study that 1,200 gorillas were slaughtered for bushmeat in a single year – an astounding number.  Recently it was last reported in 2009 that up to two gorillas were killed each week for bushmeat and sold in Kouilou in the Republic of Congo (Bourton 2009).

   One surefire way to help combat the bushmeat trade is increasing conservation efforts.  With the harsh effects of not only climate change affecting their environment, the additional pressure from human practices like logging which leads to deforestation is a huge threat to primates.  Aside from losing their homes as trees are chopped down, the risk of being hunting becomes even greater when loggers and hunters cooperate, as they often do.  The two concepts work symbiotically: if the habitats primates live in are destroyed, they easier to capture and hunt.  If the primates are being hunted in the first place, their vacated homes can be easily torn down.  Without forced restrictions and policies in place, as well the creation of sanctuaries and protections of their habitats, primates will remain at great risk of being hunted and sold for bushmeat.

  There are numerous factors threatening primates asides from the bushmeat trade; human growth, defaunation, even livestock farming.  Unsustainable trade, including the bushmeat produces around 150,000 primate carcasses across 16 species in only Nigeria and Cameroon.  Per Estrada, the expansion of protected areas is “the only plausible conservation tool that may contribute to local poverty,” but also one of the only tools that have been utilized in real-life.  Numerous sanctuaries and national parks that are designated to providing a space

Besides these methods, land sharing may be the only solution that ensures a better future for both non-human and human primates (Estrada 2017, pg. 6).

Land sharing benefits both the primates and the people by offering a chance to secure economic assets for the poor, rural populations who are expected to encroach upon primate territory and hunt them will be able to cope better with their circumstances and eventually move out of poverty. (Estrada, pg. 8) This structure offers an alternative for communities that depend on the forest and primate species because they have no other choice.  Studies conducted have also shown that current land sharing practices seen in community managed forests that favored primates with small range areas saw less deforestation.  These practices require not only the study of the species being protected but of the ecosystem that surrounds them, and the involvement of the community as well.  

Educating the community and working with local villages is truly the key to combating the bushmeat trade in a way that benefits both groups. When looking at the bushmeat trade, there is more than one side to consider. Not only must the primates themselves be considered, but the people as well.  Bushmeat can make up most of the diet for many people who consume it, and is also a source of income for many local villagers. Researchers have worked with select communities and have studied their bushmeat consumption and the economical as well as social and cultural implications surrounding it.  

In the Central Amazon of Brazil, a study was done using both social marketing and price incentives to see how it affected the communities' bushmeat consumption was conducted.  The study found that between the two, social marketing produced better results than price incentives.  Economic incentives such as coupons for chicken were offered in one part of the study.  Social marketing involving information campaigns and community engagement, such as providing participating residents with information on wildlife conservation and consumption were practiced as the other part of the study, aiming to educate participating community engagement groups (CEG).  In this study, it was found that “social marketing can change behavior with regard to wild meat consumption. CEG participants, who received community engagement activities during time intervals lacking coupons, decreased consumption of mammals and birds even without increased consumption of other meats” (Chaves et. al 2017).  

Working directly with the communities, in this case, and educating them on why the bushmeat trade is harmful to the environment and the species being hunted showed to have more of an impact than offering an alternative option.  This data reveals a lot about how we can approach this strategy; many of those who consume bushmeat will probably have another option but will ultimately have a preference.  For example, this study showed that while the chicken coupons were utilized, bushmeat consumption rates did not change.  They were simply offered the coupons, not the opportunity to know why they should use the coupons in the first place.

This is not just an economic and social issue - it is also a cultural one.  While many populations do rely on bushmeat as purely a source of food, there are still communities that prefer bushmeat to other types of meat.  On Bioko Island, it was found that there were two different ethnic groups, the Fang and the Bubi, and their consumption habits were surveyed to find the following:

“Fang and Bubi respondents consumed bushmeat at a similar frequency (DF=3; p>0.05), and reported that bushmeat was their preferred protein source (DF = 1; p > 0.05). However, differences existed among ethnic groups in regards to preferred bushmeat type; Fang respondents had a higher preference for primates (Fisher's Exact Test; p < 0.05). These findings were similar to Fa, Juste, Burn, and Broad [other ethnic groups] (2002) in which they reported that in 1990–1991 the Fang also had a significant preference for primates.” (Cronin et. al 2016).

The same study goes on to describe the difference between hunting methods among the two groups; the Fang have access to more guns than the Bubis do, thus increasing their ability to hunt monkeys more easily.  On Bioko Island, where the bushmeat trade is the primary threat to primates who call the island home and where the population density is extremely high, “cultivating a culture of conservation” is key.  The citizens of Bioko depending on the bushmeat trade is important to the entire nation.  The decrease of bushmeat hunting and consumption will lead directly to poor economic conditions (Cronin et. al  2016).  Taking the steps to learn about the local cultures, how they differ from one another, and how they play into the way the bushmeat market operates helps to gain a better understand of how the bushmeat trade works, and learning how it operates makes it easier to come up with ways to dismantle it in an effective way.  

Another study done by researchers in Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic, where previous studies were not conducted.  Since the data for this region was so scarce, the following were taken into consideration when surveying households, markets, and participating school-children.  Children from the same classroom were surveyed to ensure “social and cultural diversity” in responses given when asked what their meals were composed of.  When surveying markets, not only were the species being sold observed, but the pricing of the bushmeat, whether it was smoked or fresh, was also observed.  Household surveys that were conducted across 1,000 households looked at their consumption and their cultural characteristics (religion affiliation and ethnic group) as well as income (Fargeot et. al 2017).  

The Bangui study found that bushmeat made up 10% of the meat consumed in households surveyed. While looking at cultural differences, it was found that culture does have an impact on bushmeat consumption as it was nearly absent in the Muslim and Jehovah's Witness households.  It was concluded that “Bushmeat is likely to contribute to a better balanced diet and the food security of poor households” (Fargeot et. al 2017). However, it was also suggested that a rise in income would led to poorer households that relied on bushmeat to decrease consumption as they would be steered towards buying more “luxury” foods.

 There are also serious consequences that come with consuming bushmeat and contact with primates in general.  Bushmeat consumption is risky in general, because wild animals are bound to carry diseases we may not be aware of.  The consumption of primates is even more risky and have led to breakouts of diseases, with connections to the Ebola breakout that happened recently.  By bringing to light the consequences such exposure brings upon both human and non-human primates, the effort to combat the bushmeat trade will be strengthened.

Per Muehlenbein, “Given our phylogenetic relatedness, we are susceptible to many different zoonosis from primates, and primates can be very susceptible to our anthroponoses.” Muehlenbein also points out that wild primates are “reservoirs for a variety of malaria species that can infect humans,” as well as tuberculosis and herpes simplex viruses (Muehlenbein 2016).  Because we share so much of our DNA with primates, chimpanzees specifically, it is easier for zoonotic diseases to be passed from one to the other, with men being the ones who are usually affected in higher rates (Mossoun et. al 2015).  By bringing to light the consequences such exposure brings upon both human and non-human primates, the effort to combat the bushmeat trade will be strengthened.

A study done during the post-Ebola breakout in Liberia surveyed households to see if the Ebola outbreak, which was linked to bushmeat, would change the consumption habits of those who participated.  There was a notable change in amount of bushmeat consumed, where households with lower incomes were show to have decreased their rate of consumption compared to wealthier households, but across all incomes there was a general decrease (Ordaz-Ne ́meth et al. 2017).  Comparatively, in the study done in Bangui, when looking at wealthier and poorer households, the wealthier households consumed fresh meat more than smoked meat while poorer households did the opposite, with the wealthier households consuming more bushmeat in general.  While this data was not retrieved under the context of the Ebola outbreak, it does show similar trends among consumption when looking at class rank.  Under the scope of the Ebola outbreak and possible disease contraction, we can see that there was a scare after the outbreak and some pull-back from consumers.  However, it wasn't significant enough to end consumption all together.  

Striving for the end of the bushmeat trade is the ideal future we hope for.  Being able to save the species that we hold the most in common with is something that not only will secure and shape their future, but will shape ours as well.  Dealing with the bushmeat crisis means looking through a multi-faceted lens and being able to see the issue from all sides.  There are not only primates and other species at risk, but people as well, and those people are mostly disadvantaged in their communities.  Through conservation, education, and cooperation, taking into consideration all the coexisting economic, ecological, social, and cultural factors that are threaded together and bind the trade today, we can hope to combat the bushmeat trade and find a way for humans and primates to prosper together.

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