Category Archives: Bushmeat trade

From Science to Action: Taking DNA Barcoding to Battle Against the Bushmeat

From Science to Action: Taking DNA Barcoding to Battle Against the Bushmeat Crisis
Sarah Burgess-Herbert, Iregi Mwenja, Vincent Opyene

“Speed Presentation” given 7 July 2010
24th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA
Consequences of the unsustainable and illegal commercial trade in wildlife species known as the bushmeat trade include biodiversity loss, impoverishment of rural communities, compromised ecosystem services, and increased incidents of zoonotic diseases. A recent assessment of wildlife laws and governance in East Africa revealed that successful prosecutions of illegal hunting are very rare, that a lack of forensic evidence in wildlife cases leads to their high failure rate, and that most conservation capacity building projects focus limited attention on the prosecution stage of law enforcement. Meanwhile, proof-of-concept testing in a genetics ‘field lab’ in Cameroon, and in labs in the United States, has shown that a tool known as DNA barcoding can identify to species unrecognizable samples of fresh, dried, and smoked bushmeat. Since the identification of animal products can provide crucial forensic evidence, DNA barcoding has the potential to transform the legal battleground in the prosecution of bushmeat cases. For this to happen in East Africa, we conclude that capacity building conservation projects need to focus more heavily on the prosecution of wildlife crimes, such as through the development of government-sanctioned forensic laboratory facilities with at least one central facility equipped to deal with DNA sequencing, and through technical and awareness training for lab technicians, law enforcement partners, wildlife managers, prosecutors, and magistrates.

A bushmeat poacher in Tsavo

A bushmeat poacher arrested with dik dik meat. In the absence of science, the court is usually unable to determine whether this is bushmeat or not especially if the defendant claims it is meat from domestic animals.

Is China Killing Africa’s wildlife?

Is China Killing Africa’s wildlife?

Is this the dark side of China’s presence in Africa?  Published 24 May 2010.

The once long and bumpy road to Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya is now a smooth riding joy thanks to the teams of Chinese workers tarring a fresh road through the wilderness.

But conservationists fear that there is a dark side to this local intervention. Reports suggest that Chinese workers are buying ivory tusks hacked from the heads of illegally hunted elephants in a banned trade that could decimate herds already threatened by the years-long drought in Kenya. Read more..

Who is a poacher? A new perspective

Pieter Kat on 29th April 2010 commented on Johan Knols post- When Poaching is The Only Way

The comment is slightly modified to suit Kenyan audience

If you are of European descent, it is likely that a distant ancestor of yours was a poacher. This might surprise you, but it is also important to realize that those of us alive today are only here because we are linked to a long line of people who did what they could to feed their families. For many hundreds of years in England for example, the remaining wildlife was the property of the aristocracy with big estates. Poor, and often starving people lived on the boundaries of such estates, and would occasionally sally forth to take a rabbit, a deer, or maybe a salmon from the river. Not ever a swan, as those all belonged to the King (now to the Queen – thanks to a statute dating from 1186 (reaffirmed by the Act of Swans of 1482 and the Wild Creatures and Forest Law Act of 1971). The estates would employ gamekeepers to keep your ancestors out, and if they were caught, the local Sheriff would put them in the cells.

People in Africa have always supplemented their diet with game. Now, in all countries, wildlife (except that on game ranches) belongs to the State, and people adding an impala to their pot are still called poachers. The gamekeepers have now grown into Wildlife Departments, and the aristocratic estates are now National Parks. The poor have remained the same.

Kenyans, with their usual sense of humour despite adverse conditions, have long called wildlife “Government cattle”. It is not unusual in Kenya to see cows sharing their grazing with zebras, gazelles, and wildebeest on ranches. The former are owned by individuals, and someone trying to feed a family better not select a cow – laws in place are strict and justice is swift. But a gazelle does not belong to your neighbours, instead to a fuzzy entity that sits somewhere far away in a big city that you have probably never been to and probably would not spend money to go to. So go for the gazelle, and if the government comes to inspect your pot you could say it was a goat.

We are all meant to believe that poaching is a big problem in Africa. But there is poaching and then there is poaching. On the one hand, there is large-scale commercial poaching for an overseas market. Rhino horns and elephant tusks can be immediately identified as forming a basis for this trade. We have all been informed by now that the gamekeepers and government leaders have been complicit in such activities. Then, there is poaching for the commercial market. We have all been informed by now that the bush meat trade is destroying wildlife populations at a great rate, but that such trade is often assisted by logging companies that provide the rainforest roads and the trucks to bring meat to market. Then there is poaching to sustain the stomachs of various rebel armies competing for territory. We have all been informed of the Lord’s Resistance Army previously in Uganda and now shifted a bit to the west – you think they rely on manna from heaven to keep their bellies full? And finally, there is poor Wanjiku, only wanting a dik dik for her pot every now and then, as her family is only used to eating meat infrequently.

So who are the really bad guys in terms of poaching? It seems clear the biggest poaching problems need to be addressed first in terms of making an impact. Wanjiku is way down the line, and does not even own a gun. Africa is a very big continent but in the still small rural communities, everyone knows what is going on. Everyone in the local communities in Europe knew that your great, great, great Grandfather was a bit of a poacher, and your family survived because that man was able to outwit the gamekeeper. Don’t focus on Wanjiku, but do focus anti-poaching on the fat cats, the companies, the armies. But Wanjiku is easier to catch isn’t she?

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The Making of an African Conservationist

Before joining the USFWS MENTOR Fellowship program to study bushmeat in February 2008, I was leading efforts in saving some of the rare and endangered primates in Kenya. This amateur video takes you back four years ago when we were undertaking research that led to the scientific breakthrough in the discovery of a rare primate population over 300 km away from the known geographic range of the species and across a huge physical barrier – The Great Rift Valley.

This year, I am conducting a special campaign aimed at inspiring young people in Africa to take action to protect the wildlife and the environment. This is how I have chosen to celebrate a decade of a successful career in conservation. This video is one of the activities I have lined up for my special campaign. Please join me in this very important campaign by helping to spread the word and  sending donations through this blog to enable me  reach out more people through education outreach activities in schools and colleges in Kenya and Uganda later in the year.

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Iregi Mwenja

Iregi Mwenja an Alumnus of the USFWS MENTOR Fellowship on bushmeat and is currently working on bushmeat solutions in East Africa

Dr Richard Leakey Statement on Bushmeat in Kenya

Dr Paula Kahumbu, CEO of reads Dr Richard Leakey’s statement during Kenya’s first bushmeat symposium in Nairobi on 20 May 2009.

Follow this link on Youtube to listen to the statement:

Bushmeat education workshop begins in Tsavo

Tomorrow Wednesday 27th 2010, I and a team of highly experienced facilitators from Kenya and the USA will be conducting an educators’ training workshop in Tsavo West National Park.  The workshop which is funded by the USFWS Wildlife Without Borders Africa Program aims at training a selected group of environmental educators working in the western part of the Tsavo ecosystem. The officers are coming from Tsavo West National Park, Chyulu National Park, Taveta ex-poacher project and a Wildlife Clubs patron.

However, the demand for bushmeat education in the region, which is notorious for bushmeat poaching was far much higher than we could meet and we have received requests from Education Officers working in the area for inclusion in the training! And to prove how serious they are, the Officers accepted to participate in the training without getting any financial support from our side.

This workshop is the first of its kind to specifically focus on building the capacity of educators in bushmeat education. By training and equipping the educators on the ground with materials on bushmeat education we are hoping that the knowledge, skills and materials that we have will be used in Tsavo ecosystem for a long time rather than going to the ground ourselves to implement a one off education project that may not be sustainable.

The specific objectives of training these officers are;

1.      To increase their knowledge on the bushmeat crisis

2.      To build their skills on bushmeat education

3.      To provide them with relevant education materials for their education work.

4.      To enhance linkages and collaboration in education in the region

5.      To develop new bushmeat education materials

6.      To build local and international partnership in education

Some of the education materials we are using in this training have been donated by Africa Environmental Film Foundation, Born free Foundation, INCEF, Project WILD and RARE. KWS Tsavo West National Park is providing the training facility and logistical support for the training and outreach. We are also getting technical support from AFEW Giraffe Center, Amara Conservation and ANAW. Big thanks to Melinda, Heather and Natalie for their technical support form the USA.

Why you should avoid popular ‘nyam chom’ places in the city at all cost

KWS Jan. 18th 2010.KWS security officers in liaison with the Kenya Police today January 18, 2010 impounded at least 400kg of suspected game meat on its way to the famous Burma meat market, Eastland’s, Nairobi.” This is the upteenth time that we are getting reports of large amount of bushmeat destined for Burma market impounded by KWS and the Police. Other popular meat-eating places like City market and Kenyatta market are also outlets for this illegal meat.  Flash back;

The Associated Press, July 9, 2007: KWS investigators have found that this trade has been going on for the past two months and the target markets are popular meat-eating places like Kenyatta Market and City Market. The game meat dealers sell their meat, passing it off as beef, at a low price of 65 Kenya shillings (US$1) per kg at these markets, said Paul Udoto, Kenya Wildlife Service communications manager.

The Kenya Wildlife Service officials are “concerned that this illegal trade is not only wiping out priceless wildlife but also posing great health risks to people. The uninspected meat has a very high risk of transmitting diseases like anthrax and Rift Valley Fever to people,” Udoto said.”

Capitals News, 3rd February2009: A Nairobi businesswoman at a popular meat eating Market downtown Nairobi was arrested with 74 kg of bush meat morning of Saturday.

Kenya Wildlife Service investigators seized the suspect who had hidden the bush meat under a butchery counter and was mixing it with inspected meat on display to sell to unsuspecting buyers.

The EastAfrica, 8th May, 2009: Just a few weeks ago, we intercepted a matatu with the aid of the police after a tip-off at 4am at Mlolongo. We retrieved a sack of bushmeat on the floor of the matatu. It had 256 kilos of wildebeest and zebra meat. But the offenders were released after a weekend in the cell. The judge set them free citing that they were first offenders!” The police know what’s going on but when the offenders are let off so lightly, it seems futile to bring offenders to the book

The list goes on……..


This is why you should avoid eating ‘nyama Choma’ or buying raw meat disguised as beef in these Nairobi markets

First, it is important to note that all meat from wild animals (not farmed) is illegal in Kenya. Bushmeat is therefore sold illegally disguised as beef. Butchers prefer this illegal meat because they buy it cheaply from the traders who ferry it to Nairobi from conservation areas nearby. This meat is not inspected for zoonotic diseases and poses a serious health risk to anyone coming in contact with the meat.

It is now clear that unsuspecting Kenya who patronize these popular ‘nyama choma’ joints are exposing themselves to great health risk. Those buying raw meat from their local butcheries are not safe either. Unscrupulous butchers looking for quick money buy bushmeat cheaply and sell it raw to their unsuspecting customers.

To avoid the danger of catching ebola, anthrax, monkey pox, anthrax, Rift Valley fever, marburg fever etc, avoid buying ready-made meat, minced meat and any suspicious looking pieces hidden under the counter or any reddish (blood) pieces particularly those that are boneless. Insist on getting all your meat from those parts hanging prominently on the display. This is because it would be very difficult to kill and transport a whole carcass clean without leaving blemishes on the meat. After all, game meat is clearly different from livestock meat and no one need to be an expert to tell. Just  avoid that suspiciously looking lean dark red meat! This will keep you safe from many zoonotic diseases, some of which we don’t know anything about, while at the same time discouraging the thriving illegal trade in bushmeat, which is threatening to decimate our world famous wildlife heritage.

Iregi Mwenja is an alumnus of USFWS MENTOR Fellowship on Bushmeat in eastern Africa currently implementing bushmeat solutions project in Kenya

CAMPFIRE a success?

In Kenya do we have a policy on CBNRM? Why do find it difficult to devolve natural resources management yet the goverment doesn’t have the capacity to manage it sustainably and equitably share the benefits with communities living with this resources (wildlife)? I find the CAMPFIRE example a good one to learn from. Read the article below and share your thoughts.

Community based natural resource management in Zimbabwe: the experience of CAMPFIRE

Russell Taylor


Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) is a long-term programmatic approach to rural development that uses wildlife and other natural resources as a mechanism for promoting devolved rural institutions and improved governance and livelihoods.

The cornerstone of CAMPFIRE is the right to manage, use, dispose of, and benefit from these resources. Between 1989 and 2006, CAMPFIRE income, mostly from high valued safari hunting, totalled nearly USD$ 30 million, of which 52% was allocated to sub-district wards and villages for community projects and household benefits. Whilst a number of assumptions underlying the success of CAMPFIRE as an innovative model for CBNRM have yet to be met, CAMPFIRE confirms the concept that devolving responsibility and accountability for natural resource management can be highly effective for the collective and participatory management of such resources.

Elephant numbers in CAMPFIRE areas have increased and buffalo numbers are either stable or decreased slightly during the life of the programme. However, offtake quotas for these two species have increased with a concomitant decline in trophy quality. Although the amount of wildlife habitat diminished after 1980, following the commencement of CAMPFIRE the rate of habitat loss slowed down and in some specific instances was even reversed. More recently there has been increased pressure on habitats and other natural resources as a consequence of deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Where devolution has been successful, promising results have been achieved and the recent acceptance and implementation of direct payments to communities is probably the most significant development since 2000.

That this has happened can be attributed to CAMPFIRE enabling communities to maximize their roles within the existing set of rules, and by so doing, allowing these rules to be challenged. Donor (73%) and government (27%) investments into the programme amounted to $35 million during the period 1989 to 2003. Since 2003 however, donor funding has been reduced to <$600,000 over the past 5 years.

Read the full article

A new twist to elephant poaching in Kenya

It is emerging that the effects of the drought on the country’s elephant population goes beyond familiar causes of mortality – death from starvation or killing arising from human wildlife conflict. The recent rise in poaching incidents in the country has been linked to the rising demand for ivory which is attributed to the influx of Chinese nationals working in Kenya.

Information coming in from the field particularly here in Tsavo blames the rise of poaching on the prolonged drought and brings in a new twist to this worrying trend -a new category of poachers and new drivers. The photos below of elephant carcasses were taken at Ziwani area, outside Tsavo West National Park where most of the Park elephants migrated to during the drought in search of food and water. I am informed that Masai herdsmen who lost most of their livestock during this spell (thereby losing their sole means of livelihood) are the new category of ‘unwilling’ poachers.

The herdsmen, faced with starvation and extreme poverty cannot resist the extra shilling that they are being enticed with by Chinese nationals working in a nearby construction project. It is evident from the crime scene and the carcass that these elephants were killed using spears in a struggle that must have required several men to execute. These are not the ivory poachers we have known for decades who mostly use automatic weapons to kill elephants and have no time for concealing the carcass with twigs as shown above. As Dr Richard Leakey puts it “..People are increasingly becoming desperate and are therefore getting more involved in poaching to put food on the table. The current drought in Kenya has made the situation even worse”


A dead cow near L Jipe where human elephant conflict intensified during the drought due to conflict over water and foarge

Though we have blamed drought for death of elephants, pastoralist who lost their livelihood from this drought are definitely a new threat that we will need to address seriously if they are to resist the extra shilling from the Chinese. It is the pastoralists who live in the rangelands with most of Kenya’s elephant population outside parks and they could pose a big threat to elephants. Since they are far away from the eyes of KWS Rangers, they are able to kill elephants and conceal the crime. That is why most of these cases go unreported yet we recover ivory on transit heading for export market almost every month. It imperative that the pastoralist be assisted to start new sustainable sources of livelihoods to dissuade them from falling prey to the Chinese workers who are spread across the country in remote areas where they are undertaking construction projects for the government.

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Tsavo, the last drought victim

Remember this?

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The image above (elephant calf dying from starvation) could be the last for this drought as the much awaited rains started a few days ago in some parts of Tsavo. Yesterday, as I drove through Tsavo West National Park on Voi-Taveta Rd, I counted dozens on zebras, impalas, gazelle, buffaloes (I thought all had died in the drought from the number of I carcasses that I counted the last few months) and a family of elephants with five calves! While we lost millions of livestock, wildlife have proved be resilient enough to survive in our troubled rangelands. Why should we invest heavily on livestock only to lose them all during drought, which is becoming a permanent phenomenon in the semi-arid areas these days? A good reason why we need to rethink about wildlife husbandry so that Kenyans can get direct economic benefits from raising and/or protecting wildlife.

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Iregi Mwenja