September 16, 2008

Experts Consider Alternatives To Blanket Ban On Bushmeat

While conservation experts agree that a blanket ban on "bushmeat" hunting is necessary, a new report shows that it would largely fail and endanger both humans and animals.

The Center for International Forestry Research found that the hunting of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians in tropical forests is likely to lead to the extinction of many species in less than 50 years. However, local residents in Central Africa rely on bushmeat for up to 80 percent of protein and fat.

"If current levels of hunting persist in Central Africa, bush meat protein supplies will fall dramatically, and a significant number of forest mammals will become extinct in less than 50 years," said Robert Nasi of CIFOR, one author of the report.

Giving locals the rights and incentives to hunt sustainably would protect their livelihoods and save forest mammals from extinction, said CIFOR.

The report found that large mammal species are particularly vulnerable, and many of them have already become extinct.

"The bushmeat crisis is not only a crisis of extinction, it is also a crisis of livelihoods and food security," said Frances Seymour, director general of CIFOR.

"Criminalizing the whole issue of bushmeat simply drives it underground. We need to decriminalize parts of this hunting and trade and give local communities the rights and incentives to manage these resources sustainably for their own benefit."

Local, national and regional trade in bushmeat has become a significant part of the informal sector's "hidden economy." Overall, international trade in wild animal products has an estimated value of US $3.9 billion. For West and Central Africa alone, the estimates range from $42 to $205 million a year.

Supporters of a more general ban say regulating sales of some animals but not others would be too complicated.

"Hunting and trade that is sustainable for a cane rat is not necessarily sustainable for an ape," said Heather Eves, director of the Washington-based Bushmeat Crisis Task Force.

"There isn't sufficient evidence to suggest that there is the financial or technical capacity or political will to assure a regulated trade that could effectively assure a sustainable trade of just rats and not apes," she said.

Seymour said that local people would be willing to invest in new hunting practices if they were guaranteed to receive benefits of sustainable land use.

"Sustainable management of bushmeat resources requires bringing the sector out into the open, removing the stigma of illegality, and including wild meat consumption in national statistics and planning," Seymour said.

"Reframing the bushmeat problem from one of international animal welfare to one of sustainable livelihoods - and part of the global food crisis - might be a good place to start."

The report will be discussed at the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress, in Barcelona, on October 5.

The international trade in bushmeat is small but there is growing expatriate African and Asian demand, the report said.

A survey conducted a few years ago showed that an estimated 70-90 tons of bushmeat a month were being sold in Yaounde's four main markets.

Often it is linked to the lucrative global trade in animal body parts believed to have secret powers or employed in medicines, such as gorilla meat or rhino horn -- long used as aphrodisiacs.


Image Caption: African brush-tailed porcupine (Atherurus africanus) being sold for meat in Cameroon's East Province. Courtesy Wikipedia


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