108 International Forestry Review Vol.21(1), 2019
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and depen-
dence on bushmeat in two provinces in Gabon
E.J.T. VAN GILSa, V.J. INGRAMa, D. MIDOKO IPONGAb and K. ABERNETHYb,c
aForest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, PO Box 100, 6708 PB, Wageningen, The Netherlands
bInstitut de Recherche en Ecologie Tropicale (IRET), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (CENAREST),
BP: 13 345, Libreville, Gabon
cAfrican Forest Ecology Group, Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Traditional, forest resource-dependent livelihoods face multiple challenges. In Gabon, bushmeat provides food and income for rural communi-
ties. This study investigates how villagers believe livelihood practices and dependence on bushmeat changed over the last decade and if alterna-
tive income and food generating strategies can be sustainable. Our results show that remote villages near Moukalaba Doudou National
Park hardly changed practices. Less remote villages near Tchibanga experienced declining hunting revenues and are switching to alternatives.
Villages near Libreville almost completely changed strategies, and are no longer dependent on forest resources. Changes in livelihood
practices were driven either by resource depletion or urbanization. The ability to change depended on proximity to facilities and infrastructure.
Although most respondents were able to change, not all alternative strategies are sustainable. The results highlight the need to evaluate
the long-term effectiveness of alternative poverty reduction and nature conservation strategies in a context of urbanization and food security.
There is a need to reduce bushmeat demand, making supply more sustainable through effective resource governance and creating a conducive
institutional and policy environment.
Keywords: alternative livelihood strategies, forest resources, bushmeat trade, sustainable livelihoods, rural communities
Changements pratiques dans l’obtention de moyens de subsistance, stratégies et dépendance
à la viande de gibier dans deux provinces du Gabon
E.J.T. VAN GILS, V.J. INGRAM, D. MIDOKO IPONGA et K. ABERNETHY
Les stratégies de subsistance traditionnelles, dépendantes des ressources forestières, sont confrontées à de multiples défis. Au Gabon, la viande
de brousse fournit de la nourriture et des revenus aux communautés rurales. Cette étude examine comment les villageois pensent que leur mode
de subsistance et la dépendance à la viande de brousse ont changé au cours de la dernière décennie, et si d’autres stratégies génératrices
de revenus et de production alimentaire peuvent être durables. Nos résultats montrent que les villages isolés situés près du parc national de
Moukalaba Doudou n’ont guère changé de pratiques. Les villages plus éloignés du par cet près de Tchibanga ont connu une baisse des revenus
de la chasse et optent maintenant pour d’autres stratégies. Les villages proches de Libreville ont presque complètement changé de stratégie et
ne dépendent plus des ressources forestières. Un changement dans la pratique des moyens de subsistance utilisés a été provoqué soit par
l’épuisement des ressources naturelles, soit par l’urbanisation. De plus, la possibilité de changer de stratégie de subsistance dépendait de la
proximité des facilités sociales, installations et des infrastructures disponibles. Bien que la majorité des répondants aient pu passer à d’autres
moyens de subsistance, toutes les pratiques alternatives ne sont pas durables. Les résultats soulignent la nécessité d’évaluer l’efficacité à long
terme des stratégies alternatives de réduction de la pauvreté et de conservation de la nature dans un contexte d’urbanisation, autour d’un lien
entre la sécurité alimentaire visant à réduire la demande de viande de brousse; rendre l’approvisionnement plus durable grâce à une gouvernance
efficace des ressources; et créer un environnement institutionnel et politique favorable.
Cambios en las prácticas y estrategias de los medios de vida y la dependencia de la carne de la
fauna silvestre en dos provincias de Gabón
E.J.T. VAN GILS, V.J. INGRAM, D. MIDOKO IPONGA y K. ABERNETHY
Los medios de vida tradicionales que dependen de los recursos del bosques enfrentan múltiples desafíos. In Gabón, la carne silvestre provee
el alimento y los ingresos económicos para las comunidades rurales. Este estudio investiga cómo los pobladores creen que las prácticas de
medios de vida y la dependencia de carne silvestre cambiaron en la última década, y si los ingresos alternativos y la estrategias generadoras de
alimento pueden ser sostenibles. Nuestros resultados muestran que los pueblos alejados, cercanos al Parque Nacional Moukalaba Doudou,
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 109
Lindsey et al. (2012) and Bennett and Robinson (2000)
note alternatives to reduce bushmeat trading include provid-
ing alternative modes of income and jobs; integrated conser-
vation and development projects; agricultural (intensification)
projects; traditional methods of resource management;
alternative resources such as fish or animal husbandry;
domestication of wild animals; and non-animal protein rich
Success stories however are rare (Roe et al. 2015,
Wicander and Coad 2018). Roe et al. (2015) reviewed 21
ALP’s worldwide to value their contribution to biodiversity
conservation. Less than 50% (9/21) were evaluated as effec-
tive interventions. Wicander and Coad’s (2018) review of 155
past and current ALPs in West and Central Africa concluded
that projects often lack long-term funding and feasible
objectives, few projects monitored their effectiveness or
implemented sanctions if goals were not met. This evidence
suggests that ALPs have often been ineffective with little
potential for adaptive management (van Vliet 2011, Roe et al.
2015, Wicander and Coad 2015, 2018, Wright et al. 2015,
Sainsbury et al. 2015).
Responding to concerns about the effectiveness of ALPs,
Wright et al. (2015) reviewed the underlying assumptions of
ALPs, finding the assumption that people become less depen-
dent on a specific natural resource and exploitation rates will
decrease. However, Torell et al. (2010) showed that alterna-
tive practices often contribute to people’s income in addition
to unsustainable practices, as the resource is still exploited.
Jagger (2012) also predicted that the development of alterna-
tives to reduce dependence on specific resources could elicit
another problem; the overexploitation of a substitute resource
or environmental degradation through overuse. Jagger (2012)
proposes that it is wiser to guarantee continuous access of
local communities to currently-used natural resources, in
order to incentivise them to ensure sustainable use. Nasi et al.
(2008) agree, stating that a focus on alternatives distracts
attention from the need to make hunting sustainable.
These studies focus on replacing one aspect of a liveli-
hood to improve its ability to sustainably meet family needs.
However, it can be questioned if partial replacement is attrac-
tive in the transition to a cash economy. There is a large fun-
damental difference between a livelihood which uses mainly
local resources and supplements personal production with
barter trade, and one in which goods are produced for sale, the
income from which is used to pay for services. The past 10 to
20 years in Central Africa have seen a massive shift in socio-
economics, as services (for which there are no subsistence
difícilmente cambian de prácticas. Los pueblos menos alejados, cercanos a Tchibanga, experimentaron una disminución de sus ingresos prove-
nientes de la cacería, y están cambiando hacia otras alternativas. Los pueblos cerca de Libreville cambiaron las estrategias casi por completo,
ya no dependen de los recursos del bosque. Los cambios en las prácticas de medios de vida fueron impulsados ya sea por el agotamiento del
recurso o por la urbanización. La habilidad para cambiar dependió de la proximidad a los servicios y a la infraestructura. A pesar de que la
mayoría de los encuestados fueron capaces de cambiar, no todas las estrategias alternativas son sostenibles. Los resultados resaltan la necesidad
de evaluar la efectividad a largo plazo de las alternativas para la reducción de la pobreza y las estrategias de conservación en un contexto
de urbanización, alrededor de un nexo de seguridad alimentaria para reducir la demanda de carne silvestre; haciendo los suministros más
sostenibles a través de la gobernanza efectiva de los recursos; y creando un ambiente institucional y político favorable.
The livelihoods of rural people in developing countries across
the world are often still dependent on forest products (Bennett
and Robinson 2000, Bowen-Jones et al. 2003, Nasi et al.
2008, 2011, Jagger 2012), with average income from forest
products in some regions comprising a quarter of total house-
hold income (Angelsen et al. 2014). Bushmeat is one such
forest product, defined as wildlife harvested or hunted for
human consumption and other purposes, such as medicinal
use (Bowen-Jones et al. 2003, FAO 2015, Nasi et al. 2008,
Lindsey et al. 2012, van Vliet et al. 2014). Bushmeat is an
important contributor to livelihoods in rural areas (Nasi et al.
2011, van Vliet et al. 2011) and can occasionally also be
important to livelihoods in urban settings (van Vliet et al.
2015), although in most urban areas it has become a luxury
item (Wilkie et al. 2005). However, bushmeat hunting –
especially for large bodied species – is driving a largely
unsustainable offtake across Africa (Bennett and Robinson
2000, Milner-Gulland et al. 2003, Nasi et al. 2008, Lindsey
et al. 2011). Many recent studies agree upon the need to
address bushmeat hunting, trading and consumption with a
multidisciplinary approach, taking into account biological,
socio-cultural, economic and institutional perspectives (Nasi
et al. 2011, van Vliet et al. 2012). The 2015 Sustainable
Development Goals relative to No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Life
on Land and Life Below Water highlight how simultaneous
poverty alleviation and biodiversity protection remain global
development priorities (Angelsen and Wunder 2003, Adams
et al. 2004, Sachs et al. 2009). The overlap between species
habitats and human settlements means that these issues
require integrated management action.
The ability of alternative livelihood strategies to enable
Initiatives seeking to alleviate poverty and conserve biodiver-
sity often stress the need for ‘alternative livelihood strategies’
or ‘substitutive income and food sources’ (Wicander and
Coad 2018). Alternative livelihood practices, projects or pro-
grams (ALPs) aim to reduce activities negatively impacting
the environment by providing substitutive activities within
existing lifestyles, defined as “an approach to achieve biodi-
versity conservation by substituting a livelihood strategy
that is causing harm to a biodiversity target” (Roe et al. 2015,
110 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
alternatives) become of increasing value – imported medi-
cine, formal education, digital communications, electricity
and hydrocarbon fuels (Abernethy et al. 2016, Liddle and
Lung 2014, Megevand 2013). Once these commodities (which
can only be bought) become part of the lifestyle, people need
cash. Therefore families may abandon a lifestyle based on a
closed system of goods, in order to commercialise a resource
and thus expand their access to other commodities or services,
previously unavailable (Fairet et al. 2014).
Sustainable livelihoods linking poverty alleviation and
The notion of developing relevant and appropriate context-
specific alternative practices is closely linked to the sustain-
ability of livelihoods. A livelihood, described as “compris[ing]
the capabilities, assets (including both material and social
resources) and activities required for a means of living” can
be deemed sustainable “when it can cope with and recover
from stresses and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities
and assets, while not undermining the natural resource base”
(Scoones 1998). This concept has been central to debates
linking poverty alleviation with nature conservation (Sachs
et al. 2009). With biodiversity and animal abundance declin-
ing, and the human population increasing, the stability of
current bushmeat hunting is under heavy debate (Nasi et al.
2008, van Vliet 2011, Coad et al. 2013). Rural and urban
people are often unaware of the impact of their use of ecosys-
tem resources and the amount available. As stressed by van
Vliet (2011, p. 35) “Each site is characterized by a different
local, social, natural, economic and cultural context that
explains the differences among sites in terms of drivers of
bushmeat demand, users of bushmeat for both consumption
and income, level of dependence to bushmeat and determi-
nants of consumption behaviour”. Education about environ-
mental conservation is often lacking in rural areas, along with
access to accurate knowledge about the effects of traditional
practices on species in the local environment (Papworth et al.
Bushmeat hunting, urban and rural trade and
consumption in Gabon
Several factors influence people’s dependence upon bush-
meat in their livelihood strategies, including location and
wealth. Although classed as a medium development level
country (UNDP 2016), Gabon has a skewed income distribu-
tion with the richest 20% earning over 90% of the income and
about a third of the population in poverty (U.S. Department of
State 2010). The small population, and major oil and mineral
resources make Gabon one of the wealthiest African nations
per capita. Approximately 59% of the population lives in the
capital Libreville (World Bank 2017). Approximately 85% of
the country covered by forest, with low rates of deforestation
counter balanced by regeneration (Sannier et al. 2016). Coun-
tries with high levels of poverty and high forest cover, tend to
have high levels of use and dependence upon forest products,
such as bushmeat, in their rural populations (Sunderlin et al.
2008, Angelsen et al. 2014). Hunting for bushmeat and its
consumption has long been practiced in Gabon (Walters et al.
2015). About 70% of the total Gabonese land surface has
experienced some recent hunting activity and nearly 50% is
likely to have been severely impacted over the last 30 years
(Henschel et al. 2011, Maisels et al. 2013, Abernethy et al.
2016, Strindberg et al. 2018). In a site in central Gabon, which
had been hunted for subsistence by a sedentary village for
at least 50 years, and where most large animals had been
extirpated, the mean size of hunted animals had been reduced
to less than 4kg (Coad 2007). However, Coad et al. (2013)
showed that over a subsequent 10-year period there was no
change in the species composition offtakes nor in the total
quantity harvested. This stability could be explained by a
decline in hunters (lowering hunting pressure) and improved
hunting techniques (increasing hunting pressure), balancing
each other out. Hunting catchments did move further from
the village, indicating local depletion. The number of hunters
active in the village declined by 20% during this time, mainly
due to younger men leaving the village to find alternative live-
lihoods. The choice to leave was highly correlated to hunting
income, with the most successful hunters remaining and the
least successful leaving.
There have been major changes in hunting practices and
restrictions in Gabon. The precolonial closed-access, lineage-
based system regulating forest resources with strict penalties
for trespassing, has evolved into a more open-access system.
Customary governance has weakened, in response to the rise
of the state, policies and regulations regarding migration and
village location, modern hunting techniques, and a change
from community to state ownership of land (Walters et al.
2015). Hunting bushmeat is legal in Gabon provided that
hunters are from the local community, hunt in the indicated
season using legal methods and return a limited number of
species and individual animals (Gabonese Republic 2001, 2007).
In community forests, logging concessions and national park
(NP) buffer zones, permission is needed. Hunting is prohib-
ited in NPs (Gabonese Republic 2007). Despite these regula-
tions restricting hunting, law enforcement is weak in practice
(Wilkie et al. 2006, 2016). Illegal methods are used, such as
unlicensed guns resulting in illegally high catch rates, and
snares and traps resulting in non-species-specific selection
(Coad 2007). The law allows only a small localized trade in
rural areas where people hunt for subsistence. Management
planning and law enforcement thus often depend on classify-
ing hunters as ‘commercial hunters’: not dependent for daily
food intake and often hunting in areas further away from
their village; or ‘family, subsistence hunters’: dependent on
bushmeat for their daily food intake. However, in practice it is
difficult to distinguish between these two, with over 90%
of village hunters interviewed in various studies reporting
using meat for both food and sale (Cowlishaw et al. 2005,
Abernethy et al. 2013).
Currently, urban demand is driving illegal trading of meat
from the village where it was hunted (Abernethy and Ndong
Obiang 2010), and thus increasing rural hunting (Starkey
2004, Kuehl et al. 2009, Foerster et al. 2011). Rural people’s
monetary and nutritional needs are both drivers of hunting,
determining species selection and quantities hunted, which in
turn influence local species abundance (Bowen-Jones et al.
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 111
distinguished, with different characteristics in relation to
factors influencing livelihood strategies, shown in Table 1.
Potential study areas were selected by first conducting
a preliminary review of data available from household and
market studies, carried out in Gabon between 2000–2006
(Wilkie et al. 2005, Okouyi 2007, van Vliet 2008, Coad 2007,
Abernethy and Ndong Obiang 2010). Estuaire Province was
selected due to the presence of a continuum from degraded
forest near urban areas to forested, rural areas, with Libreville
as the urban area. Within the province, villages were identi-
fied along this continuum with assistance from scientists
from l’Institut de Recherche en Ecologie Tropicale (IRET)
(part of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et
Technologique) according to the criteria of the village’s
proximity and access to urban areas; proximity and access to
intact forest; extent of hunting restrictions; current bushmeat
hunting; and consumption of bushmeat (Table 1). However,
no villages matching the Case 0 scenario could be identified,
as all rural villages were judged as experiencing some degree
of hunting restriction, either through high law enforcement
due to being adjacent to a NP, having depleted wildlife
availability or having lost the tradition of hunting. This led to
eleven villages being selected as representing the three cases,
shown in Figure 1 and detailed in Table 2. Villages of compa-
rable size were not available for all cases, leading to the
selection of at least two villages for each case. The available
sample size limited the extent to which advanced statistical
analyses could be conducted between villages.
Structured questionnaires for household heads and village
chiefs were developed based on the conceptual framework of
sustainable livelihoods and alternative strategies, and drawing
on the Poverty Environmental Network (PEN) forest and live-
lihood survey (CIFOR 2008) and study of van Vliet et al.
(2015) (Annex 1). After seeking permission from the village
chief, households were randomly selected in the villages and
questionnaires administered to in total 52 household heads,
conducted in a private or closed setting. Sampling effort was
limited by time spent in each village and due to differences in
the overall size of villages, the sample therefore represents
from 10% to 75% of the village households. Interviews were
conducted with the 10 chiefs of the 11 villages (village P1 and
P2 represented by the same chief). All the interviews, 20 to 30
minutes each, were conducted in French or the local language
with the assistance of a local translator translating the local
language to French (and vice versa). The self-identified
household heads were asked open and closed questions about
household demographics, changes in livelihood practices
over the past 10 years, including farming practices, forest use,
bushmeat hunting and consumption, livelihood satisfaction
and prospects. Village chiefs were asked about changes in
village demographics, poverty and wealth, dependence on
bushmeat and village prospects. Livelihood changes have
been assessed by analysing cases in which changes had
already taken place or where respondents were still in the
process of changing livelihoods. Interviews with locally
based researchers were used to cross-check the general
feasibility of responses. These data were not used in analyses.
Qualitative coding using key words and descriptive percent-
ages were used to analyse the data.
2003, East et al. 2005). Van Vliet et al. (2014) propose that
legalising some trade in resilient species to maintain the
cultural, economic and social services provided by wildlife,
whilst enforcing the prohibition of trade of vulnerable and
protected species, could be a sustainable livelihood option.
The relative price of and access to alternative food sources
is a critical element in food choice, a factor which varies
depending on spatial and socio-economic contexts, as rural
inhabitants spend most of their income on food (Wilkie et al.
2005, Foerster et al. 2011). This influences the dynamics of
bushmeat consumption within a country (Wilkie and Godoy
2000). About half of the total of bushmeat hunted in Gabon is
for commercial purposes, with demand driving supply, while
the other half is consumed by communities in rural villages
(Abernethy and Ndong Obiang 2010). Wilkie et al. (2005)
showed that wildlife consumption rates were much higher per
capita in forest villages where bushmeat is cheaper and more
widely available, compared to Libreville. Alternatives such as
fish, chicken and livestock cannot substitute bushmeat for
many rural people, due to their high prices and low availabil-
ity (Foerster et al. 2012). In Libreville, even though bushmeat
is one of the most expensive proteins, it is chosen for some
meals. In 2005, per capita, Libreville’s inhabitants ate bush-
meat in 3% of their meals, but this level of consumption
suggests that on aggregate Librville’s consumption was higher
than that of rural areas (Wilkie et al. 2005).
The objective of this study is to explore how and why families
switch to alternatives by choice or when faced with declining
hunting returns, and thus contribute to the current conserva-
tion and livelihoods debate. It seeks to fill a knowledge
gap about the process of switching to alternative livelihood
strategies, by understanding how livelihood practices and
dependence on bushmeat have changed in Gabon over the last
decade and how local people perceive their options for liveli-
hood change. We also reflect on whether any alternative live-
lihood strategies now used are likely to be more sustainable
than previous strategies with high bushmeat dependency.
We hypothesized that livelihood change would be driven by a
decline in the availability of traditionally-used resources,
countered by an increase in the availability of alternative
resources. Availability could be interpreted both as the
physical quantities of a resource and also price, with goods
being rendered ‘unavailable’ due to their high price. Our study
communities were thus selected along a continuum from
ecologically-intact landscapes (NP) to city periphery, where
communities had experienced a range of circumstances in
relation to their wildlife resource and alternative protein
supplies. We chose areas where we had some prior knowledge
of hunting practices and livelihoods from between 10–15
years ago and some knowledge of the status of wildlife
populations in the areas, in order to cross-reference the
self-assessment of villager reports. Four possible cases were
112 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
FIGURE 1 Overview of study villages, Gabon
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 113
TABLE 2 Village demographics and characteristics
D P2 P1 M1 M2 B L M3 M4 A M5
Population 34 14 <10 150 24 10 150 57 40 480 450
Households +-16 +-80 +-200
12 20 20
% of house-
75% 25% 10%
1964 1970 2002 1914 1930 1950 1920–
Approximate distance from villages to closest:
Supermarket 85km 75km 75km 50km 56km 62km 25km 59km 43km 20km 10km
Village shop 35km 25km 25km In village 6km 12km In village 9km In village In village In village
Nearest village <10km <10km <10km 6km 3km 12km 18km 3km 7km 2km 3km
School 35km 25km 25km In village 6km 12km In village 9km In village 2km In village
Tarred road 85km 75km 75km 50km 56km 62km 25km 59km 43km 10km 10–15km
Forest <1km <1km <1km <5km <5km <1km <2km <5km <2km <3km <2km
TABLE 1 Study village characteristics
LOCATION - Adjacent to
Moukalaba Doudou NP
RURAL URBAN CONTIN-
UUM PROXIMITY AND
Rural Rural Semi-rural
Near small urban area,
Near major urban
FOREST STATUS AND
Intact forest, wildlife
censuses show an
intact community and
high abundance of
wildlife (Walsh et al.
2003, Kuehl et al.
Intact forest, abun-
dance of wildlife not
directly censused but
assessed by Parks
Agency and local
as high (ANPN 2015)
Degraded forest with
depleted (WWF Gabon
1999, Blaney and
Thibault 2001, Thibault
et al. 2001, Walsh et al.
2003, Maganga et al.
2009, ANPN 2015)
forest, major decrease
in wildlife availability
(Wilks 1990, Vande
EXTENT OF HUNTING
No wildlife depletion,
enforced <5km from
National laws limit
hunting but weakly
of >5kg), National
laws limit hunting but
Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes
SELECTED VILLAGES No villages identifiable D, P1, P2 B, M3, M2, M1, M4, L M5, A
114 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
Responses to questions on household demographics, bush-
meat use and switches to alternative food sources are
presented in Table 3. Responses to questions about livelihood
practices, satisfaction and prospects are presented in Table 4.
The majority of household heads were male (90%) and on
average 50 years of age (25 to 90 years). Table 5 lists the
hunted and purchased bushmeat species per case.
Livelihood practices and bushmeat dependence in the
Rural villagers dependent on traditional practices
The three remote rural villages are situated on the border
of the Moukalaba Doudou NP, providing access to a mainly
intact forested area. Respondents reported few changes in the
last decade in terms of practicing subsistence agriculture,
hunting and fishing, their lack of access to roads, markets,
healthcare, education, electricity, pumped water and other
facilities. The nearest village shop and school are about 35 km
away, and closest supermarket and tarred road about 85 km
to the most remote village (D). Since the creation of the NP
in 2002, they have experienced hunting restrictions due to
implementation of patrols which enforce laws1 restricting
hunting to traditional methods for rural subsistence in the
5km buffer zone. A field station was created in 2009 from
where a long-term gorilla habituation project run by IRET
and Kyoto University; Projet de conservation de la biodiver-
sité en forêt tropicale à travers la coexistence durable entre
l’homme et l’animal (PROCOBHA), has operated, creating
job opportunities for local men previously involved in
logging. A local NGO, PROGRAM, also has a base in one
village on the NP border, and employs local people working
to habituate gorillas for tourism. 58% percent of the respond-
ents worked for PROCOBHA and/or PROGRAM.
All respondents consumed bushmeat, varying from once
per week to once per month, with an average of three days
per month. The animals most frequently reported caught were
blue duikers (Philantomba monticola), antelopes (Tragelaphus
spp.), porcupines (Atherurus africanus), pangolins (Phataginus
tricuspis), primates (Cercopithecus spp.), occasionally Giant
pouched rats (Cricetomys emini), snakes (mainly Python
sebae) and dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis). Sheep
and goats were kept in the village. No animal proteins were
purchased. Older respondents spoke more openly about
bushmeat consumption compared to youngsters because in
their youth it was legal to hunt, and wildlife availability was
sufficient and close to the village, for daily hunting and
feeding the village. The majority of villagers reported feeling
severely affected by restricted access to hunting due to the
enforcement of the National Park (2002) and some were
extremely angry when talking about destroyed crops raided
by elephants. Approximately every two to five years an
elephant has been (illegally) shot for crop raiding. Rural
villages had the highest percentages (75%, table 4) of respon-
dents with insufficient income to meet household needs
and the majority of respondents were not satisfied with their
livelihood (58%, table 4). However, when respondents were
asked to compare their livelihood with others in the village,
the majority (58%, table 4) believed that their livelihood
According to respondents, no governmental programs
have been implemented regarding new livelihood practices,
although respondents indicated they were open to alternatives
but would need assistance and did not have ideas about how
to change traditional practices. Chiefs reported that popula-
tion exodus had occurred due to these difficulties. The chiefs
indicated that village populations have halved over the decade
surveyed, with mainly elderly remaining. Other villages in the
area have ceased to exist.
Semi-rural villagers still partially dependent on declining
The six semi-rural villages situated near Tchibanga in the
peripheral zone about 25km from Moukalaba Doudou NP are
accessible by car and bus delivering food and other products
daily. Villa gers conduct traditional hunting (most frequently
blue duikers, porcupines, snakes, tortoises (Kinixys erosa
and other spp.), primates and occasionally dwarf crocodiles),
fishing, crop cultivation and keep poultry. They reported
major crop losses due to elephant raids. Measures such as
farming in small forest clearings, camping near crops at night
and chasing away elephants were used to reduce losses,
although none were reported as effective. A side effect
reported was that the elderly suffer from malnutrition as they
are physically not capable of catching fish or meat and cannot
afford purchased food when their crops are destroyed by
elephants. Many respondents blamed the ban on hunting
in the NP as driving force behind the increase in elephant
Villagers and villages chiefs reported declining hunting
returns and decreased wildlife abundance, leading to a decline
in bushmeat consumption. According to respondents, the
creation of the NP let to rules regarding bushmeat hunting
being more strictly imposed, which also reduced catches. The
declining number of hunters, increased prices for equipment
(guns, bullets, snares) and decreased wildlife availability
were seen as drivers of increased bushmeat prices. All the
chiefs indicated that villagers had switched to alternative
protein sources, particularly frozen and canned fish and
chicken purchased in supermarkets. Purchased meat and fish
prices were reported as increasing. However, bushmeat hunt-
ing (including illegal methods and species) continues in at
least one village according to reports.
1 Article 2, Decree 692/PR/MEFEPEPN 24th August 2004 gives customary rights for forest use. Arrêté n° 687/CH 17 February 1956, Arrête
16 Septembre 1953 and Arrête 3 September 1955 list the methods and weapons permited for customary hunting. Article 215, Law 16/2001
of 31 December 2001 (the Forestry Code) bans the use of steel wire for snares, pit traps and nets for customary hunting in forestry
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 115
Villagers also reported additional livelihood concerns
during interviews. Some reported not receiving government
compensation when they were denied access to the new
National Park, making it extremely difficult for them to settle
elsewhere. Also, several respondents shared their frustration
that researchers have studied their livelihoods, but that no
support for improvements has been forthcoming.
Peri-urban villagers switched to alternative livelihoods
Village A is about 35km and village M5 25km from Libre-
ville, taking 1 to 2 hours by car, and both less than 5 km from
forested areas. Both villages are about 10 km from a tarred
road and have electricity, solar panels and water pumps, with
A having a village shop. Subsistence crops continue to be
cultivated. Hunting has reduced wildlife significantly, with
elephants last seen around 50 years ago, and larger wildlife
(over 10kg) reduced to extreme scarcity in the last 20 to
30 years (Vande Weghe 2005). Prior to 2002, there were no
controls on hunting, despite legal restrictions on species,
catch sizes and methods. Since 2002, there has been greater
law enforcement in the area. However, current daily controls
now restrict hunting, and in combination with the lower
availability of wildlife the bushmeat market, active until
around 2010 (Abernethy and Ndong Obiang 2010), no longer
The majority (60%, table 4) of respondents were com-
pletely or rather satisfied with their livelihoods. Though, the
proportion of respondents with paid jobs was relatively
low (35%) and the vast majority (70%) of the respondents
reported to have insufficient income and nutrition to meet
The chiefs all reported declining village populations,
particularly young people migrating to larger cities. Causes of
depopulation include scarce job opportunities, lack of health-
care and education, and poor road conditions. Larger villages
were wealthier than smaller villages where people are more
dependent on crops and forest resources and suffered from
the lack of electricity and running water. The general belief
among respondents was that it is possible to live from land
revenues and that alternatives are not needed, except for
assistance to solve the elephant crop raiding problem. No
alternative livelihood programs were reported, although
respondents indicated that they were open to new ideas, if
assistance would be provided how to change their livelihoods.
Young people reported fewer concerns compared to elderly,
as they already switched to alternatives and were less depen-
dent on forest-based revenues. This switch was only possible
for people who could afford alternative food sources and
transport to supermarkets in Tchibanga.
TABLE 3 Household demographic results per case
Case 1: Restriction NP
Case 2: Reduced hunting
Case 3: Depleted forest
Household size (average) 6,75 (ranging from 1 to 22) 5,05 (ranging from 1 to 15) 4,37 (ranging from 1 to 10)
Salary with paid jobs (mean/
108.000 CFA (ranging from
60.000 CFA to 200.000 CFA)
191.000 CFA (ranging from
4.000 CFA to 800.000 CFA)
239.000 CFA (ranging from
35.000 CFA to 600.000
Food expenses (mean/day/
3.000 CFA (ranging from 1.000
CFA to 6.000 CFA)
6.400 CFA (ranging from
1.500 CFA to 20.000 CFA)
4.800 CFA (ranging from
500 CFA to 20.000 CFA)
Age household head (mean
46 (ranging from 25 to 69) 58 (ranging from 27 to 90) 46 (ranging from 27 to 75)
Primary education (percentage
of educated people)
67% 79% 94%
Households with children
83% 90% 70%
Households with children who
75% 56% 86%
Fish intake (average days per
5 2 2,5
Bush meat intake* (average days
Less than 1 2 Less than 1
Chicken intake (average days
Change in wildlife availability in
the forest (last 10 yrs.)
Decrease Varying opinions No change
Switch to alternative protein
food source (percentage)
0% (0/12) 40% (8/20) 100% (20/20)
*Bush meat intake is probably an underestimation as respondents were hesitant to talk about bush meat hunting and consuming.
116 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
TABLE 4 Livelihood results per case about livelihood practices, livelihood satisfaction and prospects for children’s and
Case 1: Restriction NP
Case 2: Reduced hunting
Case 3: Depleted forest
Paid jobs (percentage of
67% 35% 85%
Level of satisfaction with
job (percentage of total
8% Not really
8% Not at all
18% Not really
6% Not at all
Preference for another
job (percentage of total
17% 55% 45%
Probability of continu-
ing with the same job in
the future (percentage of
58% High probability
25% 50-50 probability
8% Low probability
63% High probability
13% 50-50 probability
25% Low probability
59% High probability
41% Low probability
Level of satisfaction
(percentage of total
33% Not really
25% Not at all
30% Not really
10% Not at all
35% Not really
5% Not at all
Level of satisfaction
about own livelihood
compared to other
of total respondents)
58% Better off
17% Worse off
61% Better off
6% Worse off
25% Better off
10% Worse off
Sufficiency of income/
nutrition level (percent-
age of total respondents)
Parental prediction for
future of children
(percentage of total
30% Already left
30% Will leave
10% Will stay
30% Children’s choice
39% Already left
22% Will leave
6% Will stay
17% Don’t know
17% Children’s choice
43% Already left
57% Will leave
Chief’s prediction what
will happen to his village
in the future
P He does not know
M3 He does not know
A He does not know
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 117
reported that their children would be likely to leave the village
for an urban future (30%, 22%, 57% resp.) or had already left
(30%, 39%, 43% resp.).
What motivated people to continue hunting and
Contrary to the peri-urban villages and semi-rural villages,
inhabitants of rural villages near the NP border had not made
major changes in their lifestyles. The large majority of these
were happy with their jobs, were not looking for other jobs,
and felt better off than their neighbours. However, the major-
ity was unsatisfied with their livelihoods as their income was
insufficient to enable subsistence. This is in line with results
reported in the studies of Abernethy and Ndong Obiang
(2010) and Wilkie et al. (2005) which show that prices for
alternative protein sources are highest in rural villages where
a larger proportion of total income (which is low) is spent on
protein. The finding concerning respondents’ dissatisfaction
with their livelihood is probably underpinned by respondents
seeing traditional livelihoods declining and that new socio-
economic practices are needed for the whole village to be
sustainable. If people are unable to meet their household
needs through income, this may be due either to insufficient
goods being available for purchase in the village or because
household income does not always contribute to a house-
hold’s primary needs (other spending choices may be made)
(Coad et al. 2010, Fairet 2012).
Inhab itants in rural villages near the NP were not strongly
motivated to continue hunting and consuming bushmeat but
felt constrained to take up alternative practices and food
sources due to their remote living conditions, poor access to
operates. The main species hunted and consumed were cane
rat (Thryonomys swinderianus), squirrel (Funiscurus and
Paraxerus spp), blue duiker and porcupine. Chiefs reported
that the proportion of people hunting and consuming bush-
meat decreased over the last 10 years from approximately
70% to 30%, also as more inhabitants now had paid jobs
(instead of hunting) and purchased food in supermarkets.
People in these peri-urban villages had already adopted alter-
native livelihoods. The majority (58%, table 4) of respondents
indicated having a reasonable amount of income to meet
household needs. Respondents had the highest percentage
(85%) of paid jobs compared to rural villages. More than
half (60%) of the respondents was (rather) satisfied with their
According to respondents, people switch to alternative
livelihoods due to both the reduction in wildlife availability
and increasingly easy access to shops and supermarkets in
nearby villages and Libreville, which has facilitated the use of
alternative practices and food sources. Despite the decline
in bushmeat, inhabitants reported prices for several species,
indicating that bushmeat is still locally sold or purchased.
The prices paid for self-caught fish and meat were reported
to have increased. Fish, chicken and turkey prices in village
shops had also increased due to higher transport and shop
rental costs. Of all protein sources, bushmeat was the most
expensive according to the majority of respondents, indicat-
ing that it has become a luxury item.
Comparison of the three cases
Comparison of household satisfaction and employment status
in all three cases shows that among employed respondents a
slightly higher percentage is satisfied with their household
(56%) compared to dissatisfied (40%), while for unemployed
respondents percentages were the same (50% satisfied-50%
dissatisfied). In all three cases the majority of respondents
TABLE 5 Body mass (in kg) of bushmeat species per case (Albrechtsen et al. 2005, Coad 2007, Fa et al. 2006)
Case 1 Case 2 Case 3
Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) 3,40 3,40 3,40
Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) 2,00 - -
Antelope (Tragelaphus spp.) 42,00 - -
Blue duiker (Philantomba monticola) 4,20 4,20 4,20
Primate (Cercopithecus spp.) 4,20 4,20 -
Gambian rat (Cricetomys spp.) 1,30 - -
Snake (Python sebae) 7,40 7,40 -
Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) 10,00 10,00 -
Tortoise (Kinixys erosa and other spp.) - 1,60 -
Cane rate (Thryonomys swinderianus) - - 4,20
Squirrel (Funiscurus and Paraxerus spp) - - 0,40
Median 4,20 4,20 3,80
Mean weight 9,31 5,13 3,05
118 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
developed areas, a lack of employment opportunities, health-
care, education, supermarkets and other facilities improving
living conditions, and thus maintained traditional livelihood
practices. This perception of a lack of employment opportuni-
ties is surprising as 67% of respondents reported paid jobs,
almost double the number in semi-rural households, and
only 17% preferred another job. However, all employed
respondents had the same job; working in ecotourism
projects, including PROGRAM and PROCOBHA, one of the
scarce job opportunities in the area (except for one respondent
who started her own business; shop). Rural inhabitants appar-
ently did not see the employment in these ecotourism projects
as an ‘alternative’, as they reported that no governmental
programs had been implemented, even though the majority of
them benefit from this government programme – specifically
designed to reduce the human-wildlife conflict inhabitants
complained about. This underlines the holistic nature of a
subsistence livelihood. Changing one part for an “alternative”
(in this case changing bushmeat sale income for employment
income) cannot change the overall nature or quality of the
livelihood and is not perceived as a fundamental change by
If employment is available, then evidence from other
villages has shown that hunters may leave hunting and take a
paid job, very often moving out of the remote village to do so
(Coad et al. 2013). However, the higher the income people
obtain from hunting, the more likely they are to keep hunting
(Coad et al. 2013). So it is not only the hunting opportunities
(animal availability) determining the switch to a paid job but
also the revenue of those hunting activities. In villages that
are very remote, sale opportunities are low (Starkey 2004,
Foerster et al. 2011) and people sell less, making bushmeat
hunting less profitable. Moreover, people have no chance for
education or paid jobs in remote villages – which in combina-
tion with a lack of facilities and electricity, poor infrastructure
and crop raiding issues – increases the motivation to look for
better livelihoods outside these remote villages (Fairet et al.
How people switched from hunting and/or bushmeat
consumption to alternative livelihood practices and
Inhabitants in the semi-rural villages, especially the larger
and wealthier villages of M1 and L, did switch to alternative
livelihoods and used more bought goods and less bushmeat.
However, sustaining these livelihoods was not easy; the pro-
portion of respondents with a job was relatively low and more
than half were looking for a(nother) job. Rural inhabitants
have employment opportunities at the gorilla habituation
project (PROCOBHA) and peri-urban inhabitants are close
enough to Libreville to find a job, but semi-rural inhabitants
suffered as their socio-geographic situation brought no invest-
ment in truly rural development (such as ecotourism), nor the
opportunities of urban investment and job markets either. This
explains the high percentage of respondents without a job
and insufficient income to ensure livelihood subsistence. This
was intensified by the problem of crop raiding decreasing
local food availability, as the semi-rural villages had retained
agricultural dependency longer than wildlife dependency.
Research shows that timber and mining activities in produc-
tion forests, which harbour as many elephants as in the
national parks (Maisels et al. 2013), are a reason elephants
have been driven towards “safe” places, particularly effec-
tively protected areas (Breuer et al. 2016). Studies in Gabon
have also previously shown that decreasing village size has
meant that elephants are no longer intimidated (Fairet 2012,
Walker 2012) and therefore human-elephant encounters
increase. Whether the creation of the NP has had a share in
worsening living condition in semi-rural villages remains
questionable. Villagers reported denied access to the new NP
without receiving compensation from the government, yet
similar claims made before have been investigated and not
found to be real (Curran et al. 2009, 2010). However that does
not mean that the perception of local people is not real, espe-
cially when it is the next generation’s understanding of what
happened. The continued expectation of compensation may
inhibit the uptake of different opportunities.
In the peri-urban villages near Libreville all respondents
had already changed to alternative income and food sources.
Therefore a continuum has been found from rural villages to
peri-urban villages with an increase in livelihood satisfaction
paralleled by an increase in adoption of alternative liveli-
hoods. This is supported by the finding that the majority of
inhabitants of peri-urban villages has a paid job and reason-
able or even sufficient income to sustain their livelihood.
This shows how the inhabitants of peri-urban villages benefit
from their proximity to Libreville and the facilities to adopt
alternative livelihood options and change to livelihoods based
What facilitated the change to alternative livelihoods?
The responses of livelihood dissatisfaction did not seem to be
caused by unemployment, as level of satisfaction was equally
divided amongst unemployed respondents. For employed
respondents the level of satisfaction was slightly higher which
could indicate the positive effect of having a source of income
on the perception of one’s livelihood. An important factor
promoting change and increasing satisfaction was the prox-
imity to urban areas, which facilitated access to supermarkets
(with alternative food sources) and the opportunity to find
paid jobs (alternative practices). Income has become impor-
tant as people want more than just food security: they are also
desiring education and access to energy, transport and media
(Fairet 2014, Liddle and Lung 2014). Market access can be a
major driver of the success of urban livelihoods. Liddle and
Lung (2014) showed electricity consumption is part of an im-
proved lifestyle and stimulates rural-urban migration, leading
to alternative livelihood strategies. This supports the trend
seen in all three cases; urbanization, defined as the “process
of population concentration......put in motion by events or
conditions which make concentration both possible and
desirable” (Tisdale 1942, p. 311, 312). Migration from rural
to urban villages was motivated by a desire to improve living
conditions, facilitating a change in livelihood practices from
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 119
hunting to paid jobs. Therefore urbanization can be seen as
a facilitator of changing livelihoods driven by a desire for
a wealthier lifestyle with access to facilities, electricity,
The inability of hunting practices to ensure
sustainability of traditional livelihoods
Households reported hunting and consuming bushmeat,
although both the estimated and reported availability of wild-
life and frequency of hunting and consumption decreased
along the continuum towards urban areas. The diversity and
body sizes of the frequently reported species hunted are more
diverse and larger in (semi-)rural villages, than peri-urban
villages (Table 5), in line with expectations of depletion due
to unsustainable offtake from persistent hunting over a long
period (Coad 2007, Abernethy et al. 2013, Abrahams et al.
2017). The reports of declining hunting frequency and catches,
increased distances to hunt and catches of smaller-sized
species are indicative of probable inability of past hunting
practices to ensure subsistence of traditional livelihoods in
these areas (Ingram et al. 2015, Benitz-Lopez 2017). How-
ever, the unsustainability of hunting practices cannot entirely
be attributed to rural inhabitants’ subsistence hunting.
Commercial hunting – whether from outside the villages or
the villagers – may also have contributed to the decline of
wildlife species, especially larger and rarer species (Kuehl
et al. 2009). External issues like mining, timber extraction
and elephant poaching for ivory added to this by affecting
species abundance or habitat quality. In addition to current
hunting practices, severe crop raids have also contributed
to unsustainability of traditional livelihoods. Although all
villages cultivate traditional crops (plantain, taro, cassava,
potato, peanuts, aubergine and pepper), in the rural and semi-
rural villages these crops are severely threatened by elephant
raids. Kamweya et al. (2012) found that brick walls, wooden
and vegetation barriers were unsuccessful in keeping ele-
phants from crops in rural Kenyan communities and advocate
for (electric) fences. Electric fences are now being tested
in rural villages on the borders of Gabon’s National Parks
(Koumakoudi 2017), which may also go some way to alleviat-
ing villagers frustration with the lack of government engage-
ment in their livelihoods. Yet, studies indicate that there is no
single, simple solution to avoid human-elephant conflict
on farms (Graham and Ochieng 2008, Naughton-Treves and
Treves 2005, Sitati et al. 2005). Spatially-specific solutions
depend upon many factors including the number and size of
smallholdings in an area, human population size, elephant
abundance, food availability for elephants, other forest-based
activities such as mining and timber extraction, and sources of
finance for elephant protection measures. As the majority
of respondents in the rural and semi-rural villages indicated
feeling they had insufficient income to meet household needs,
individual or community level investments in fences cannot
be seen as a feasible solution. Gabonese land tenure laws
allow private ownership of small areas of land, while the
state manages all forest lands on behalf of the people, making
land-investments under only customary ownership very risky.
The findings suggest that traditional livelihoods based on
agriculture and hunting in the rural and semi-rural villages are
precarious and under the current circumstances unstable. We
found that the main alternative to traditional rural livelihoods
was migration to urban areas, particularly for younger people.
Inhabitants generally report being willing to try alternatives
but lack their own ideas and resources to fund them and do not
consider replacing one part of a subsistence livelihood with
a substitute to be a real alternative. Examples of ALPs and
interventions tried in other places in Gabon include cane
rat raising (Edderai and Charbonnier 2000); porcupine and
potamochere ranching (Jori et al. 1998); beekeeping (Ngama
2013); fish farming (e.g. Alphalaphia 2018); cocoa and coffee
(ADB 2017). Due to a lack of success in trial areas in Gabon
they have not been rolled out in new areas, thus promoting
such interventions without proof of their efficacy is risky. In
practice no resource-use activities have been implemented in
the study villages, only employment ALPs (PROCOBHA and
PROGRAM). Even though the rural population is small in
Gabon (around 13% in 2014) (Oxford Business Group 2015)
and self-sufficiency and rural agricultural development is a
focus of government policy – such as the Plan Stratégique
Gabon Emergent and Stratégie de développement de
l’agriculture au Gabon – and donors (African Development
Bank Group 2011), these initiatives, which promote small-
holder agriculture and give long term land concessions, aim
to achieve better returns from agriculture, but do not address
declining wildlife, nor the lack of rural infrastructure to
support a higher quality of lifestyle (Fairet et al. 2014).
Can alternative livelihood strategies substitute
traditional livelihoods in a sustainable manner?
The results of this study suggest that people in rural and
semi-rural villages will change their livelihoods once a (near)
depletion of forest animal and fish populations occurs and/or
when external factors draw people to alternative practices and
protein sources in urban areas.
Wilkie et al. (2005) expressed their concern about shifting
the problem of over-exhaustion to other resources when the
previous resource is depleted or replaced by another resource.
This concern is reiterated by Jagger (2012) who found that
reducing dependence on certain resources consequently leads
to exploitation of substitute resources or environmental
degradation through overuse (i.e. Ahrends et al. 2010). Jagger
(2012) proposed to guarantee continued access of local
communities to currently used natural resources. However,
this study shows that it is not always possible, as some species
have been severely depleted- in effect being no longer avail-
able. Moreover, if alternatives are available there is no incen-
tive to use sustainably, as people can still expend one resource
(especially if it is cheaper or less effort to access) and then
move to the other when they have to. This resonates with
Torell et al.’s (2010) findings that alternatives are often an
addition to people’s income, while they continue to conduct
practices which deplete natural resources. In addition, respon-
dents in semi-rural villages near Tchibanga reported that
switching is not a one-step choice but takes time and effort to
be realized. Traditional practices are relied upon in times of
120 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
stress and shock, such as when cash is unavailable to purchase
alternative food sources or when people lose their paid
jobs. The majority of respondents simultaneously conduct
traditional and alternative practices as a strategy to maintain
livelihoods. This finding matches van Vliet et al. (2015) who
showed that hunting bushmeat remained critical to provide
a protein source in the Democratic Republic Congo despite
interventions to increase livelihood opportunities.
The results of this study suggest that alternatives as
“a genuine substitute” (Wright et al. 2015), are difficult to
realize. Alternatives are a possible or preferred solution, but it
is difficult to easily substitute one part of a livelihood – i.e.
continue being a village hunter or farmer but substituting sar-
dines for bushmeat. As a core part of the livelihood changes,
the livelihood as a whole becomes unstable. Such instability
is essential to understand in predicting the shift from a non-
cash barter society to a cash transaction-based society. When
people want and value paid services (such as energy, medi-
cine, education), it is difficult to reconcile this lifestyle with a
traditional subsistence livelihood which does not produce
cash. As demand for income increases (people need some-
thing to sell to gain money), depletion of ‘open access’ forest
resources is a common consequence. To provide sustainable
alternatives people need livelihood changes that respond
to their quality of life aspirations. The key to success will
perhaps lie in identifying valuable resources which can be
sustainably harvested and at the same time serve livelihood
Of the three cases, alternative livelihoods in peri-urban
villages appeared to be most in line with people’s aspirations.
However, it can be questioned if these livelihoods are sustain-
able in the long term. Traditional livelihood strategies were no
longer in balance with the local resource capacity, thereby
undermining the forest resource base (mammals, reptiles and
fish), due to a high added pressure of commercial trade on
forest resources. Whilst alternative livelihood practices
(imported food purchased in supermarkets) appear not to
exert direct pressure on their surroundings, they may exert
indirect pressure on both Gabonese and other tropical land-
scapes as international agricultural value chains leave a major
environmental footprint, including deforestation and degrada-
tion (Ingram et al. 2018, Lambin et al. 2018, Ramankutty
et al. 2002) and the supply of sufficient food locally is
challenging (Wiggins 2000).
Implications for sustainable livelihood strategies
Assistance in changing to alternative livelihoods
The need for a multidisciplinary approach was stressed in the
introduction (Bowen-Jones et al. 2003, Nasi et al. 2011, van
Vliet et al. 2012) and the results of this study re-emphasize
this. Rural livelihoods are highly dependent on their environ-
ment and need to be seen as socioecological systems. The
Gabonese case shows the complex systems where citizen
incentives, government development plans, conservation
goals and economic investments (such as timber and mining
companies) are intertwined. Respondents stress the need for
assistance to adopt new practices and desire for voice and
inclusion in decision-making. This is a role that NGO’s and
the government could play. Sim ilar situations in other remote
areas of Gabon (FIDA 2016) suggest an urgent need to target
rural areas where inhabitants face both difficulties in imple-
menting alternatives but are also unable to sustain their tradi-
tional livelihoods. Projects which build upon urbanization
to facilitate changes in livelihood practices and reduce bush-
meat dependence may be more effective than (unsuccessful)
conventional alternative livelihood projects. However, the
assumption that alternative livelihoods in urbanized areas
are more sustainable (with less environmental impact) and
do not result in substitution of resource exploitation needs
to be tested.
Addressing the commercial trade
This study showed that bushmeat hunting for subsistence
is decreasing and has largely disappeared in villages near
Libreville. This reiterates the findings of Laurance et al.
(2006) who showed that urbanization reduced the pressure on
forests by decreasing hunting activities (Laurance et al. 2006).
This finding suggests that urbanization contributes to reduced
bushmeat hunting per capita. However, (illegal) commercial
hunting to meet urban demand for bushmeat still contributes
to depleted animal populations, especially when disposable
incomes and urban population numbers increase (Bowen-
Jones 2003, East et al. 2005, van Vliet et al. 2011, Brashares
et al. 2011, Coad et al. 2013, Abernethy et al. 2013). There-
fore, the reduced pressure on forest resources induced by
urbanization at the local level can be compensated by the
increased urban demand for bush meat by people who are
used to bush meat consumption and can afford to spend part
of their income on bushmeat, elevating (illegal) commercial
This exploratory study has provided qualitative empirical data
that supports commonly held assumptions that people living
closer to urban areas experience higher levels of natural
resource depletion but have access to alternatives which
enable them to sustain their lifestyle, albeit with changes to
the types of food sources and income generating practices.
These results add to current knowledge about the mechanisms
through which alternative livelihood strategies develop
when traditional practices involving the extraction of forest
resources are unable to be practiced or insufficient.
The findings show that proximity to urban areas is an
important driver to change livelihood strategies, rather than
depleted animal populations forcing people to change. People
move from a traditional subsistence livelihood to a livelihood
based on cash transactions, in which alternatives are adopted
in response to people’s quality of life aspirations.
However, agricultural and livestock value chains, supply-
ing urban areas with food, also leave a major environmental
footprint, creating unsustainable livelihoods when measured
on a national and global scale. This means that urbanization
is not the silver bullet solution to reduce pressure on the
natural resource base and does not necessarily lead to more
sustainable alternative livelihoods.
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 121
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For villages where rural people are unable to adopt
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challenges, adopting alternative livelihood practices may
have a substitution effect caused by the over-exploitation of
other resources. Therefore, a lifecycle cost-benefit approach
is needed to prevent further resource depletion. Enabling the
needs and perspectives of rural people to be heard in national
policymaking and assistance and allowing them to implement
their desired livelihood changes, is needed. It is recommended
that further research focuses on seeking whether such find-
ings are replicated in other remote forest areas of the Congo
Basin humid forest zone.
A decreasing rural dependence on bushmeat for subsis-
tence use does not solve the problem of high national bush-
meat extraction rates, which are driven largely by urban
luxury demand. In Gabon, urban demand for bushmeat is
anticipated to increase further in the short term as urbaniza-
tion intensifies, although urbanites may switch to cheaper and
more available alternatives in the future. In the short term,
a focus on the (illegal) commercial trade is essential to
avoid local extirpation of animal resources, recognising that
bushmeat is not just an urgent sustainability crisis in terms of
biodiversity but also that the livelihoods of local people are at
stake. Solutions need to combine initiatives along agricultural
value chains and the rural-urban continuum, and address the
enabling environment around a nexus of food security to
reduce the demand for bushmeat and making the supply more
sustainable through more effective resource governance.
Many thanks to all the interviewees, Patrice Makouloutou
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Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 125
Annex 1a Questionnaire household head
Date: Village: Numéro du questionnaire:
Sexe: M / F Age: Education: Primaire / Secondaire / Lycée
Quel travail ou activité vous faites maintenant?
Avez-vous pratiquer un autre travail ou activité dans le passé?
Travail Nombre d’année
Pour quelles raisons avez-vous stopper cette activité ou travail?
Êtes-vous satisfait de votre travail maintenant? (Classer sur une échelle de 1 à 5)
1 : Pas du tout satisfait 2 : Pas satisfait 3 : Neutre 4 : Quelque peu satisfait 5 : Très satisfait
Quelle activité ou travail voulez-vous exercer?/vous avez un travail de rêve?
Quelle est la probabilité que vous continuiez votre travail dans le future?
1 : Probabilité nulle 2 : Probabilité faible 3 : Neutre 4 : Probabilité forte 5 : Probabilité certaine à 100%
Quel est le nombre total de personne résidant dans ton foyer? Leur niveau d’éducation? Combien sont-ils présents ou absents?
Qu’est-ce que justifie leur absence?
(homme, femme, nombre de enfants,
nombre de petit enfants)
Présents dans ce village ou
Si absents, pourquoi?
…… petit enfants
Que mangez-vous? Des légumes, du manioc, tubercules, bananas, riz, taro
Mangez-vous du poisson?
oui/no pêché ou acheté? Combien de jours par semaine
mangez-vous du poisson
Prix par kg environ Où acheté?
126 E.J.T. van Gils et al.
Mangez-vous de la viande?
Chassée ou achetée? Combien de jours par semaine
mangez-vous de la viande
Prix par animal environ Où achetée?
Quelle est plus cher(e) poisson ou viande? = Poisson / Viande
Le prix du poisson a changé dans ces dix dernières années? = Diminution / Pareil / Augmentation
Le prix de la viande a changée dans ces dix dernières années? = Diminution / Pareil / Augmentation
Quel est le montant permettant au foyer de se nourrir par jour, par semaine ou par mois? ………. CFA
Quel était ton salaire (maintenant ou dernier travail)?
Type de travail Salaire par mois
êtes-vous satisfait de la vie actuelle de votre foyer?
1: pas satisfait du tout 2: pas vraiment 3: neutre 4: plutôt satisfait 5: très satisfait
Votre salaire est-il suffisant pour couvrir les besoins de votre foyer maintenant?
1: oui 2: raisonnable 3: no
Comparé avec d’autres foyers dans le village, comment trouvez-vous la manière de satisfaire votre foyer?
1: pire que d’autres 2: moyenne comme d’autres 3: mieux que d’autres
Pour ces raisons, pensez-vous que vos enfants doivent rester dans le village ou partir dans d’autres villes dans l’avenir?
Changes in livelihood practices, strategies and dependence on bushmeat in Gabon 127
Annex 1b Questionnaire village chief
Entrevue chef de village
Nom de village année de
nombre de population
Nombre de foyer
Plus de enfants, plus de jeunes, plus de adulte
ou plus de personnes âgées?
Le nombre de population a changé ces 10 dernières années?
1: maintenant moins 2: pareil 3: maintenant plus
Quel proportion de foyers dans le village mange la viande de brousse? ………..
Ce nombre a changé ces 10 dernières années?
1 : Diminution 2 : Pareil 3 : Augmentation
Quelle est la distance entre le centre du village environ: Marché, prochain village, route goudronnée, foret, école?
Distance en km
Marché de biens de consommation majeur ………………km
Prochain village ………………km
Route goudronnée ………………km
Quels sont les principaux produits consommés par les habitants du village?
Le prix a changé durant ces dix dernières années pour la viande?
1 : Diminution 2 : Pareil 3 : Augmentation
Quelles sont les raisons de cette diminution/augmentation?
Le prix a changé durant ces dix dernières années pour le poisson?
1 : Diminution 2 : Pareil 3 : Augmentation
Quelles sont les raisons de cette diminution/augmentation?
Quelles sont les règles coutumières dans le village pour l’utilisation de foret pour plantations ou chasser?
Croyez-vous que les populations villageois sont satisfaites?
Croyez-vous que ces populations villageois peuvent rester ou partir pour d’autres villages ou villes dans le future?