Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

bushmeat is that of wild animals, generally understood to refer to those species hunted for their meat in the forests of sub-Saharan Africa. Bush tucker is not quite the same, being a term specific to australia. While the African dimension is that which preoccupies the majority of observers, other countries are by no means immune to the depredations of a similar trade. The orang-utan, for example, has been hunted to near extinction in Indonesia, at least in part for human consumption. The trade in meat may also run parallel to that for the purposes of traditional or fetish medicine. Anything may be the target of the hunter’s weapon or snare: rats, lizards, snakes, a wide variety of antelopes, elephant and hippopotamus, leopards, monkeys, and, most affecting of all, the great apes (gorilla, bonobo, and chimpanzee). Bushmeat by no means relates only to protected species. The reasons for it having attained such epic proportions are to do with the increase in human population in sub-Saharan Africa, the availability of efficient weapons, the opening up of forest regions by logging companies and growing urbanization. External causes are also cited. An instance is the decline in fish landings in Ghana due to EU fishing off the W. African coast. When fish is dear, consumption of bushmeat increases. Formerly there was a semblance of balance between human and animal: that has now disappeared, particularly for those species (the great apes above all others) slow to reproduce. There are a variety of taboos (especially among Muslims; see muslims and food) that inhibit consumption of some meats and a multiplicity of local and tribal preferences that bring gastronomic influences to bear (see Peterson, 2004). While such meats are often cheaper than, as well as preferable to, butchers’ meat, particularly in the country, the price relationship may alter sharply when they are brought into towns and cities where they are often consumed in fond memory of the eater’s background and rural origins, even though by now more expensive. This price ratio is infinitely extended when the meats are exported to African migrants to Europe. It is estimated that up to 10 tonnes of bushmeat is illicitly landed in London every day. Apart from the damage to the natural environment, the bushmeat trade is hazardous to human health. Primates harbour many dangerous viruses and are liable to the same infections as humans. HIV, it is suggested, stems from a similar complaint in chimpanzees, and the ebola virus is also carried by the great apes.