Understanding bushmeat hunting in Malawi: an update from the field
By Julia van Velden
Bushmeat, or wild meat, is meat obtained from wild and non-domesticated animals by hunting. This practice is recognised as a major threat to biodiversity in many parts of the world. However, we are only now beginning to appreciate the dangers this practice may pose to the survival of wildlife in African savannas. Hunting in these regions was often thought of as sustainable and subsistence-based, but recent research suggests otherwise. Southern Africa is particularly understudied, and so we were interested in exploring this potential problem in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations.
(left) Team leader Julia van Velden with a traditional authority at Majete wildlife Reserve; (right) A young baboon caught in a snare in Vwaza Marsh Reserve. Snares are unselective and therefore can capture any animal: baboon meat is not preferred by consumers.
Our research focuses on four national parks in Malawi, namely Nyika national Park, Vwaza Marsh wildlife reseve, Nkhotakota wildlife reserve, and Majete wildlife reserve. Each national park is very different in terms of habitat and management. We wanted to find out the prevalence of both bushmeat hunting and consumption, and explore the drivers behind these activities. We also wanted to understand community perceptions of programs used to reduce these activities: what programs have the most support, why and what are some of the major problems perceived with such programs. In the end we surveyed over 1,500 people across Malawi. We travelled to over 70 villages and, with the help of local enumerators, conducted face-to-face interviews with people living around these four national parks over a period of six months.
Our 70+ study villages. At top (blue) Nyika national park, at top (green) Vwaza Marsh, Nkhotakota wildlife reserve at centre and Majete wildlife reserve at bottom.
Fieldwork in remote conditions had numerous challenges: from flat tires and vehicle break-downs, washed-away bridges, to impassable roads, we experienced it all! However, our experience in Malawi, known as “The warm heart of Africa”, was overwhelmingly positive. We were welcomed generously and kindly by all our respondents and traditional authorities, and received tremendous support from government and NGOs working in conservation in this great country.
Our work hopes to provide vital information towards better management of protected areas within Malawi, as well as helping to inform which programs communities prefer. We therefore aim to give communities a voice in conservation decisions, and work towards an equitable and successful relationship between parks and local communities. Please stay tuned for more updates and results relating to this project. We would like to thank our sponsors of this work, including Griffith University, the Nyika-Vwaza Trust, the Rufford Foundation, and the National Geographic Society.