Is it realistic or desirable to ask Africans to stop eating bushmeat?

Answer by Rory Young:

The hunting and preparation of bush meat is not considered wrong for all people at all times. Areas are set aside for traditional hunting and there are very clear restrictions on what weapons can be used and what species can be taken. Bats are not allowed by law to be hunted in many countries, and are discouraged in many others. Considering the latest separate two outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa and the most recent outbreak of Marburg Virus in Uganda, it is most likely and understandable that more countries will enact legislation banning the hunting and consumption of bats.

In a traditional setting, the animals are hunted for personal consumption and usually in remote locations. In the case of a disease outbreak villages in an affected area would cut themselves off from all contact with neighbours, effectively quarantining the virus. In some regions an infected family would be given food and water and then a line would be drawn around their home. They would be forbidden from crossing the line until the disease was clearly finished its progress.

The situation now however has changed dramatically. Poachers are travelling to wildlife areas, killing and transporting and selling meat to the city people on an industrial scale. The wildlife populations cannot sustain the pressure and are rapidly being wiped out. Furthermore, as the world has discovered too late, the lack of hygiene and contact with blood and other fluids of wild animals means that diseases make the leap from animals to man. It happens often and sometimes, as in the case of HIV from hunted monkeys and Ebola from hunted bats, it is deadly and could devastate the entire planet.

It is not unreasonable in the slightest to expect Africans to eat meat that has been produced both in a sustainable and an hygienic manner. It certainly doesn't mean that they have to eat Western food either. Game meat can and is produced in many parts of Africa. The production though is carefully regulated and policed, and there are stringent regulations relating to the processing and sale of any game meat. Interestingly, the carrying capacity of the land is up to ten times greater for indigenous game than for cattle and other livestock.

Whether everyone can be fed meat in Africa or where their protein can or could potentially come from is another matter entirely. What is absolutely certain is that unless Africa's population slows and we find ways of responsibly managing our natural resources we are heading for a calamity much greater than the current Ebola outbreak.

I am in Guinea right now. I sit every day and discuss exactly these questions with the most senior government officials responsible for natural resources and their protection. With Ebola on all our minds constantly, there is no question whatsoever that anyone can or should be allowed to hunt and sell bat meat.

Is it realistic or desirable to ask Africans to stop eating bushmeat?

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