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Bushmeat is the meat of wild animals killed for food and trade and a big opportunity for commercial profit over animal rights, animal welfare and nature conservation.
Bushmeat is the meat of wild animals hunted and killed for food and trade. Indigenous peoples have eaten wild animals for ages. However, commercial opportunists making big profits have developed an inimical bushmeat trade that destroys animal families and threatens the survival of animal populations.
The commercial bushmeat trade annually claims from the Congo basin in West Africa alone an estimated one to five million tonnes of wild animals. Commercial bushmeat hunters snare or shoot the great apes - bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa and orang-utans in south-east Asia – and the apes' survival is uncertain. Other threatened populations include elephants, crocodiles, guinea fowl, porcupines and monkeys.
Orphaned by poachers. Young chimpanzees at the Tchimpounga Sanctuary, Congo.
The commercial bushmeat trade is an emotive subject and pictures of dead animals in bushmeat markets are disturbing to Western eyes. However, the commercial bushmeat trade can be a major economic factor in local economies and is especially an issue in west Africa where it is a multi-million dollar industry.
Advocates of the commercial bushmeat trade contend that Western organisations focus mainly on the unfavourable side of the trade to discredit it in favour of animals and their conservation. They argue that the trade in bushmeat has several positive benefits for local economies and the poverty stricken. They claim that for the poor it is a source of protein, a means of diversifying income with work that fits into the agricultural cycle, and is a good earner for a minimal investment and occasional labour. Bushmeat is also an easily transportable product in a region where transport is difficult.
Advocates for commercial bushmeat say that impoverished young men in bushmeat regions of Africa go hunting for bushmeat to save money and set up in a trade, an opportunity for young men to advance up the prosperity and social ladder. If they cannot engage in bushmeat hunting, say advocates, then they will remain in poverty and become a social problem.
Conservationists put another interpretation to the commercial bushmeat trade. They say species may go extinct through over-hunting and because of that the viability of forests may break down, then the livelihood and quality of life of people across the region will be in jeopardy. Some conservationists argue for an outright ban on commercial bushmeat. Other conservationists go for management of bushmeat as a sustainable resource for local people and hope the apparent advantages from commercialism will emerge in less destructive ways.
Snares that poachers used to capture boar and deer in a wildlife reserve. WWF guardians found them left on a tree. Photo: Giancarlo Desś.
A problem that receives little if any mention in the economics versus conservation debate of bushmeat is the disruptive consequence that sustained high rates of slaughter have on the lives of animals. The social life of individuals and groups of animals take a beating because populations are in constant flux as they fragment and survivors must continually reorganise themselves. Territorial boundaries are constantly shifting as individuals who hold territories disappear into the bushmeat markets and the remaining animals continually fight over new demarcations.
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