Bushmeat includes a large variety of wild species that are eaten as food. Vertebrates contribute to almost all the bushmeat consumed in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Over 500 wild vertebrate species are traded and consumed throughout Oceania, South America, South and Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. By class, mammals are the most common, followed by birds, amphibians and reptiles.
In central and west Africa, 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. With an estimated yearly extraction rate in the Congo Basin of 4.5 million tons, if bushmeat consumption in the Congo Basin was to be replaced by locally produced beef, an area as large as 25 million hectares would have to be converted to pastures.
Achieving sustainable harvest of bushmeat is therefore a necessity and by far, the best short- to medium-term option compatible with conservation, livelihoods, food security and nutrition. Multidisciplinary approaches are needed to combine a better knowledge of the use and trade of bushmeat, the strengthening of legal frameworks, the provision of food and livelihood alternatives and the sustainable use of wildlife.
None of these alone appear to be able to solve the so-called “bushmeat crisis”, but combined and incorporated into solid national and regional bushmeat strategies, there is potential to achieve a more sustainable use of wildlife for food.