Jules Koffi Gossé

and 3 more

IntroductionThe wildlife trade is a major societal issue challenging both biodiversity conservation and global health (Bezerra-Santos et al., 2021; Hughes, 2021). At an estimated annual value of several US$ trillions, it also constitutes a crucial –often parallel– economy for countries, in which actors of the supply-chain source their revenues (Andersson et al., 2021). It is also an important food system for a number of rural households across the tropics (Fa et al., 2016).The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has generated a vivid debate on whether or not the wildlife trade should be banned. Contrasting calls from and within the scientific community, the political spheres and the public have been put forward (Fang et al., 2021), from an outright permanent ban (Sills et al., 2020) to maintenance of the wildlife trade for the sake of social development (Roe et al., 2020).West and central African rainforests are a particular hotspot for the wildlife trade, where bushmeat –the terrestrial vertebrates hunted for food– has traditionally been a vital source of protein and income for rural communities (Ingram et al., 2021). With the globalization of the trade, bushmeat offtakes have become likely unsustainable for many species (reaching c. 5 million tons each year; Nasi et al., 2011), an extinction trend coined under the term “bushmeat crisis” (Bennett et al., 2002).With the COVID-19 pandemic, the African continent was struck by national trade bans of various length and effectiveness (Harvey-Carroll et al., 2022; Meseko et al., 2020). However, because the bushmeat trade is a poorly regulated, parallel economy across most of Africa, the genuine economic stakes behind the trade are poorly known (van Vliet et al., 2017). Moreover, the impact of bans on trade activities has rarely been quantified (but see Funk et al., 2022), notably in terms of post-ban recovery.We conducted long-term monitoring of bushmeat sites in Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa) that encompassed pre-, during, and post-COVID-19 lockdown. In Côte d’Ivoire, hunting has been illegal since 1974 (law n°94–442), but the bushmeat trade is openly tolerated, notably in major urban zones (Gossé et al., 2022). Quantitative data on the bushmeat trade are scarce and mostly outdated, but large levels of supply from protected areas has been observed recently (Bi Gonedelé et al., 2017; Bi Gonedelé et al., 2022). The trade seems non-selective in terms of species and strictly motivated by financial income (Gossé et al., 2022), highlighting both the likely unsustainability and important economic role of the national bushmeat trade network.Controls of the bushmeat trade by Ivorian state agencies have been regularly implemented as conservation-oriented measures or public health emergencies after the earlier epidemic of Ebola virus disease in 1994 (Dindé et al., 2017). However, there is to date no information available on how such control measures have affected the market. Our main objective was to assess the dynamics of the bushmeat trade in Côte d’Ivoire as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and explore post-lockdown recovery trends depending on market type. We posit that (i) bushmeat trade dynamics was negatively impacted by governmental measures, with trends being similar between market types (as a measure of the effectiveness of government interventions), and that (ii) bushmeat trade activities quickly recovered after the lockdown –and the bushmeat ban– were lifted (as a measure of market network resilience).