Hunting of local wildlife for human consumption (bushmeat) is a major threat to biodiversity in many protected areas. In areas such as the rainforests of the Congo Basin where the presence of tsetse flies limits cattle rearing, bushmeat is the most important source of protein, iron and fat. Our study explored the reasons why people hunt in these areas and investigated how this threat to wildlife populations can be reduced.

Lomami National Park was created in 2016 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in an area where three unique primates occur: the bonobo Pan paniscus, the Dryas monkey Cercopithecus dryas, which was previously known only from one other park, and the Lesula monkey Cercopithecus lomamiensis, which is endemic to Lomami. The Park is also home to forest elephants and okapis, among other animals.

Left: Lomami National Park. Right: Lesula monkeys Cercopithecus lomamiensis, endemic to Lomami. Photo: Hart et al. (2012).

Although the Park managers were familiar with the exceptional wildlife found within the Park, they were eager to determine which species people preferred to consume and sell, which were most threatened by hunting, and whether there were any local taboos regarding what kinds of animals can and cannot be hunted.

To help answer these questions, we used a participatory research approach. We visited 24 villages in the area that are inhabited by people belonging to various ethnic groups and asked members of local communities which species they preferred to eat, which sold for the highest prices in urban markets, and which they thought had become scarce because of overhunting. We also visited the local bushmeat market in Kindu, the largest town near Lomami National Park, to see whether local peoples’ comments were reflected in the species offered for sale.

A common duiker, a species regularly hunted for bushmeat.

Local communities were very keen to discuss bushmeat issues, as this matter is highly important to them. We observed very few differences between ethnic groups: most people prefer to eat or trade the same species. In general, larger species are traded and smaller ones are consumed in the  household. In most villages hunters reported a decline in several species, which they related to an increased number of foreign hunters (i.e. from beyond Lomami) and the increased use of firearms, as guns make it easier to hunt larger animals and animals occurring in groups such as monkeys.

In Kindu market we observed 18 species, mostly traded as smoked carcasses. Meat is usually smoked to preserve it, as the electricity necessary to power fridges is not available in the area. Most vendors also mentioned a decline in the abundance of certain species and expressed concern that some had become very difficult to find. Duikers (small deer), monkeys, pangolins, and even crocodiles, were available for sale. Alarmingly, we found four species of conservation concern in the market. We estimated that over 40,000 carcasses are sold annually, with an estimated total retail value of USD 725,000. Bushmeat is clearly a major source of income locally.

Left: Smoked bushmeat carcasses sold at the market. Right: Assorted bushmeat for sale. Photos: Rodrigue Batumike

How do we address this issue? In some areas, bushmeat is often the only source of animal protein. Until other sources of protein are available locally, we believe people should be allowed to hunt certain species (those that are not threatened), in limited numbers. It is important that local communities and foreign hunters are made aware of which species are threatened and should not be hunted. In addition, as the local people suggested to us, they should be empowered to help manage their own wildlife resources in the Park’s buffer zone. For example, they could be involved in reporting illegal activities by foreign hunters.

Addressing the problem of bushmeat hunting is not easy, especially if Park managers lack staff and funding to do so and if alternative sources of animal protein are limited. However, our research helped start a conversation, and made stakeholders realize they are on the same side: local communities also want hunting to be sustainable in the Park buffer zone, so that their children can continue to eat animal protein. We hope that our work can also inspire others to use such participatory approaches to investigate bushmeat issues elsewhere.

The article Bushmeat hunting around Lomami National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo is available in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

Aida Cuni-Sanchez spent 10 years working to help quantify sustainable use of forest products, including medicinal plants, wild fruit, caterpillars and bushmeat, using participatory approaches. She is currently a postdoc at the University of York, York, UK.