An estimated 10,000 venison dishes are sold every day in restaurants in just two Central African cities, a trade that is rapidly ridding the continent’s forests of its wildlife, researchers say.
Species like monkeys and porcupines are among the most popular species that customers are asking for in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, and in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The authors of the new study say the level of poaching to supply urban centers “has had significant ecological consequences,” with the extinction now widespread in the forests of the Congo Basin.
And they warn that the game meat trade poses a zoonotic disease risk, as pathogens are transported to populous cities where disease spread and spread “could have catastrophic effects.”
The scientists studied 326 restaurants in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the adjacent capitals separated only by the Congo River and together forming an urban agglomeration that is now believed to be the largest on the African continent.
Previous studies have found that most game meat consumed in major cities is prepared and eaten at home, but nearly a quarter of all restaurants in Brazzaville and Kinshasa apparently sell illegally caught game meat.
They ranged from open-air street stalls with wooden benches to expensive restaurants in international hotels.
After interviewing restaurant owners, chefs and waiters, they estimated that 1,403 venison dishes are sold daily in Brazzaville’s restaurants and 8,592 in Kinshasa — 9,995 in total.
“Primates are in particular demand in Kinshasa, which is a concern given their vulnerability to overhunting,” the authors write.
“The amount of illegally sourced game meat passing through restaurants is significant, and its open sale continues to reinforce the social norm around game meat consumption.”
The authors, including the University of Manchester’s Stephan M. Funk, said that most customers generally asked for “wild meat,” but when they specified a species they wanted to eat, the most popular in Brazzaville were red duiker (forest antelope), Porcupine, blue duiker and rodents.
In Kinshasa, guests asked more than anyone else about monkeys, red duikers and wild boar.
The UK government-funded study, published in the African Journal of Ecology, found that most restaurants selling game meat were informal establishments owned by women, but the number of restaurants selling game meat was increasing dependent was minor and was not considered to be of central importance to the profitability of the company”.
Most restaurateurs said they sell venison because it is in high demand and offers good profit margins.
Other reasons included “contributing to the preservation of Congolese culture, being able to offer an organic option and diversifying the menu,” the researchers said.
Only three of the 326 respondents said their restaurant doesn’t sell venison because it’s illegal.
In Central African cities, game meat can be bought fresh or smoked at markets or from private retailers.
“Deeper insight alongside respectful negotiation is ultimately the way forward to developing collaborative and innovative behavior change strategies in the game meat sector,” the study concludes.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, based at New York’s Bronx Zoo, said: “Hunting and the game meat trade have a huge, as yet unrecognized impact on biodiversity loss, and current strategies to deal with it are not working. Policy makers need to consider game meat hunting and trade alongside deforestation, fisheries management and others as an issue for global sustainability. That means establishing effective surveillance and intervention strategies at local and global levels.”