Bushmeat hunting is emerging as a major threat to many species of wildlife in Africa, largely due to the rapid growth of urban populations. Pangolins are particularly vulnerable, as they were already facing extinction in Africa and Asia. In addition to the consumption of their meat in Africa, the export of pangolin scales to Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine is a major contributing factor to their declining numbers. Senior consultant for WildAid Simon Denyer discussed the consumption of pangolin meat in Cameroon cities and the results of WildAid’s 2021 study.
Pangolins consists of eight species, all of which are native to sub-Saharan Africa or tropical and subtropical Asia. Cameroon is located in Central Africa, which is home to the following three species of pangolin: the black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), the white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspid), and the giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea).
WildAid’s report focuses on the impact of unsustainable bushmeat hunting, especially of pangolin, and examines the factors that are driving the consumption of pangolin meat. The recent and rapid development of large cities in sub-Saharan Africa like Cameroon is generating significant demand for bushmeat that exceeds the sustainable harvest rates of many species. The value of the wild meat trade in Central Africa was valued at between $1 billion and $3 billion even 20 years ago. While up-to-date figures are hard to come by, hunting is certainly depleting wildlife populations.
WildAid conducted its study on pangolin consumption in September 2021, interviewing consumers of bushmeat in restaurants and markets in the Cameroonian cities of Douala and Mbalmayo. The idea was to focus on frequent consumers of bushmeat to examine their habits and preferences in detail. Douala is the economic capital of Cameroon with a population of around 3 million people, while Mbalmayo is a smaller city of 70,000 people in the center of the country, which links rural areas with the capital Yaoundé. The study was conducted ahead of the launch of a major campaign launched by WildAid in February aimed at curbing the consumption of pangolin meat and raising awareness of the importance of wildlife conservation.
Porcupine was the most frequently eaten form of bushmeat, with 75% of respondents having consumed it in the past 12 months. The second most frequently eaten species was pangolin, with 49% of respondents having consumed it in the past year. This finding was considerably higher for pangolins than found in similar studies commissioned by WildAid in Nigeria and Gabon, Denyer said, exposing the availability and demand for pangolin meat in Cameroon.
Other popular and frequently consumed forms of bushmeat in Cameroon included crocodile, snake, rat, duiker, and monkey. Consumption of other endangered species, including gorilla, chimpanzee, manatee, elephant, and leopard was reported, although less frequently. When respondents were asked which forms of bushmeat they would eat if the cost was not an issue, pangolin topped the list as the most popular choice, followed by porcupine and crocodile. These findings dramatically underline the threats to Cameroon’s pangolin population from urban consumption, Denyer said.
Asked why they chose pangolin meat, 55% said it was tastier than other forms of bushmeat. A further 22% either said it was fresher, healthier or contained fewer chemicals than regular meat or fish, while a total of 11% either said it was a luxury or said it conferred higher status than other forms of bushmeat. Conversely, when respondents were asked why they had last chosen regular meat or fish, 57% said it was more accessible, and 52% said it was cheaper. Just 5% said it was healthier, 3% said it was tastier, and only 2% cited laws about bushmeat.
Although bushmeat markets are associated with the transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans, Denyer said the results showed that consumers saw bushmeat as fresher and healthier than regular forms of meat. Along with a clear preference for the taste of pangolin meat, that represents a significant challenge to any conservation awareness campaign.
The study also found that awareness of Cameroon’s own laws was low. In 2017, international trade in all eight species of pangolin was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the government of Cameroon followed suit by banning the hunting, capture, killing and trade of all three indigenous pangolin species. However, only a third of bushmeat consumers were aware it is illegal to buy pangolin meat, while 82% said the recent change in the law had made no difference to their consumption of pangolin meat.
The most frequently consumed types of bushmeat in Cameroon include pangolin, porcupine, crocodile, hedgehog, rat, monkey, duiker and antelope. Pangolin is the favorite when money isn’t an object, but survey respondents also showed strong preferences for porcupine and crocodile. This list includes many endangered species, raising serious concerns about the sustainability of bushmeat hunting to support the demand from growing cities in Cameroon. Simon Denyer and WildAid’s study also shows that bushmeat consumption is strongly embedded in Cameroon’s culture, as many people feel that it’s fresher and healthier than other forms of meat.
However, Denyer said WildAid’s studies have shown that pride in Cameroon’s wildlife is high among city dwellers, while many are also proud that pangolins exist in Cameroon. WildAid’s campaign aims to raise awareness of Cameroon’s laws making consumption of pangolin meat illegal, and raise awareness that pangolins face extinction if current trends continue.
“It’s really encouraging to see how much pride Cameroonians have in their incredible wildlife, and in pangolins specifically,” Denyer said. “People here have lived in balance with nature for countless generations, and it is really important to restore that natural balance before it’s too late.”