Fact File

10 things you didn’t know about bushmeat in Africa

From porcupines and rats to (yes) the occasional monkey.
Jeanne Mwakembe and Bernardette Maselé at the Moutuka Nunene market in Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR photo

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What is bushmeat?

Bushmeat is defined as any terrestrial mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians harvested for food.

10 facts about bushmeat in Africa:

  1. Bushmeat accounts for up to 80 percent of the protein intake of people in Central Africa.
  2. Up to 6 million tons of bushmeat are extracted from the Congo Basin each year — nearly the equivalent of the annual beef production of Brazil.
  3. To produce this same amount of cattle in the region, as many as 25 million hectares of forest would have to be cleared for pasture — an area about the size of Great Britain.
  4. The term “bushmeat” may evoke images of gorillas and chimpanzees — but the majority of the bushmeat harvested in the Congo Basin consists of porcupine, pouched rat, and duikers (small antelopes). Monkeys are hunted in large numbers in some areas, but they represent a small percentage of the biomass of bushmeat.
  5. The majority of mammal species (70 percent) hunted in the Congo Basin is not listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  6. Nevertheless, the hunting of bushmeat is widely seen as unsustainable. This can lead to the disruption of ecological and evolutionary processes, changes in species composition within ecosystems and a general reduction in biological diversity, creating “empty forests” — so-called because they lack any large animal species. In the Congo Basin, increasing population and trade from rural to urban areas compounded with the lack of any sizeable domestic meat sector are the main drivers of unsustainable levels of hunting.
  7. A ban on the hunting of vulnerable species — including gorillas, which are known to carry Ebola virus — while permitting the hunting of more resilient species, including duikers and porcupines, could be more effective than a blanket interdiction, according to CIFOR. Such a ban would be difficult but not impossible to enforce.
  8. Central Africa’s bushmeat value chain — including hunting, transport, sale and consumption — is marked by gender roles and preferences. Men are generally more involved in hunting and transport of bushmeat, while women are more heavily involved in the sale of bushmeat. Evidence shows that there are even different bushmeat taste preferences between men and women: Women prefer elephant, while men tend to prefer bats and gorilla. Both men and women’s favorite type of bushmeat: Porcupine.
  9. Not only rural people in the Congo Basin eat bushmeat — urban people also consume it. Bushmeat can be a necessity for poorer urban households because it is cheaper; for wealthier households, bushmeat from larger, threatened species can be a luxury product.
  10. Hunting has also some strong cultural significance in Central Africa. It is variously associated with rituals and ceremonies, such as circumcision ceremonies in Gabon. Some species hunted for bushmeat are thought to have magical or medicinal properties that increase their value. Conversely, taboos on certain types of bushmeat are widespread in parts of Central Africa.

For information about CIFOR’s research on bushmeat, go to cifor.org/bushmeat.

MEDIA: For media queries about Ebola, forests and bushmeat, please contact Joan Baxter, CIFOR Regional Communications Coordinator for Africa, at j.baxter@cgiar.org or +254 72 640 7104.



  1. Nasi, R.; Brown, D.; Wilkie, D.; Bennett, E.; Tutin, C.; van Tol, G.; Christophersen, T. 2008. Conservation and use of wildlife-based resources: the bushmeat crisis. CBD Technical Series no. 33
  2. Van Vliet, N., C. Nebesse, S.  Gambalemoke, D. Akaibe, R. Nasi 2012. What you can (and cannot) tell  about the dynamics of bushmeat trade using market data: an example from Kisangani. Oryx  46(20):156-203
  3. Nasi, R.; Taber, A.; Van Vliet, N. Empty forests, empty stomachs? Bushmeat and livelihoods in the Congo and Amazon Basins. International Forestry Review, Volume 13, Number 3, September 2011, pp. 355-368(14)
  4. Van Vliet, N.; Nebesse, C.; Nasi, R. Bushmeat consumption among rural and urban children from Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo.
  5. Van Vliet, N., C. Nebesse, S.  Gambalemoke, D. Akaibe, R. Nasi 2012. The bushmeat market in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo: implications for conservation and food security, Oryx 46(02): pp 196-203
  6. Fact sheet. The Congo Basin Forests: What policymakers should know. CIFOR Forests News, 2012. Accessed at: http://forestsnews.cifor.org/11469/the-congo-basin-forests-what-policymakers-should-know-2
  7. Van Vliet, N., Nasi, R. Presentation: Gender issues and bushmeat. 2012. Accessed at: http://www.slideshare.net/CIFOR/gender-issues-and-bushmeat
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