BBC TwoCooking in the Danger Zone


Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 11:39 GMT
Cameroon's bushmeat dilemma
Food writer Stefan Gates investigates the appetite for bushmeat that is threatening to wipe out many endangered species in Cameroon.

Help! I am in an unfamiliar city in Cameroon, and I am being chased across a busy market by an angry group of women holding smoked monkeys.

A Pangolin (scaly anteater) and snakes in Yaounde, Cameroon
Sunday, 16 March, 2008
1900 GMT, BBC Two

As I get to the road, I wonder if this is just some gruesome Freudian nightmare about carnivorous guilt, but the taxi I jump into, my heart beating like a drum, is real and drives off at speed.

We have come here to make a film about the bushmeat crisis in central West Africa, which is causing an ecological catastrophe and aiding zoonosis - whereby animal diseases jump species to humans.

The scale of the problem is huge.

Bushmeat, mainly rodents, antelopes, monkeys and primates, makes up a huge proportion of the diet here - around 60-80% of all protein eaten and some scientists predict that the great apes will be wiped out within 20 years.

In the streets and market, there are scores of traders openly displaying monkeys, pythons, porcupines and pangolins

It also has cultural importance, as Madame Pascaline, a bushmeat chef, explains to me: "People like bushmeat. It reminds them of living in the forest," she says as she shows me how to cook a porcupine.

Like many a Cameroonian I meet during my trip, she is also in denial about the ecological consequences, saying: "I know they can never die out, no matter the amount that we eat."

Illegal trade

The Cameroonian government has officially clamped down on the hunting and trading of bushmeat, but in the streets and market, there are scores of traders openly displaying monkeys, pythons, porcupines and pangolins (scaly anteaters).

They will happily sell you illegal food, but they do not like people with cameras trying to film them, fearful that the footage will lead to them being raided by the police.

But something does not add up. How can they openly trade without fear of arrest, but be angry about us filming?

According to Ofir Drori, who runs the Last Great Ape organisation, the government does not have the will or the resources to prosecute, so he and others have come here to encourage them and expose the worst cases.

He does not think it is cultural imperialism: "The great apes are being wiped out, and it's illegal and people shouldn't do it."


Deep in the forest heartlands I meet up with Andre, a hunter, whose family eat the bushmeat he catches and sends the surplus for sale in city markets.

Andre, a hunter
I'm not a rich man, I'm just making some money for my family
Andre, hunter

I thought he would be a relatively wealthy, wily character, but he is friendly, unapologetic and clearly desperately poor. His family living in a small hut made from mud and wood, with few possessions.

Andre takes me on a hunting and trapping expedition into the forest, finding civet cat and porcupine to bring home.

He admits that he has caught gorillas before: "I hide it because if news gets out that I killed a gorilla, they'll try to catch me."

He is well aware of the law, but he says: "Look, I'm not a rich man, I'm just making some money for my family."

Bushmeat raid

On the midnight train back to the capital, Yaounde, we accompany a team of forest rangers who search the entire train looking for illegal bushmeat.

The bushmeat trade is clearly going strong here, rooted deep in Cameroonian culture and heedless of the law
I am not entirely sure if they are putting on this display just for our benefit. The World Bank has provided funding to help the Cameroonian railways, and it is partly contingent on halting the bushmeat traffic. But the passengers are angry and upset by the search.

It yields results though. Two large bags of smoked monkeys are found, and the woman who sits next to them is clearly devastated by their confiscation but denies that they are hers.

The bushmeat trade is clearly going strong here, rooted deep in Cameroonian culture and heedless of the law.

But one of the biggest problems is the lack of any alternative.

Cameroon has no great history of agriculture and few large-scale farms. Unless someone comes up with a decent, affordable alternative to forest animals, what else are people going to eat?

Ferocious beast

Well, there may be one thing.

On the outskirts of the city I have something of a revelation when I visit Cameroon's first commercial cane rat farm.

Cane rat

A group of entrepreneurs have built this place to train people to set up their own farms and raise these ferocious little beasts that are about the size of a small dog.

I have to admit that I am sceptical at first, but I fall for their plan the moment I taste it.

Cane rat is delicious. It is succulent, tender, sweet and ecologically-sound.

The meat commands high prices in the market too, so it is a pretty good business proposition.

It is currently a drop in the ocean compared to the market for wild meat but if the government ever manages to crack down on the traders, this could really catch on.

Paul, the manager of the cane rat farm, asks if I think they could export it to Britain, and I admit that people at home would probably be appalled at seeing supermarket shelves groaning with rat meat.

I suggest that they come up with a new name: "heaven toad", perhaps, or "chicken of love".

Paul looks at me with his eyes raised and says he will get back to me.

Cooking in the Danger Zone: Feast and Famine in Africa was broadcast on Sunday, 16 March, 2008 at 1900 GMT on BBC Two.

Apes 'extinct in a generation'
01 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Ape hunters pick up new viruses
16 May 05 |  Health
Cameroon demands bushmeat action
15 Dec 03 |  Science/Nature
Bushmeat ban 'would be wrong'
08 Sep 03 |  Science/Nature

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