Surge in bushmeat consumption threatens animals, people
Conservationists are concerned about the large-scale commercial hunting of slower-breeding species like apes and monkeys, as well as other endangered species for consumption and trade.
They alleged that hunting for bushmeat has decimated animal populations in Nigeria and the endemic monkey species, which are all endangered. Even forest elephants, considered vulnerable to extinction, are targeted for their meat in some parts of the country, while elephant tusks, hacked off for the ivory trade are byproducts.
Nigerians have long hunted bats, monkeys, rats, snakes and other wild animals for sustenance. Smoked, dried, or cooked, the meat provides a valuable source of protein for people in rural communities where farming domesticated animals is too expensive or impractical. Hunting and selling bushmeat also serve as an important source of income.
But among the rich in urban centres, bushmeat consumption is seen as a status symbol. It is also targeted because it is thought to be organic and free of chemicals and pesticides. Another factor is that it is consumed for its gamey taste, which farmed animals are thought not to have. Bushmeat consumption is also seen as cultural and thus a way for those in the urban areas to connect with their culture.
WildAid’s Nigeria Representative, Dr. Mark Ofua, explained that illegal bushmeat consumption or trade in animals or their by-products whose killing, trading and consumption are banned by law. These animals are deemed as protected by these extant laws and thus their consumption is illegal.
He said: “Legal bushmeat are wild animals permitted by law to consume and there are usually animals whose conservation status is of least concern because the animals are abundant in nature and usually have a very high rate of reproduction such that their rate of replenishment is more than the rate of consumption and so are not in danger of extinction.
“In Nigeria, every animal, anything, and everything that breathes and moves and is not human is considered fair game for bushmeat. From birds to bats to snakes to frogs, lizards, crocodiles and turtles, practically anything is killed, sold, and eaten as bushmeat and we often do this to our detriment.
“Animals classified by law as illegal bushmeat are listed by such laws and one must familiarise with these laws to be on the safe side. Generally, all animals classified as endangered and listed in the CITES appendix I and II to which Nigeria is a party are illegal to consume.”
He disclosed that over 70 per cent of human diseases originated from animals. “We have however developed innate immunity to these diseases or the drugs to combat these should they arise. The fear and the danger, therefore, arise when this inordinate consumption of bushmeat gives a rise to the possibility of the outbreak of new and emerging diseases to which we do not have immunity or drugs or even the understanding to contain them.
“These diseases that can spread from animals to humans are known as zoonotic diseases. The hunting, trade, and consumption of wild meat, or bushmeat, in Nigeria is a past, current, and potential future zoonotic disease risk. Disease-causing organisms that have spread to humans from bushmeat include Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), monkeypox virus, Ebola viruses, anthrax, and Lassa fever amongst others. Although zoonotic disease transmission can occur at any point along the bushmeat supply chain, from hunting in the forest to the point of consumption, markets in large urban areas are particularly dangerous.
According to an ethnologist and environmentalist, Jane Goodall, “It is not only wild animals whose lives are threatened by the bushmeat trade—people do not appreciate the risks to their own health. There is increasing evidence of the danger to humans caused by handling, cutting the flesh and cooking certain kinds of wild animals. The Ebola virus, devastating more and more areas of West Africa is thought to be transmitted by fruit bats, initially to chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos. These apes may become infected from handling fruits contaminated by bat faeces, and can then pass the disease on to humans.
“Gorillas (and possibly other primates) may carry diseases such as simian foamy virus, chickenpox, tuberculosis, measles, rubella, yellow fever and yaws. People have caught such diseases, and some died. African squirrels (Heliosciurus and Funisciurus) have been implicated as reservoirs of the monkeypox virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and their use as bushmeat may be an important means of disease transmission to humans. Killing, cooking and eating bushmeat puts the entire human population in the area at risk, opening a doorway through which animal diseases can be transmitted to humans, sometimes with lethal effects.”
Ofua expressed the urgent need to reduce, control and even put a stop to the consumption of bushmeat as it puts humanity itself at risk. While making case for awareness creation, he said conservation biology should be taught in schools to break this cycle of ignorance.
He further urged the government to step up its role and responsibility as the guardian of the environment and regulate the killing and consumption of wild animals such as bushmeat. “Global best practices must be ensured and our markets supervised to ensure hygiene standards. Better laws should be put in place and enforcement should be emphasised,” he added.