Tuesday 21 May 2019

Urban bushmeat project

Crocodiles, Mbandaka market, RDC

In the framework of research at AfricaMuseum, Tervuren, I’m working on a project provisionally entitled ‘Bushmeat: The culture and economy of eating wild animals in central Africa’. The objective of the research is to study the urban appetite for bushmeat in a culturally sensitive way and to give voice to the hunters, transporters, traders, consumers and other protagonists in bushmeat crisis dynamics.

This blog entry is a way of sharing my current research and inviting colleagues to share their work in the event of common research interests. Any collaboration on these themes will be welcomed. Please contact: theodore.trefon@africamuseum.be

Smoked monkey meat, Mankoto, Salonga Park, DRC
Wildlife conservation and the illegal wildlife trade have become political priorities and a household concern in much of the world. Elephants are being massacred with military weapons for their ivory while rhinos are being poached to extinction for the perceived medicinal and symbolic characteristics of their horn. Less well-known, but equally serious, are the dynamics of over-hunting in central Africa to satisfy urban demand for wild meat. Once sustainable, hunting has become a massive commercial business to feed the region’s swelling cities.

The ‘bushmeat crisis’ referred to by conservationists is real: every year, central Africans consume approximately half as much bushmeat as Brazil produces beef. Ecocide for environmentalists, eating wild animals is just a way of life for many people in Africa. Law enforcement, awareness-building and community involvement are some of the measures being implemented but the slaughter goes on. 
Bonobo in natural habitat, Kokolopori, DRC

Protected species poster, Equateur Province, DRC
Cultural attachment to bushmeat, its political economy, urban consumption trends and the legal framework are the keys to understanding the challenges and solutions. Based on extensive 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.

Menu, Kisangani restaurant, DRC
This research provides an interdisciplinary account of bushmeat consumption in central Africa. Culture, economy, biodiversity, public health and conservation law and enforcement are its 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 explained by the development of trade networks (ranging from the small-scale and informal to the well-organized and politically connected), 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. It has direct consequences on biodiversity, local economies and public health.

This research is necessary because it will contribute to wildlife management strategies by informing policy decisions. Donors are investing millions of dollars every year in the region to improve wildlife management in and outside of national parks but they are only recently trying to implement actionable ideas about the drivers and obstacles to behavior change regarding bushmeat consumption. It is also necessary because of its compelling content. It tells the story of a multifaceted global problem that is little-known - and often ideological and judgmental. There is a biodiversity element. The Congo Basin in home to the world’s second largest contiguous rainforest and wildlife directly contributes to the sustainability of the forest. The ‘empty forest’ syndrome needs to be made known – without wild animals, forest dynamics suffer. The urban bushmeat trade is an important contribution to local economies: multiple levels of actors earn their livings from bushmeat. The research also reveals a worrying public health dimension: the countries in the region have little or no large-scale animal production or ranching industries so meat is either imported or harvested from the wild. Studies show the importance of bushmeat to both urban and rural diets. Another public health dimension relates to animal-to-human diseases such as HIV and Ebola.
Me with hunters, Luki Biosphere Reserve, DRC
Wire cables for sale for hunting snares, Tshupa Province, DRC