The destruction and damage caused by the bush meat trade in Africa is often overshadowed by the highly publicised illegal trades in elephant ivory and rhino horn.
But in essence, it is far more widespread and affects more animals.
Dozens of letchwe, a medium-sized antelope, were being slaughtered and processed into dried meat bundles, ready for sale on the black market.
A wide range of wild animals, from a cane rat to an elephant, are killed for their meat.
If bush meat hunting goes unchecked, once the larger wild animals are wiped out in an area, smaller species are taken.
The results can be catastrophic because each species plays a vital role in the ecosystem.
In Kasungu National Park, we have witnessed the collapse of virtually all antelope, zebra and buffalo populations partly as a result of the bush meat trade. Predators like lions and leopards are directly dependent on the existence of suitable numbers of these prey species and have been affected as well.
Consequently, Kasungu has completely lost a stable lion population. Nomadic lions briefly wander into the park but when they find a depleted prey population, they leave in search of food elsewhere.
Why snare poaching is particularly terrible
The preferred method of bush meat poaching is the use of wire snares, which are completely indiscriminate in their slaughter and cruelty. An animal not specifically targeted by bush meat poachers will often wander into a snare and suffer a slow and agonising death, to no one’s gain. These deaths make up 90% of what is snared by poachers. Lions, leopards, hyenas as well as antelope species are all victims of this needless killing.
Some creatures caught in a snare are able to break free from the initial trap, but are left with the debilitating wire slowly strangling them or amputating part of a limb. Elephants are constantly seen with shortened trunks and old wounds around their legs caused by a snare they have managed to escape. Few animals are able to fully recover without medical attention but, with sparse veterinary care throughout Malawi, finding help is unlikely. The amount of cruelty, suffering and death that bush meat poaching causes to innocent wildlife is enormous – and heart-breaking.
Who buys bush meat?
The organised, widespread and deliberate nature of the bush meat trade – from snaring to transport and butchering to sale and consumption – is severely underestimated due to the stereotype that bush meat poachers hunt for subsistence and not for illegal profits on a commercial scale. The reality is a stark contrast to this image.
Most high-priced bush meat is not bought and consumed out of necessity by hungry people in rural areas. The huge market supplies various consumer demographics. Demand is sustained by cultural preference. The meat of domestic animals is available in most city markets and is usually less expensive. But certain wild species have become rare, their meat has become very expensive, and they are now a delicacy of the wealthy elite, signifying status for those who can afford it.
IFAW teams have confirmed this in various undercover operations. For example, recently our operators exposed an entire “bush meat butchery” in the city of Lusaka. Dozens of letchwe, a medium-sized antelope, were being slaughtered and processed into dried meat bundles, ready for sale on the black market.
Poachers hunted the antelopes and took the carcasses to this centre. The letchwe were immediately skinned and the unusable portions, typically the head and large bones of the body, were discarded into one pile.
The preferred method of bush meat poaching is the use of wire snares, which are completely indiscriminate in their slaughter and cruelty.
The carcass was then divided into specific cuts and the meat was dried and arranged into small bundles that could easily be concealed. The meat would then be distributed at local markets.
IFAW: Turning Tragedy into Success
While combating the trade and distribution of bush meat may seem like an overwhelming task, the Kasungu landscape is already seeing the positive results of IFAW’s interventions, which began in December 2015.
With the implementation of the Commando Unit, an elite group of rangers, and the strategic distribution of law enforcement resources throughout the region, we have already seen an increase in Kasungu’s zebra population. Zebra numbers had previously dropped from 600 to a mere six individuals but in 2016 the park has been blessed with three new foals.
Zebra numbers had previously dropped from 600 to a mere six individuals but in 2016 the park has been blessed with three new foals.
Raphael Chiwindo, one of IFAW’s Kasungu team members, says that the increase is a positive sign and proof that the park has begun to recover from years of relentless bush meat hunting.
It is small reminders like this that nature and wildlife will always replenish itself, given the opportunity and our support.