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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 179-184

A Study of the Bushmeat Trade in Ouesso, Republic of Congo

1 Armonia/BirdLife International, Lomas de Arena 400, Casilla 3566, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
2 Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027, USA

Correspondence Address:
Jessica Rogers
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027, USA

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.49211

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Date of Submission06-Feb-2007
Date of Decision30-Oct-2007
Date of Acceptance04-Feb-2008
Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009


Ouesso, the largest town in northern Congo consumed 5700 kg of bushmeat a week in 1994. The purpose of this study, that was conducted between mid-June and mid-October1994, was to quantify the bushmeat trade in the town of Ouesso. The questions we wanted to answer included: 'from where does meat arrive in the market', 'what species are being sold' and 'how are the species being hunted'. We recorded infor­mation about the description of the species hunted, and the type and location of hunting. Any information that seemed to be of interest was also recorded, since this was the first documentation of the meat trade in Ouesso. We recorded thirty-nine species of animals used for consumption, including seven species of monkeys, eight species of antelope, as well as gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants. Duikers were most abundant, with 390 individuals sold per week. Three main hunting systems are used in the area: snare, night hunting and day hunting. About 66 per cent of the meat for the market came from an 80 km road travelling southwest to a village called Liouesso and 13 per cent came from a logging truck trading in Cameroon. Finally, we concluded that law enforcement and wildlife management were ineffective in the study area, either because people were unaware of the laws or because the area concerned was too large to monitor and patrol. The addition of roads to this area would probably facilitate greater patrolling, but it would also definitely lead to an increase in bushmeat hunting. Ouesso should be monitored in future to determine the sustainability of its bushmeat trade.

Keywords: bushmeat, Central Africa, Congo, wildlife trade

How to cite this article:
Hennessey A B, Rogers J. A Study of the Bushmeat Trade in Ouesso, Republic of Congo. Conservat Soc 2008;6:179-84

How to cite this URL:
Hennessey A B, Rogers J. A Study of the Bushmeat Trade in Ouesso, Republic of Congo. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2008 [cited 2020 Jan 21];6:179-84. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2008/6/2/179/49211

   Introduction Top

WILKIE AND CARPENTER (1999) suggest that three very difficult questions need to be answered to evaluate the impact of bushmeat (meat caught in the wild for human consumption) hunting on wildlife populations. We studied the first of these-determining the harvest rates of bushmeat species, which can be accomplished by quantifying a known market that services a given area. There is still enormous value in adding the data obtained from our study to the literature on the bushmeat trade. In 2005, Fa et al. published a study of thirty-six sites across seven countries to compare different markets and the spe­cies hunted. However, the sites in their study have fewer than 2500 inhabitants around the market (Fa et al. 2005). Ouesso is an important market because it accumulates meat from many smaller unquantified markets and supplies a human population of over 11,000 at the time of the study. Edderai and Dame (2006) studied the large, urban, Yaounde bushmeat market in Cameroon. How­ever, in contrast to Ouesso, bushmeat was only eaten by a small proportion of Yaounde's inhabitants (Edderai & Dame 2006). The market of Ouesso is unique in literature, but hardly unique as a market in Central Af­rica.

In much of the Congo Basin, including within the study area, bushmeat, is the primary source of protein (Wilkie & Carpenter 1999). There have been many different stud­ies of bushmeat in specific markets to track both the sus­tainability of hunting and the specific species being hunted (Hart 2000; Apaza et al. 2002; Fa et al. 2002; Mendelson et al. 2003) as well as examinations of the global impact and issues surrounding the bushmeat trade in general (Milner-Gulland 2002; Robinson & Bennett 2002; Rowcliffe 2002; Tomlinson et al. 2002; Milner­Gulland & Bennett 2003).

   Methods Top

The entire study region in northern Congo is a tropical forest habitat. Though areas have been cleared around villages and towns, they are always bordered by the for­est. In addition, in 1995, according to hunters in the area, nearly 20 sq km of forest surrounding Ouesso has been almost completely hunted out of large mammals. As a consequence, Ouesso depends on external sources of meat. We travelled with hunters and in trucks and observed that meat was often supplied by small hunting camps and villages with an average size of 50-100 occu­pants and usually spaced along the roads and rivers every 5 km. The meat diet of northern Congolese was and con­tinues to be almost completely restricted to fish and bushmeat; the only other source being domestic chicken. We observed no cattle in the region at the time of the study and imported beef was usually twice the price of bushmeat in a greater part of the region.

The study was conducted from 15 June to 15 October 1994. Data was gathered with the help of a Congolese as­sistant, Alain Kabo. There were several routes by which meat was entering and leaving Ouesso, including by means of trucks 3 days a week to Liouesso, a small town southwest along the main road, dug out canoes on the two rivers, the Sangha and the Ngoko, and intermittent trucks from the villages of Sangha Palm and Ngombe. We re­corded all the meat that arrived in the market on the trucks. To record the quantity and type of meat trans­ported by these trucks and boats, we travelled several days each week with them recording the quantity of meat that was picked up by the trucks. When we arrived in a village or met new people, interviews were conducted with the hunters regarding their hunting locations and methods, and how they got the meat to the market. We al­so recorded the meat that was brought into the port in the mornings and evenings, as well as the meat actually in the market. We then recorded the species and its char­acteristics (sex, weight, length, and smoked/fresh). Spe­cies were identified using the Haltenorth and Diller Field Guide (1988).

   Results Top

Species Hunted

An average of 5700 kg of meat-total weight-was sold in the Ouesso market each week, at an average of 0.5 kg per person, per week [Table 1].

From talking with villagers and hunters, we found that the Ouesso population diet is about 30 per cent fish-by weight-which was not recorded by species. Of the meat we found in the market, the most common animal sold was the Peter's duiker (Cephalophus callipygus) (see [Figure 1]). The majority of duikers (Cephalophus sp.), 64 per cent, were caught with snares. The blue duiker (Ce­(Cephalophus monticola) was caught less often with snares, probably because the snares were meant for the bigger duikers. Duikers often arrived in the market smoked and could not be identified by species, but these were weighed, measured and grouped into the 'unknown duiker' category [Figure 2].

Primates made up the next largest part of the diversity of the Ouesso meat trade (22 per cent of the market). An average of 132 primates of eight different species was brought into Ouesso each week. All gorilla meat (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) that came in to Ouesso was from the road to Liouesso, with an average of 1.6 carcasses per week. From interviews with hunters, we were able to determine that there was one hunter in Liouesso supplying the mar­ket in Ouesso. Gorilla meat was sold alongside and at the same price as other meat. Only four chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and four leopards (Panthera pardus) were seen in the market, although for different reasons.

Chimpanzees were listed as 'vulnerable' by the Inter­national Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1995 [they have since been elevated to the 'endangered' category (Oates et al. 2007)], but are of less value to hunters as they contain little meat and are more difficult to hunt as compared to snaring duikers. The reason for few leopard sightings seemed to be an issue of timing; leopards have been nearly hunted out of the region, with hunters reporting very few sightings in recent years and only accidentally being caught in snares.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana), gorillas, chimpanzees, leopards and sitatungas (Tragelaphus spe­kii) make up less than 2 per cent of the meat in the Oues­so meat trade, but represent the species of highest conservation concern. Elephant meat or tusks were en­countered on an average of 3.8 times per week. It is diffi­cult to translate this into the number of elephants, but based on the number of tusks and the amount of meat, we estimate this to be thirty-two elephants in the 4 month study. Hunters and buyers said that in the dry season (December to April) the community can kill up to three elephants per week. Elephant meat lasts the longest; smoked in chunks of size 15 cu cm it can last up to 4 weeks. The most important result was that elephant meat or tusks were continually coming through the Ouesso market, while there were also several sightings of meat or tusks leaving on the plane to Brazzaville. The majority of ivory came from the Pokola area and the majority of meat from the Liouesso area.

Bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus) is the only species in northern Congo that carry a taboo about its meat being eaten. Bongo meat was never identified in the market, but we were told a desperate hunter will disguise bongo meat by smoking it. We have no way of knowing if this oc­curred, without genetic testing, which was beyond the scope of this study, but we feel fairly certain it did hap­pen as most hunters will eat or sell whatever they can catch.

Hunting Methods

Snares are the most popular method of hunting in north­ern Congo. Snare hunting is prohibited by Congolese law No. 83 (Wilkie et al. 1992). The average snaring system is a line of snares, placed 1-3 m apart, along a well used animal trail. The average snare design is a hole dug about 15 cm deep and wide, with a loop of cable placed over the hole. The low cost of snare hunting is the main reason it is the most popular hunting method; 40.2 per cent of the carcasses we were able to measure were caught by snares. There is only the initial investment in wire cable, which is rarely prohibitively expensive, and the wire can be reused constantly. It also has the advantage of trapping live animals, which carry a higher price because they can be sold to Muslims for proper killing. However, snares are a very indiscriminate method of hunting. There is no way to stop non-target species from becoming victims.

Night hunting, also known as jacklighting, is supposed to be one of the easiest methods of acquiring game in the forest, as the animals usually freeze when they see the light. The light that bounces off their eyes helps the hunt­er locate the animal, with the hunter then firing the gun. Twenty-one per cent of carcasses were caught at night, mainly those of fruit bats and civets. The hunter is not re­quired to have any tracking skills as he just walks down a path, and can usually approach the animal until it is in is in range. The simplicity of this method has made it il­legal in many countries, including Congo [Congolese law No. 48 (Wilkie et al. 1992)]. It is considered by many hunters to be too simple and without sport, and also only a small number brave night hunting for its other inherent dangers.

Day hunting, the only legal form of hunting, was used to catch 36 per cent of carcasses. However, we only en­countered two hunters who enjoyed this type of hunting; most hunters preferring the easier methods of snaring or night hunting.

A very small group of carcasses (less than 2 per cent) were caught using traditional methods.

Meat Routes

By the time the meat is sold at the market in Ouesso it has usually gone through many hands. The meat in Oues­so is brought in through several routes [Figure 3], with 70 per cent coming from the road to Liouesso (4 per cent from the road to Ngombe). The other routes all blend into the port entrance to Ouesso, either on the Sangha (14 per cent) and Ngoko (16 per cent) rivers. Most of the meat on the Sangha river comes from the road into Cameroon and is put on the river in Sucambo.

The villages along the road to Liouesso are all similar, and few are located directly on the road. Because the roads south of Liouesso are poor, all the villages there bring their meat to the market in Liouesso. From there, two trucks make the trip between Ouesso and Liouesso 3 days a week. However, 37 per cent of the time only one of the trucks was working, and there was one day when no trucks ran. The truck stops along the route and picks up meat, along with other items being sold in the market, most notably Megaphrynium spp. (makassa), a large leafy plant that is used in the market to wrap meat. An average returning truck can carry about fifty passengers, 100 hanging animals, fifty bundles of makassa and personal baggage. We never witnessed a passenger or an animal refused. Many of the villagers said that the forest south of the Ngoko river was becom­ing over-hunted; they were catching less than they had a year earlier. No similar reports came from the Sangha river.

Meat Prices

The price of meat can increase considerably by the time it is ready for public purchase. Blue duikers and porcupines cost 2000 XAF [CFA Franc BEAC (Banques des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale)] for a whole carcass in Ouesso, but could be purchased in a village for half that amount. Prof­it increases if carcasses can be sold in Ouesso (at the time of the study, 500 XAF~1 USD). Market women make their profit by cutting the carcass into 500 XAF bunches, varying by weight, based on species and quality. Little attention is paid to the species, though the price can vary between 200-500 XAF by quality and size. The prices are an indication of quantity rather than quality. It was apparent that the market demand was beyond the supply as the meat sold out every single day of the study, and the limiting factor, according to hunter interviews, was affordable technology to increase hunting and access to the markets. The change in these prices in the future has potential as an indicator of the abundance of certain spe­cies, which may be easier data to gather than counting wildlife.

   Discussion Top

One of the elements of the Ouesso bushmeat trade that this study revealed was the lack of effective protection or management of wildlife. Most Congolese do not know that snaring is illegal, as hunters felt no need to hide the fact that they were snaring. Conservation is desperately needed in the Ouesso area, especially with the Nouabale Ndoki National Park less than 100 km away. The list of protected species in Congo at the time of the study indi­cated a level of ignorance towards the African forest en­vironment. Most hunters were capable of creating a more accurate list of threatened species than the law acknowl­edged. Integrating this local knowledge and perception with scientifically-based conservation planning could maintain this system of bushmeat trade sustainably. Since the study was conducted, elephants, gorillas and chim­panzees have been elevated from 'vulnerable' to 'endangered' on the IUCN Red list of Endangered Species (IUCN 2007), indicating that the international community has recognised what local hunters already knew-that threats to these species have increased.

As this area of northern Congo becomes more accessi­ble by permanent roads built by logging companies, hunt­ing can only increase, particularly of monkeys and elephants (Wilkie et al. 1992). However, it has been ar­gued, although not yet proven, that sustainable hunting can be accomplished with government support, enforce­ment of protection laws and cooperation with timber companies (Bowen-Jones & Pendry 1999). The benefit of the simplicity of this study is that it can easily be re­peated to begin to understand how sustainable this market has become. It is difficult for a single study to understand the sustainability of a market, but with repeated data col­lection, this will be possible.

   Conclusion Top

The biology of most hunted species in northern Congo has been studied and can be incorporated into the study of sustainable hunting and species conservation in this area. However, using only biology, the future of the sys­tem cannot be predicted as the economics of the trade play a large part in its future (Ling et al. 2002), as does the substitution of an alternative protein source for the local people (Bowen-Jones & Pendry 1999; Brashares et al. 2004). With better roads, and dependable flights and electricity, the meat trade could easily increase and quickly surpass sustainable levels for all species. The goal of this system should be sustainability, and man­agement and protection are essential to achieve this goal. This study provides a quantification and description of the bushmeat trade in Ouesso, based on which manage­ment decisions can be made and future studies can be compared.


Alain Kabo was invaluable to the study and was involved in every area of our research. Ted Gullison is acknowl­edged for his comments on the initial report, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) staff Mathew Hatchwell, Steve Cobb, Richard Gunginii and Michael Fay for pro­viding me with this opportunity, and Philippe Heckets­weiler for his constant slurred French tutelage.

This research was supported by WCS and the Duetsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit.[19]

   References Top

1.Apaza, L., D. Wilkie, E. Byron et al. 2002. Meat Prices Influence the Consumption of Wildlife by the Tsimane Amerindians of Bolivia. Oryx 36: 382-388.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2. Bowen-Jones, E. and S. Pendry. 1999. The Threat to Primates and Oth­er Mammals from the Bushmeat Trade in Africa, and How this Threat Could Be diminished. Oryx 33: 233-246.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3. Brashares, J.S., P. Arcese, M.K. Sam et al. 2004. Bushmeat Hunting, Wildlife Declines, and Fish Supply in West Africa. Science 306: 1180-1183.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4. Edderai, D. and M. Dame. 2006. A Census of the Commercial Bush­meat Market in Yaounde, Cameroon. Oryx 40: 472-475.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5. Fa, J.E., J. Juste, R.W. Burn et al. 2002. Bushmeat Consumption and Preferences of Two Ethnic Froups in Bioko Island, West Africa. Human Ecology 30: 397-416.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6. Fa, J.E., S.F. Ryan and D.J. Bell. 2005. Hunting Vulnerability, Eco­logical Characteristics and Harvest Rates of Bushmeat Species in Afrotropical Forests. Biological Conservation 121: 167-176.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7. Haltenorth, T. and H. Diller. 1988. The Collins Field Guide to the Mammals of Africa Including Madagascar. The Stephen Greene Press, Massachusetts, USA.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Hart, J.A. 2000. Impact and Sustainability of Indigenous Hunting in the Ituri Forest, Congo, Zaire: A Comparison of Unhunted and Hunted Duiker Populations. In: Hunting for Sustainability in Tropical For­ests (eds. J. Robinson and E.L. Bennett), pp. 106-153. Columbia University Press, New York, USA.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. See www.iucnredlist.org (accessed September 2007).  Back to cited text no. 9    
10. Ling, S., N. Kumpel and L. Albrechtsen. 2002. No New Recipes for Bushmeat. Oryx 36: 330-330.  Back to cited text no. 10    
11. Mendelson, S., G. Cowlishaw and J.M. Rowcliffe. 2003. Anatomy of a Bushmeat Commodity Chain in Takoradi, Ghana. Journal of Peas­ant Studies 31: 73-100.  Back to cited text no. 11    
12. Milner-Gulland, E.J. 2002. Is Bushmeat Just Another Conservation Bandwagon? Oryx 36: 1-2.  Back to cited text no. 12    
13. Milner-Gulland, E.J. and E.L. Bennett. 2003. Wild Meat: The Bigger Picture. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18: 351-357.  Back to cited text no. 13    
14. Oates, J.F., C.E.G. Tutin, T. Humle et al. 2007. Pan troglodytes. In: 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2007. See www.iucnredlist.org (accessed September 2007).  Back to cited text no. 14    
15. Robinson, J. and E.L. Bennett. 2002. Will Alleviating Poverty Solve the Bushmeat Crisis? Oryx 36: 332.  Back to cited text no. 15    
16. Rowcliffe, M. 2002. Bushmeat and the Biology of Conservation. Oryx 36: 331-331.  Back to cited text no. 16    
17. Tomlinson, K.W., J.W. Hearne and R.R. Alexander. 2002. An Ap­proach to Evaluate the Effect of Property Size on Land-use Options in Semi-arid Rangelands. Ecological Modelling 149: 85-95.  Back to cited text no. 17    
18. Wilkie, D., J.G. Sille and G.C. Boundzanga. 1992. Mechanized Log­ging, Market Hunting and a Bank Loan in Congo. Conservation Biology 6: 570-580.  Back to cited text no. 18    
19. Wilkie, D.S. and J.F. Carpenter. 1999. Bushmeat Hunting in the Congo Basin: An Assessment of Impacts and Options for Mitigation. Bio­diversity and Conservation 8: 927-955.  Back to cited text no. 19    


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]

  [Table 1]

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