As international fleets decimate African fish stocks, locals have turned to land-based sources of protein, hunting antelope, elephant, gorilla, and chimpanzee populations to near extinction. Although conservationists have long battled for fishing quotas, such sanctions may already be too late. The taste for bush meat, it seems, has become so embedded that African expatriates in Western cities consume thousands of pounds monthly, according to University of California at Berkeley ecologist Justin Brashares.
Brashares launched an international monitoring survey after a Ghanaian cabbie told him about a New York-area bush meat warehouse. Two years later, Brashares has turned up illegal meat from more than 30 species at markets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, London, Paris, and Brussels. Roughly two-thirds of the meat is dried or smoked, while the remaining third is raw. About 20 percent of the total consists of whole animals "simply put into a plastic bag and brought over," he says.
In the same way many Americans can't imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, many African cultures can't imagine holidays without wild meats, some from endangered species. Brashares, who has sampled "all of the basics, like giraffe and zebra," says he most often sees the strongly flavored game served in stews with rice.
Still, he estimates the exports are just 1 percent of the total harvest in Africa, where many locals depend on the meat for income as well as food. "We could shut down the overseas markets entirely, and we still would not even come close to solving this issue."