For many years, the species that are well known and loved among the public have received the lion’s share of conservation funding. The panda became the symbol of wildlife conservation half a century ago, and for many years, elephants have been a focus for conservation followed by rhinos, tigers, and other “charismatic animals” that capture the public’s attention.
Only the pangolin is an anomaly on the list, as few people have ever seen this elusive nocturnal animal. But since the pangolin has been labeled as the world’s most trafficked mammal, many programs have been developed to reduce demand for its scales and meat.
At GlobeScan, we have been conducting extensive research for demand reduction programs among consumers of these animals, such as this WWF study on elephant ivory in China or USAID studies on elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and tigers in China and Vietnam.
Recently, smaller species have been receiving more attention. Conservationists have known for years that the consumption of wild meat, or “bushmeat,” is depleting populations of wild animals, resulting in fauna-free forests. COVID-19 has brought wildlife markets to the attention of the public and governments as health hazards, with bats being the suspected origin of the virus. According to a WWF-GlobeScan study in March 2020 (the early stages of the pandemic), over 90 per cent of the population of Japan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam favored closing wildlife markets in their countries.
However, some 10 per cent of consumers indicated that they would continue to consume wildlife once the pandemic has subsided. The accompanying graphic shows the types of species purchased in wildlife markets in the five countries noted above as a percentage of wildlife products bought in the past 12 months, with bats in third place.
The study that GlobeScan is currently undertaking will repeat the 2020 study on a larger scale (including China and the USA), and will be released in April 2021. It will be very interesting to see what has or has not changed.
Bushmeat in Nigeria
Following the studies in Asia, GlobeScan conducted a study for WildAid in Nigeria in Q4 of 2020 on the consumption of bushmeat. The WildAid report reveals that consumption of bushmeat is widespread in Nigeria’s largest cities regardless of location, age, income, or the potential links to zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. The survey was conducted amongst 2,000 people in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Calabar, all major centers for the bushmeat trade in Nigeria. The bushmeat trade is prevalent in West and Central Africa, with Nigeria being the transit point for illegal wildlife trade.
The report found that 71 per cent of participants had consumed bushmeat at some point in their lives, and 44 per cent had consumed it within the last year. Grasscutters, a type of rodent, are the most popular bushmeat species consumed in Nigeria, followed by antelope and a range of other animals.
Why people eat bushmeat
While bushmeat can be an important part of rural food security, rapid urbanization has significantly increased demand despite other widely available and more affordable protein sources. More than half of those who had consumed bushmeat within the last year cited taste as the main reason, while 30 per cent said it was part of their culture. Accessibility and price were the weakest drivers of purchase.
COVID-19 and bushmeat
COVID-19 was of concern to 27 per cent of consumers who said they stopped buying bushmeat, in a country that was previously impacted by an Ebola outbreak in 2014. Bushmeat consumption dipped at that time but increased again after the outbreak was contained and publicity died down. In our study, 30 per cent say that COVID-19 has stopped them from buying bushmeat, and another 30 per cent say that it has reduced their bushmeat consumption.
Faced with enormous threats including hunting for bushmeat, wildlife species in Nigeria have declined dramatically over the past 50 years. Today, Nigeria has fewer than 50 lions, 100 gorillas, 500 elephants, and between 1,400–2,300 chimpanzees left in the wild. From 2016–2019, over half of the pangolin scales seized globally came from Nigeria.
Investigations conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in the UK have found that organized crime and endemic corruption have resulted in Nigeria becoming the world’s primary exit point for elephant ivory and pangolin scales trafficked from Africa to Asia. The same networks and routes used for the bushmeat trade are being co-opted for international wildlife trafficking.
Bushmeat legality and messages
Later this year, WildAid will launch a public awareness campaign in major cities across Nigeria to change consumer behavior and will collaborate with local Nigerian government agencies to improve enforcement and communication of existing wildlife laws.
55 per cent of the people interviewed think that all bushmeat is legal to buy and three-quarters of bushmeat consumers think that the federal government is responsible for protecting Nigeria’s wildlife, but only 50 per cent say they are doing it well. Bushmeat consumers feel positively about Nigerian wildlife: 70 per cent of people think that the animals should be protected and 60 per cent see them as important for their national heritage.
Campaigns will need to find the right balance in their messages to touch the hearts and minds of people by protecting wildlife and emphasizing the illegality of buying wild meat, but above all, they should point to the danger of another pandemic if we do not do so.
Coronaviruses have long been known to transfer from bats to humans and the fear of another pandemic may reduce the demand for wildlife products more than anything else. It may very well save many species from extinction and help humanity avoid further pandemics in the future, but it remains to be seen how large or long-lasting an effect COVID-19 will have, or whether humanity will continue to make the same mistakes.
Webinar: Understanding and Addressing Urban Consumption of Bushmeat in Nigeria
WildAid will launch a demand reduction campaign in Nigeria in 2021 to help lower the risk of future disease transmission and to protect the country’s wildlife.
On February 9, 2021, WildAid and GlobeScan hosted a webinar to learn about this study and to discuss the best way to use these findings to protect Nigeria’s wildlife.
We wre excited to have the following panelists join us to share their valuable insights:
- Peter Knights, CEO at WildAid
- Linus Unah, West African Representative at WildAid
- Wander Meijer, Director at GlobeScan
- Dr. Yahya Disu, Head of Risk Communications at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control