Why eat wild meat?

There is growing concern that hunting for wild meat consumption is unsustainable and threatening biodiversity conservation and food security across sub-Saharan Africa. But for initiatives that promote alternatives to succeed, they must be based in a strong understanding of why people eat wild meat.

July 2018 - March 2021
Dilys Roe

Principal researcher and team leader (biodiversity), Natural Resources

Conservation, communities and equity
A programme of work showing how IIED is building capacity to understand and implement equitable conservation and enhance community voice in conservation policymaking
The meat from a duiker is prepared for a meal, close to the Dia Faunal Reserve, Cameroon (Photo: Stephanie Brittain)

Cameroon's Dja Faunal Reserve is home to five threatened species of mammal (Photo: C Hance/UNESCO Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

Conservation organisations have long supported initiatives that aim to provide alternatives to the hunting and consumption of wild meat – particularly when the meat comes from endangered species. In many rural areas, wild meat is the key source of protein in peoples’ diet so, if its consumption is reduced, it is critical for the health of the population that additional protein supplies are available, acceptable and affordable.

Examples of initiatives aimed at reducing the consumption of wild meat include developing income-earning opportunities for hunters and alternative protein sources – such as fish, livestock or captive-bred wild species – for consumers.

Often these initiatives have failed to achieve their conservation and food security objectives because they failed to consider the underlying drivers behind peoples’ choice to eat wild meat, such as its availability and relatively low cost, taste and cultural influences.

What is IIED doing?

The ‘Why eat wild meat: developing effective alternatives to bushmeat consumption’ project focuses on the Dja Faunal Reserve in southeast Cameroon – a rainforest UNESCO World Heritage Site almost completely surrounded by the Dja River and notable for its wide diversity of primates and other mammals.

While most wild meat ends up being sold to urban consumers, high levels of local consumption remain a significant conservation threat in rural locations such as the area around the Dja Faunal Reserve. Here rural people hunt and consume a wide range of wild animals, including threatened species such as chimpanzees, gorillas, dwarf crocodiles and giant pangolins.

IIED and partners will conduct research, including within villages adjacent to the reserve, to understand why people are choosing to eat wild meat, as well as what local people want from initiatives to develop alternatives. We will use our findings to support improvements to the way initiatives are designed around the reserve and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

One specific output will be a decision support tool, for use by the designers of new interventions, so that initiatives are better aligned with the drivers of food choice and meet peoples’ needs and priorities, making them more effective at increasing food security, and conserving species threatened by unsustainable hunting.

Under the project, IIED is providing coordination and leading on the desk-based reviews and international outreach, while the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), University of Oxford, is leading the project field work.

Living Earth and Fondation Camerounaise de la Terre Vivante (FCTV Cameroon) is leading on the liaison with Dja Faunal Reserve projects, stakeholder engagement and national dissemination, to ensure findings are mainstreamed into government strategies.

Our preliminary findings from a literature review (PDF) on key drivers of wild meat as a food choice were published for the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, Canada, on 25-29 November 2019 as background to the agenda item on sustainable wildlife management.

Trial the design support tool

Are you a project implementer based anywhere in the world, about to embark on a wild meat alternatives project? Would you be willing to trial our decision support tool guidance, with support from the 'Why eat wild meat?' project team where necessary?

The tool is available in multiple languages and supports practitioners to find sustainable alternatives to wild meat that work for rural people.

If so, please do get in contact, we would love to hear from you. Please email [email protected].

Get involved

  • Are you a conservation practitioner who is designing and implementing wild meat alternatives projects in sub-Saharan Africa? Please take 10 minutes to complete our survey exploring the drivers of wild meat consumption  
  • Are you a policymaker working on wild meat in sub-Saharan Africa? Please take 10 minutes to complete our survey exploring the drivers of wild meat consumption and factors for successful alternatives projects 
  • Tell us about any existing initiatives on bushmeat alternatives in the Dja Faunal Reserve, or further afield in sub-Saharan Africa, or
  • Share with us key references for our evidence-based reviews (such as journal articles, project reports, book chapters, conference proceedings or dissertations).

Contact researcher Francesca Booker by email: [email protected].