Wildmeat: Overhunting threatens species and people

May 28, 2002

In many parts of the world, people are driving wild animals toward extinction by over-eating them. Saving these species is critical to protecting both biodiversity and people's food supplies. The question is how?

"The richest areas for biodiversity are those with the highest numbers of threatened species, and these areas also have high numbers of malnourished and poor people," say Alison Rosser of the IUCN Species Programme in Cambridge, UK, and Sue Mainka of the IUCN Species Programme in Gland, Switzerland, in the June issue of Conservation Biology.

Rosser and Mainka's paper is part of a four-paper section on overexploitation of wild meat. The section was co-edited by Madhu Rao of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, New York, and Philip McGowan of the World Pheasant Association in Fordingbridge, United Kingdom.

Wild meat is a staple in many biodiversity-rich areas. In the Cote d'Ivoire, about 80,000 tons of wild meat are harvested each year, at a value of $200 million. Likewise, about 175 million dollars-worth of wild meat is harvested each year in the Amazon Basin.

Historically, overhunting is blamed for the extinctions of elephant birds and giant lemurs in Madagascar, giant kangaroos in Australia, moas in New Zealand, and megaherbivores in the Americas. More recently, hunting has been implicated in the extinctions of the Alagoas currasow in northeastern Brazil, and Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey in Ghana and the Cote d'Ivoire.

Today, hunting is a major threat to about a third of the threatened mammals and birds worldwide. The mammals most at risk from overexploitation are big and reproduce slowly, such as larger antelopes and elephants. The birds most at risk from overexploitation are generally big and conspicuous, such as pheasants and megapodes.

Documenting the problem of over-hunting wild meat is the first step. The second is doing something about it. "Conservation biologists need to ensure that existing information is taken a step further to effect relevant policy," urge Rao and McGowan.

Conservationists also need to collaborate with organizations devoted to alleviating poverty. "Whilst it is tempting to focus conservation campaigns on the critically endangered species, in the long-term more conservation benefit may be achieved by working to address the livelihood issues for people living with and dependant on wildlife," say Rosser and Mainka. "Much of the current use of wild species for meat is unmanaged often due to a lack of resource ownership."
OTHER AUTHORS CONTRIBUTING TO THIS SECTION ARE: Glyn Davies of the Zoological Society of London in the UK, and Elizabeth Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, New York.

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