Illegal hunting has been reported as one of, if not the most severe threats to wildlife in Zambia and surrounding countries in the Southern African region. The illegal bushmeat trade refers to the illegal, commercial and unsustainable trade in wildlife meat. As populations rise and become more urbanized the bush meat trade is becoming increasingly unsustainable, causing profound wildlife population decline and eco-system collapse.

Killing methods such as snaring are silent and indiscriminate, harming species across the board from ungulates to carnivores and elephants. Further, the devastating reduction in prey species numbers has an immediate effect on threatened carnivore populations in protected areas. Populations of wildlife in some protected areas are alarmingly low and uncontrolled illegal hunting could easily result in the loss of several keystone species. Illegal hunting is also a threat to the wildlife heritage of African countries and to tourism and game farming based sources of employment.

Snared Lion
Photo Credits: Zambian Carnivore Programme

In addition to severe ecological impacts, illegal hunting can confer serious negative economic and social impacts. Economic consequences include major negative impacts on wildlife industries (e.g. tourism, legal hunting and game farming). Social consequences include negative impacts on food security in the long term through the loss of a potentially sustainable supply of meat protein through legal hunting, the loss of tourism-based employment and the loss of wildlife heritage. The scale and the severity of the threat is such that without urgent intervention, one of Zambia’s most valuable resources will be lost.

The Law on Illegal Bushmeat

The illegal possession of bushmeat is a crime under the Zambia Wildlife Act No.14 of 2015:
  • Illegal possession of wild meat or trophy (e.g. Buffalo, Impala, Duiker): K 90 – 180,000 or up to 7 years imprisonment (section 129)
  • Illegal possession of meat or trophy of protected animal (e.g. Eland, Roan, Sable,  Elephant, Rhino, Pangolin, etc) 5 – 10 years imprisonment (section 130)
The journey of illegal bushmeat: from poacher to plate

Here are some things you should know about the bushmeat trade. Consider this before your next purchase.

Where does the meat come from?

In Zambia, most poachers use homemade, muzzle-loading shotguns and hunt near their homes travelling on foot or by bicycle. Most are motivated by a need for some sort of income and will sell the bushmeat commercially to traders in the closest town. However the activity is dangerous, poachers risk encounters with wild animals as well as arrest by DNPW officers but suffer from a lack of employment options from legal alternatives. This is a vicious cycle which must be disrupted. Illegal activities must be deterred in order to make space for sustainable legal industry for these vulnerable communities.

Bushmeat comes from protected areas all over Zambia. Poachers enter national parks and their surrounding areas hunting indiscriminately. The tools of the trade include wire snares and any other tools that can be easily acquired. Sometimes meat is harvested from animals that died of disease or that were rotting in a snare. You cannot trust that poached meat is safe for consumption. 

Snared Wild Dog
Photo Credits: Zambian Carnivore Programme

The meat could come from anywhere and be anything

The poacher kills an animal and carries it back to his village or camp in the bush. Here he skins and butchers it possibly using rusty old knives then preserves the meat by smoking and drying it out on a very basic drying rack. Meat is smoked and dried in the most unsanitary of conditions. The processing of the meat is unhygienic and often different cuts from different species are mixed together indiscriminately. Law enforcement officers report poachers urinating on the meat to disguise the smell of the rotting meat.

This meat of various animals caught (confiscated piles have been reported as including lion, pangolin, hyena) is usually stockpiled and sold to traders in bulk.  The meat is smuggled into Lusaka. Smoking and drying makes it easier to transport but harder to identify. There are high chances that the meat you eat is contaminated. The meat is hidden in luggage or amongst other products such as charcoal bags or sacks of maize to avoid detection.

Drying Rack
Photo Credits: Giraffe Media Productions

The illegal bushmeat trade also fuels corruption. Small amounts are transported by public transport and larger amounts by private cars and trucks.  When a trader buys the bushmeat from a poacher there is no certifiable way of identifying what animal the meat could have come from. Traders are aware that unauthorized bushmeat possession is illegal so they conceal it in bags of charcoal or agricultural produce to avoid being apprehended by the authorities. Sometimes the trader travels for many days and all the while the bushmeat would be in the boot of vehicles, deep in whatever produce it was hidden in. The bushmeat is then smuggled to other places by either private or public transport.

Finally, after days of keeping the bushmeat in the boot of vehicles or in unclean trucks, it is sold to a customer. There are so many diseases that can and have resulted from eating illegal bushmeat, including anthrax as reported in 2011 from hippo meat.

So next time, please remember: This Is Not A Game. Choose legal game meat you can trust.