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A Taste of Home: Bushmeat

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Baboons, duiker antelopes, cane rats, and other illegally hunted animals are available by the pound in Western markets. And while the meat showing up in cities from New York to London represents just a sliver of the illegal bushmeat trade, says conservation biologist Justin Brashares, it highlights the strong demand that still exists for illegally hunted meat.

Brashares, an assistant professor of ecosystem sciences, has worked in bushmeat research for nearly a decade. He recently recruited African expatriate volunteers to cruise local bushmeat markets in New York, London, Brussels, Paris, Toronto, Montreal, and Chicago, and report back on the kinds, conditions, and quantities of African wild meat on offer.

About 13,000 pounds of illegally hunted meat moved through the seven markets surveyed each month.

That’s just a smidgen, Brashares says, of what must be flowing out of Africa into Europe and North America. And intercontinental trade, he adds, is a tiny fraction of total bushmeat kill, most of which stays in the country of origin.

Most of the meat in the survey was found to be butchered and smoked, but about 27 percent was raw, and 21 percent was not butchered at all. “You have animals basically coming over in plastic bags,” Brashares says.

Brashares says that the bushmeat is more expensive than beef, so the buyers are presumably stocking up because they want the meat for ceremonial or special occasions. He speculates that a small, legalized trade, combined with a crackdown on large-scale illegal hunting, could one day help to fulfill cultural demand for the meat in a controlled fashion.

Until then, homesick ex-pats will probably continue to turn to these underground markets. “They want to bring home the food their families miss,” says Brashares.

-Emma Maris
reprinted with permission from

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