Why Eat Wild Meat?

Neil Maddison has been working to conserve animals under threat of the illegal bushmeat trade for over two decades. At first a staunch advocate of using predominantly strong law enforcement, he has come to recognise that working with communities that rely on hunting for their livelihood needs a more consultative and supportive approach if changes are to be sustainable. He has led community engagement and support programmes in China, Cameroon, the Philippines, Colombia and the Comoro Islands, focusing on working with local, often poor people such that they gain from conserving wildlife, not suffer even more for it. For full details see www.landscapeconservation.org.uk

Associates of the Conservation Foundation team have been working with communities dependent on wild-caught meat for many years to ensure that the needs and livelihoods of those communities are supported in ways that help to sustain the environment and conserve important species for future generations.


There is – quite rightly – an enormous amount of attention on how the Covid-19 virus originated. A market in Wuhan where one could buy seafood, ‘exotic’ meat and animal parts has been mooted as the main source, although the ‘leap’ from animal to human has yet to be firmly proven.


Wild Meat Market in Wuhan

I’ve visited many open markets in Wuhan over the past decade, and eaten in many restaurants there that have no doubt sourced some of their food locally. The food stalls, snack bars, restaurants in Wuhan have always been busy, which in no great surprise in a city of over 11 million people.



The deadly impact of the virus has focused attention on the way that ‘wild-meat’ is accessed and sold across the globe. Debates now rage about what is the best way to try and prevent these catastrophic ‘zoonoses’ (a disease which can be transmitted to humans from animals), or at least minimising the risk of occurring, and the call for a ‘shutdown of all wild meat markets’ is becoming increasingly strident.


A pangolin in Cameroon.


But it isn’t easy to make changes. Supporting people to change their eating patterns is hard, even when there are very good reasons to do so. Associates of the Conservation Foundation team have been working with communities dependent on wild-caught meat for many years, mainly for the conservation of threatened wildlife, but increasingly because of food security and health risks from diseases such as Ebola (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ebola-virus-disease)




There’s one key thing we’ve learned to add to the debate on prevention strategies. Whilst there is a good argument for using law enforcement to tackle the immediate problem of ‘risky food’, unless there is ‘buy-in’, ‘ownership’ and agreement between people on the problem and solution, most people will revert to previous behaviour as and when enforcement disappears.



Homemade life preservers have helped a community in Cameroon to fish rather than hunt ‘wild meat’


That’s why in our projects to support communities to change from eating risky, or unsustainable sources of wild-caught meat, we work through a process of supporting changes that the local people themselves propose, develop and implement.






Really, it’s just common sense. Supporting communities to look after their environment in sustainable ways, and benefit from doing so is what we’re about. So, whilst there is a growing movement to use the stick and close down all wild meat markets, there are many others want to ensure that change can be promoted in a positive way, and make sure that benefits outweigh the burdens of behavioural change.


Neil Maddison

Head of Operations, Conservation Foundation
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Specialist Group Member: 1. Sustainable Livelihoods 2. Giraffe and Okapi 3. Conservation Planning.