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Nigeria’s bushmeat consumption rises despite COVID risk

Regardless of possible links to zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, consumption of wildlife, or “bushmeat” is widespread in Nigeria’s top cities, a new survey report reveals.

Factors like taste, culture, and health concerns are major drivers to the consumption of bushmeat in Nigeria’s urban regions.

Launched at a press conference in Lagos, GlobeScan surveyed 2,000 people in Lagos, Abuja, PortHarcourt, and Calabar, all major centres for the bushmeat trade in Nigeria.

The report found that 71 percent of participants had consumed bushmeat at some point in their lives, and 45 percent had consumed it within the last year.

COVID-19 was of concern to 27 percent of consumers who said they stopped buying bushmeat, in a country that was previously impacted by an Ebola outbreak. Bushmeat consumption dipped at that time but increased again after publicity died down.

The bushmeat trade is prevalent in West and Central Africa, with Nigeria being the transit point for illegal wildlife trade.

While bushmeat is an important part of rural food security, rapid urbanization has caused a soaring urban demand for bushmeat, despite widely available and affordable alternative protein sources.

More than 50 percent who had consumed bushmeat within the last year cited taste as the main reason, while 30 percent said it was part of their culture, and 25 percent said that it is healthier and fresher than regular meat and fish.

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The survey was commissioned by WildAid, an international organisation committed to wildlife protection and engages in copious campaigns to prevent wildlife consumption while encouraging its protection.

Wildlife is faced with a lot of threats as illicit hunting for bushmeat has drastically declined wildlife species in Nigeria over the past 50 years.

Today, Nigeria has fewer than 50 lions, 100 gorillas, 500 elephants, and between 1,400 to 2,300 chimpanzees left in the wild.

Between 2016 – 2019, over half of the pangolin scales seized globally came from Nigeria. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion annually.

But Peter Knights, CEO at WildAid, believes that Nigeria could lead the region in a new approach that recognizes the incredible risks of live wildlife trade with improved enforcement and greater public awareness.

“Rather than an ever-growing list of endangered and high disease risk species that are prohibited from commercial trade, the government could communicate a very short list of “safe” game species, such as grasscutter, that are allowed, which could be easily understood by the public and enforcement officials,” said Knights.

Rasak Kolawole Adekola, director of Nigeria’s Federal Department of Forestry, Federal Ministry of Environment, said the outcome of the survey was quite revealing and will form the basis for the ministry’s step-up action against bushmeat consumption in Nigeria.

He added WildAid’s campaign against bushmeat consumption was a highly commendable and timely initiative that will not only assist in ensuring that our wild animals are left in the wild, but also help in the control, and keeping zoonotic diseases at bay.

The term ‘bushmeat’ is freely used in Nigeria to describe wildlife species erroneously believed to be free and available for poaching and consumption. But in most cases, poachers are oblivious of the fact that these wild animals are protected by law.

The survey showed that public knowledge of existing wildlife legislation that prohibits hunting and trade of endangered species is low as only 31 percent correctly identified that only some species are legal to buy/eat.

Almost nine out of ten (88 percent) said that some or all bushmeat should be legal.

On the positive side, however, 98 percent of those surveyed said there were ready alternatives in the form of fish, chicken, and other farmed meats. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said wildlife should be protected and 59 percent believe wildlife is important for their national heritage.

To help combat wildlife trafficking, the Nigerian government will soon launch the West African Strategy on Combating Wildlife Crime (WASCWC), Adekola, intoned, revealing that Nigeria will also sign an Agreement with Cameroon under the Cooperation Framework Agreement to tackle transnational wildlife crime.

But Linus Unah, WildAid West African representative, believes education is the key.

“We need to educate urban Nigerians, who typically live far away from forests where bushmeat is often harvested, about the risks of zoonotic disease, the conservation impact of the bushmeat trade, and the fact that current wildlife laws prohibit the hunting and trade of several species,” he said.

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