Bushmeat in West and Central Africa

Bushmeat on truck in Equatorial Guinea_Janna Rist ZSL

ZSL works to understand and reduce the scale, trends and impacts of hunting of wildlife for meat in West and Central Africa, to ensure sustainability for wildlife and people.


Bushmeat is the meat of wild animals and has long been relied on as a source of protein for rural people, particularly in tropical forests. However, with growing human populations and easier access to forest areas facilitating a major commercial trade in bushmeat, hunting is becoming increasingly unsustainable for both wildlife and people.  There is an urgent need to develop successful initiatives that will ensure the sustainability of bushmeat harvesting in the long term, both to protect vulnerable species and ecosystems and to secure the social and economic values of bushmeat for local communities.

Why we are there

The harvest of bushmeat (wild meat) has become a focus of global concern due to increasingly unsustainable levels of hunting and trade. This is particularly so in the tropical forests of West and Central Africa, leading to reports of a 'bushmeat crisis' in the region. Unsustainable hunting not only threatens wildlife and ecosystem services but also the food security and livelihoods of the people who use this resource.

Key achievements and goals

ZSL has been leading work in this field for the past 15 years, carrying out cutting-edge research to understand the issues behind the hunting and trade of bushmeat, developing, testing and applying strategies to address the problem and seeking to inform decision-making at the policy level.

ZSL's Bushmeat Research Programme

The Bushmeat Research Programme at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology has been carrying out research on bushmeat hunting and trade in West and Central Africa since 1999, operating in 10 West and Central African countries as well as Europe. The programme is inter-disciplinary, tackling ecological, social and economic questions via a combination of fieldwork and mathematical modelling, and policy-focused, aiming to answer a range of questions relevant to potential management responses.  The conclusions of this research have informed ZSL’s conservation projects working across the region with timber companies, protected area authorities and local communities to tackle the unsustainable bushmeat trade. 

Find out more: ZSL Bushmeat Research Programme

UK Bushmeat Working Group

The UK Bushmeat Working Group (UKBWG) meets regularly to discuss issues relating to hunting, consumption and trade of bushmeat, especially in the context of development, sustainable livelihoods and conservation. ZSL acts as the Secretariat for the group and regularly convenes UKBWG meetings to discuss bushmeat research, management and policy.

Find out more: UK Bushmeat Working Group

Evaluating alternatives to bushmeat

ZSL’s early research evaluating hunter incentives and rural dependence on bushmeat in Equatorial Guinea provided insight into the factors that drive hunting as a livelihood choice and the role that bushmeat plays in people’s diets.  This led to the development of our bushmeat and fish alternatives work in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.  These projects are working with communities to evaluate, test and implement culturally acceptable and economically viable and alternatives to bushmeat, both in terms of food and income. 

Related projects

Review of alternative livelihood projects

Alongside our bushmeat alternatives work we are also carrying out a systematic review of the effectiveness of alternative livelihood projects for conservation in collaboration with partners CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) and IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development).

Find out more: Review of alternative livelihoods for conservation

Global bushmeat database

ZSL is also a partner in the development of a global database on bushmeat, in collaboration with the Universities of Sussex and Oxford and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more: The Offtake Database

Illegal wildlife trade

In recent years the impact of illicit wildlife trade on species has reached unprecedented levels.  Read more about the wildlife trade and ZSL’s work to protect rhinos, elephants, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, pangolins, sharks, seahorses, coral and many other illegally traded species.

Find out more: ZSL's illegal wildlife trade work

Programme information


All hunted forest species, from pangolins to porcupines and goliath frogs to gorillas

People involved

  • ZSL’s Dr Noelle Kumpel and Chris Ransom oversee our bushmeat policy and conservation work and Drs Marcus Rowcliffe and Guy Cowlishaw manage the ZSL Bushmeat Research Programme within ZSL’s Institute of Zoology

Partners and sponsors

  • Partners: Imperial College London, UCL, INDEFOR-AP, ANDEGE, Conservation International, USAID CARPE, ECOFAC
  • Kindly funded by: Defra, ESRC, NERC, Rufford Foundation; USFWS; Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund; SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund; Hess Equatorial Guinea, Inc.



Equatorial Guinea Bushmeat Market

The UK Bushmeat Working Group (UKBWG) meets regularly to discuss hunting and trade in bushmeat in the context of development, sustainable livelihoods and conservation.

The group is open to all representatives of key UK Government departments, the timber and other relevant industries, conservation and development NGOs and other national or international bodies and individuals with an interest in bushmeat issues. These include development agencies, conservation organisations, charities bringing relief and aid to tropical forest countries, human rights organisations, academic departments and training centres, and commercial, industrial and trade organisations, amongst others.

The UKBWG’s specific mandate is, with reference to trade in bushmeat in the context of development, conservation and sustainable livelihoods, to assist the exchange of information, to improve understanding, to build consensus through dialogue and debate and to disseminate the results as appropriate among its members and more widely through links to other organisations both within the UK and abroad.

The UKBWG was established in 1999 under the UK Tropical Forest Forum. In 2006, with funding from DEFRA, ZSL assumed responsibility for facilitating and administering the group, convening meetings and disseminating information to its members.


UK Bushmeat Working Group: recent meeting reports: