Besides the threats of habitat loss and being caught for use as pets, lemurs in Madagascar are also hunted as bushmeat.
Bushmeat simply means that the animal is hunted to be consumed. This could be consumed by the poor rural hunter who catches the animal and uses it to feed his family, or it could be transported to richer customers in the cities who pay a higher price for the “luxury” of eating animals caught wild from the forest. We, in North America, often think that the hunting of lemurs seems illogical, as they are relatively small, there would not be much meat on the animal. This thinking ignores the fact that to many Malagasy people, eating lemurs is a luxury. As well, eating lemurs can be a difference between life and death for very poor people. Both problems will be discussed here.
Not only is the bushmeat decimating the endangered species in Madagascar, but it may be putting humans at risk too. It is well recognized that the dangerous diseases of HIV and Ebola are traceable back to the origin of bushmeat hunting and butchering. What unknown disease is lurking in Madagascar’s forests, waiting to reach humans and cause an outbreak?
Political instability also leads to an upsurge in poaching behaviour, as in 2009 when the country faced a political coup there was a dramatic increase in bushmeat being available. Because international aid to the country stopped after the government was overthrown, lawless behaviour ran rampant. At that time, Conservation International was at the forefront of the international community, raising the alarm to the environmental crisis.
Hunting for use by the poor
One group of researchers has attempted to find the answer to whether hunting lemurs for bushmeat was mainly conducted by the rich or the poor. In a 2016 study, Kim Reuter and colleagues address the issue of whether bushmeat is solely a luxury item for the rich by interviewing over 1300 heads of households. The researchers found that the best explanation for eating bushmeat was personal preferences and local taboos. Lemurs were found to be eaten mainly for subsistence. In terms of next steps to take, the researchers argue that perhaps focusing on the commercial trade in bushmeat may be a logical next step. They found that some bushmeat was priced for the tourist market and that tourists need to be educated about where their meat comes from and that some of the meat from the forest is from endangered species.
Poor people do hunt lemurs for the purpose of feeding their families. This was the result found by a study in 2016 where researchers found that almost all of the children in the households of hunters who caught wild animals were malnourished (Borgerson et al. 2016). The authors argued that conservation attempts must focus on childhood nutrition in order to stop the hunting of lemurs, as parents were hunting lemurs to feed their hungry children.
Hunting for use by the rich
There is some evidence that bushmeat hunting is driven by rich people living in cities far away from where the animal is caught. For example, researchers found that bushmeat was travelling up to 166 km from source to consumer in Madagascar (Reuter et al. 2016). The authors conclude that “the consumption and trade of wild meat in Madagascar is... likely more formalized than previously thought” (Reuter et al. 2016). This argument was based in part on the fact that the bushmeat was travelling on long supply chains and was even being delivered for customers to buy in supermarkets.
What can I do to prevent hunting of lemurs for bushmeat?
We in North America have the opportunity to aid in the fight against lemurs turning up on a dinner plate. There is a group who are supporting research into the root causes of bushmeat hunting and working to prevent this hunting from happening. The group’s name is MAHERY – Madagascar Health and Environmental Research. You can make a tax deductible donation to MAHERY’s important work by visiting the site http://www.mahery.org/donate.Borgerson, C., et al. (2016) Who hunts lemurs and why they hunt them. Biological Conservation, 197. Reuter, K. E., et al. (2016) Capture, Movement, Trade, and Consumption of Mammals in Madagascar. PLoS One, 11(2). You can leave comments below