Bushmeat hunting and consumption is a pervasive issue in African savannahs: insights from four protected areas in Malawi

Abstract

The hunting and consumption of wild meat (bushmeat) is recognized as a key threat to the world’s biodiversity and there are indications this threat may extend to much of the African continent. However, this problem is understudied in African savannah systems—particularly in southern Africa. Due to its illicit nature, little research on the drivers behind hunting and consumption exists, especially using methods appropriate to the topic’s sensitivity. We explored the prevalence of hunting and consumption of wild meat in the low-income country of Malawi, by conducting 1562 interviews in communities neighbouring four different protected areas. We identified characteristics of households illegally hunting and consuming wild meat, using the unmatched count technique and socio-demographic variables in linear models. Consumption had a higher prevalence than hunting, reaching up to 39% of the population, while 4–19% of the population engaged in hunting. Consumption was more prevalent in poorer households, while hunting was more prevalent in wealthier households. Increased involvement in community projects initiated by protected areas did not always lead to reduced consumption or hunting, including at protected areas with substantial outside investment, indicating these projects need a clearer link to conservation outcomes. A preference for the taste of wild meat and for added diversity in diet were key drivers of consumption, whereas hunting was primarily motivated by the need for income. Our results highlight the disparity between drivers of hunting and consumption of wild meat and the pervasive nature of this threat, despite considerable investment into community projects and enforcement.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge H. Travers, H. Ibbett, A. Hinsley and S. Brittain for methodological advice, and E. Stone, J. Vaughan, A. Kataya, W. Mgoola, S. Kamoto and C. Hay for help with fieldwork in Malawi. We would also like to thank B. Lwesha, C. Basikolo, E. Kacheche and S. M’bama for their work as enumerators.

Funding

This work was supported by Griffith University, the Nyika-Vwaza Trust, The Rufford Foundation and National Geographic. JVV is supported by a Griffith University International Postgraduate Research Scholarship and DB by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Grant (DE 160101182).

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Correspondence to Julia L. van Velden.

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van Velden, J.L., Wilson, K., Lindsey, P.A. et al. Bushmeat hunting and consumption is a pervasive issue in African savannahs: insights from four protected areas in Malawi. Biodivers Conserv 29, 1443–1464 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-01944-4

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Keywords

  • Wild meat
  • Poaching
  • Unmatched count technique
  • Savanna
  • Conservation
  • Illegal wildlife trade