Sabi Sands Photographic Safari

Bushmeat hunting alarmingly high in South Africa

Bushmeat hunting in Africa is rife, with estimates stating that more than eight million tons of wild animals are eaten every year! Although most research on this hunting focusses on the tropical forests of Africa, in countries such as the DRC and Cameroon – the results of the following survey show that hunting for the pot is very common in South Africa.


Primates are often consumed as bushmeat in Africa. ©Name withheld

As the infographic below shows, a study exclusively made available to Africa Geographic shows just how serious the problem is in savannah habitats too. The results of the survey, which surveyed rural inhabitants in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, show 90% of men hunt illegally but none of the women surveyed hunted.

Amongst the men who hunted, most claimed that they hunted more than three times a week and more than three-quarters of the men hunt at least weekly. When asked in they were worried about getting caught and prosecuted for illegal hunting over 95% of people who said they hunted were not afraid of getting caught.

bushmeat-infographic-south-africa-illegal-hunting-food security

The survey asked what methods of hunting respondents used. The most frequent hunting method was the use of traps and snares, which is also the most wasteful method of hunting, as often animals are not collected from snares and left to rot. The second most common method of hunting was the use of dogs to chase down prey. Very few men hunted with guns and most said the reason for this was they could not afford guns. 

The vast majority of men – 65% – said they hunted to feed themselves and/or their families. Approximately 20% hunted for sport or gambling (placing bets on the outcome of the hunt, for example whether the dogs will catch prey) whilst 5% hunted for traditional medicine. The implications of such responses are important not just for conservation because, whilst the amount of animals lost is significant, the fact that almost seven out of ten respondents were hunting to eat makes this a significant human welfare concern too.  

It is easy to argue against illegal bushmeat hunting but with hunger as the driving force it is difficult to moralise. What is clear is that further research is needed to identify bushmeat hotspots across Africa and to aid control measures that prevent huge losses of animals in these areas, with specific focus on animals that are declining significantly due to these hunting pressures. 

Carolynne Geary

Carolynne is a South African who has returned after a decade here, there and almost everywhere. During her travels she gained a Masters in Conservation from University College London, taught in a Mexican university, managed a language school in Italy and became a field guide in the African bush. She is passionate about conservation, photography, languages and Italian gelato. The views expressed in her posts are her own. Connect with her on Facebook.

  • Bundubele

    Mr Gates (of Microsoft fame) has a good idea – offering several live chickens to a household which, when looked after, can offer a viable alternative as a source of food and income to a poverty-stricken household.

  • Peter Apps

    From the tone of the article I get the impression that you consider “bushmeat” hunting to be intrinsically undesirable. The very term “bushmeat” has pejorative connotations. The results that you present are very sketchy, and the detail that is critically important to a sensible evaluation of the situation is missing. Does a man who hunts three times a week kill something three times a week, or does he come home empty handed more often than not to a meal of vegetables and mealie porridge ? What animals are hunted ? – there is a world of difference in ecological impact between dogs catching rabbits and dogs catching oribi to give only one instance. Let them keep chickens, a commenter says, but how many chickens are required to provide the same meat as one rabbit or cane rat a week and what are the chickens going to eat ?, and how many small carnivores will be killed to keep them out of the coop ?. If the wild meat is to be replaced by meat from domestic stock what are the environmental impacts of the increased herd sizes ?

    Criticism is easy when you can buy your meat in packages from a supermarket shelf.

    • Carolynne Geary

      I disagree that ‘bushmeat’ has pejorative connotations – in the interests of clarity it is important to use the correct term – I am unfamiliar with another term which is more suitable. I agree that further research is needed – I state that in the final paragraph, which is also where I state that “It is easy to argue against illegal bushmeat hunting but with hunger as the driving force it is difficult to moralise”. In addition your comment about oribi vs other less endangered species (although riverine rabbits are critically endangered so I will not use rabbits as an example) is absolutely correct, again in the final paragraph it states that there should be a specific focus on “on animals that are declining significantly due to these hunting pressures”. The interface between conservation and human rights is fraught with contention and it is very difficult to navigate and you are right “criticism is easy” but not always accurate.

      • Carolynne Geary

        Oribi – not orbit. Autocorrect.

      • Peter Apps

        Hi Carolynne

        “Alarmingly” in the title and a gory picture as lead are not usual ways to start an article that approves of its subject, hence my conclusion that it was anti-bushmeat (which would be the default position on this blog). “Bushmeat” as a description for wild-harvested meat comes from central and west Africa where large scale commercialised meat hunting has had (and continues to have) adverse impacts on animal populations in previously unexploited areas.

        Are the detailed results of the study going to be made available ?

    • Bundubele

      An ‘alarmingly’ hign bushmeat problem may originate from an article by a Mr Bakkes in Namibia who witnessed the industrialised slaughter of wildlife in that country and the consequential wastage of many carcasses lying on the roadside. If bushmeat is desirable and to be consumed then, in my opinion, it needs proper animal husbandry and slaughtering under controlled conditions.

      • Peter Apps

        I think that we can all agree that such waste is deplorable, whether of wildlife or farm animals. One of the main advantages of wild harvested meat is that its production does not require the husbandry that is critical with farm animals. Properly done, field harvesting is as hygienic, and arguably more humane, than abattoir slaughter.

        Do you have a link to that Bakkes article ?

        • Bundubele

          My concern from an individual sentimental religous point of view is that the meat is properley bled for large-scale, commercial purposes. How this is achieved is up to stockist and the regulatory authorities. The link is an Africa Geographic link – the article sometime earlier last year, but I don’t have it immediately available.

  • Bundubele

    These statistics are so persuasive they surely have to be seriously considered. Clearly if snares and dogs are used and all the illegal hunting is done by men, there is a severe social issue. As a traditional cultural activity and perhaps a daily neccessity, hunting is overwhelmingly in the minds and actions of the rural men – most probably encouraged by their wives who have to feed the family. The real concern here is that this practice destroys its own food supply and the economic welfare of others in the community who depend on wild animals for a living. Its the same as the staff in a supermarket consuming the goods instead of selling them. The enterprise may endure for a while, but soon it becomes unviable.

    These men have to travel on foot though surely – if they are subsistance hunters. They realistically can’t travel far from their settlements and when they return with the prize, everyone in that settlement must be aware of what has taken place. So there is the obvious question of who approves? Are the men indulging in it insisting in maintaining a traditional cultural life or is it really for subsistance? This is an issue that the rural communities must deal with and come up with their own solutions – if they are to prosper in a modern world.Trying to justify illegal actions based on social history doesn’t ‘gel’ with any law enforcement. I understand the Zulu nation has a strong and noble headship. Applying and adapting to a changing environment is essential for everyone. Investor’s money can fly away like the birds in the sky if anarchy entrenches itself.

  • StephenR

    The survey is not convincing – what’s the chance of getting the truth out of these killers ?

Africa Geographic