African Refugees Spurring Bush-Meat Trade

Eliza Barclay
for National Geographic News
January 22, 2008

A booming illegal trade in wild animal meat inside refugee camps in Tanzania is putting wildlife populations and rural communities at risk, according to a new report.

The demand is driven partly by the absence of meat in rations provided by aid agencies, which some experts say represents a failure of relief organizations to meet the basic needs of their charges.

Many East African refugees are accustomed to regular consumption of meat as a source of protein, according to the report issued by TRAFFIC, the international wildlife-trade monitoring network.

"When the refugees are kept in camps without meat protein they tend to fend for themselves" by poaching local wildlife, said report lead author George Jambiya, of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

The massive flow of refugees who have sought shelter in Tanzania have caused habitat degradation and major wildlife losses in areas near the camps, where rare species such as chimpanzees are susceptible to poaching. Populations of buffalo, sable antelope, and other herbivores have also fallen off.

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN)'s Red List of Threatened Species, many sub-Saharan wildlife species are in danger—and 20 percent are experiencing declining populations from the trade of wild meat, also called "bush meat."

(See photos of the African bush-meat trade. Warning: graphic content.)

The IUCN is also concerned that the depletion of wildlife may affect tourism—such as trophy hunting and wildlife viewing—in the region and may make many local people resentful of the refugees in their midst.

Safe Harbor

With its stable political climate, Tanzania has long been a place of refuge for beleaguered and persecuted citizens from the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Uganda. (See a map of the region.)

More than 800,000 refugees entered northwestern Tanzania from Rwanda in two waves between 1992 and 1997, near the time of Rwanda's mass genocide.

The majority of Rwandan refugees in Tanzania returned home in 1997. But Tanzania still hosts about 548,000 people—mainly from Burundi and the DRC—who make up the largest refugee population in a single country in Africa, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). More than 60 percent of those refugees live in formal camps.

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