Who Sells Wild Meat In Urban Africa?
The growing demand for illegally hunted meat, or wild meat, in central Africa’s cities is a serious threat to wildlife conservation. Even though it’s illegal to kill protected species and hunt in protected areas, a complex criminal ecosystem supplies wild meat to cities in central Africa. Criminologists and conservationists attempt to stop this unsustainable trade through regulation, prevention, and social marketing efforts.
Past research on Africa’s wild meat trade has mainly focused on the motivations of poachers. Less is known about other participants such as traffickers, sellers, and consumers. This gap in knowledge limits the effectiveness of interventions. It also causes lawmakers to view offenders as homogenous and difficult to change, which can lead to over-stereotyping and injustice to those prosecuted.
The goal of this research study was to develop a classification system for criminals involved in the wild meat trade. Classification systems are commonly used within criminal justice. They highlight similar behaviors in the wild meat trade and other illicit trades, such as human and drug trafficking. Finding these patterns allows law enforcement to share knowledge and collaborate more easily. It also may help clarify how the supply chain works and identify links between traffickers and sellers. All of these can help identify more precisely what interventions would be the most effective and the highest priority. For example, it may lead law enforcement to focus more on higher-level criminals rather than low-level and vulnerable individuals.
The researchers identified five types of traffickers or people who import wild meat into cities: trading charities, mutual societies, business sideliners, criminal diversifiers, and opportunistic irregulars. Trading charities source wild meat for medicine and important celebrations where eating particular species is considered traditional. Mutual societies are made up of hobbyists who enjoy eating exotic species. Business sideliners operate legal businesses, but sell wild meat on the side. Criminal diversifiers are organized crime groups that traffic wild meat alongside other products, such as drugs. Opportunistic irregulars traffic wild meat informally when they happen to have an opportunity.
The researchers also identified five types of sellers: casual, transient, opportunistic, hidden, and professional. Casual sellers take advantage of isolated opportunities to sell wild meat. Transient sellers sell wild meat sometimes but not other times: for example, they may sell wild meat when they have the money to buy it from a trafficker. Opportunistic sellers sell wild meat in addition to selling other products. Professional sellers derive most of their income from selling wild meat and sell it openly. Hidden sellers sell wild meat in a secretive manner. For example, unlike other sellers, they may sell meat from endangered or very rare species that pose significant legal risks.
Focus groups were performed with experts from the Republic of Congo in the cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. The group interviews focused on dwarf crocodiles, pangolins, and great apes.
The focus groups found that all five kinds of traffickers and sellers played an important role in the wild meat ecosystem. In Pointe Noire, the focus group thought that business sideliners and hidden sellers posed the most serious risk to wildlife. However, in Brazzaville, the focus group thought that trading charities and casual sellers posed the most serious risk.
The focus groups discussed how traffickers and sellers trade with each other. Great ape meat is culturally important in the Congo, so trading charities traffic it for selling by opportunistic sellers. Opportunistic irregular traffickers and opportunistic sellers both specialize in crocodiles, which require relatively little infrastructure. Professional pangolin scales sellers source scales locally from business sideliners and internationally from criminal diversifiers. Pangolin meat, conversely, is traded informally by opportunistic irregular traffickers and casual sellers.
The urban wild meat trade is diverse. Many different people sell wild meat for many different reasons and with many different levels of investment in the trade. Different products have different supply chains: for example, pangolin scale trafficking is significantly more professionalized than pangolin meat trafficking. Interventions to reduce trafficking must recognize this diversity. It’s ineffective to treat a casual one-off seller the same way that you would treat a criminal with a long history of recidivism, or to use techniques aimed at organized crime syndicates on wild meat trade which occurs mostly between family members and friends. In other words, tackling this trade once and for all requires an in-depth understanding of the different key players, their motivations, and the social contexts that support their activities.