Sustainable Bushmeat Harvesting Is Possible, Finds UN Report

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, October 25, 2011 (ENS) – Wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are disappearing from the world due to overexploitation for bushmeat – the legal and illegal trade in the meat and other parts of wild animals.

Now, a new United Nations report says sustainable bushmeat harvesting is possible, but only if governments combine new mechanisms for monitoring and law enforcement with new management models, such as community-based management or game-ranching. Finding alternate means of livelihood for residents of forests and other wild lands also will help conserve vanishing species.

Huaorani woman in Ecuador prepares bushmeat. (Photo © Nicolas Kingman courtesy IUCNTRAFFIC)

Written by Nathalie van Vliet, the report, “Livelihood Alternatives for the Unsustainable Use of Bushmeat,” was prepared for the Bushmeat Liaison Group of the Convention on Biological Diversity, with assistance from the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and financial support from the European Union.

“I trust that this publication will encourage concrete action to halt the overharvesting of bushmeat and the loss of biodiversity, and thus maintain essential ecosystem services and improve the quality of life for the rural poor in tropical and subtropical countries,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Opened for signature in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and entering into force in December 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty for the conservation of biodiversity, all the planet’s diverse life forms.

With 193 government Parties, the Convention has near universal participation among countries. The treaty covers the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and also the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources.

“Because bushmeat plays a crucial role in the diets and livelihoods of people, options to reduce harvest levels, other than ‘blind banning,’ have been investigated both by conservation and development planners,” writes van Vliet.

The report addresses small-scale food and income alternatives to bushmeat in tropical and sub-tropical countries based on the sustainable use of biodiversity.

The report was informed by the discussions of experts representing 43 governments and UN agencies, international and national organizations, and indigenous and local community organizations, who met in Nairobi, Kenya in June.

Meat of red brocket deer in a community near Mexico’s Calakmul Reserve (Photo © Nathalie van Vliet)

They acknowledged that classic approaches and international efforts are not reversing the growing trend of unsustainable bushmeat harvesting. The report sets forth their recommendations to the international community and to concerned national governments and stakeholders.

“There is compelling evidence that the scale of current hunting is a serious threat to many forest species and ecosystems across the world. This threatens both people and the biodiversity they rely upon,” said Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC International.

“The reality in rural Africa, is that for the greater majority of people, bushmeat represents a vital dietary item, but high variations across the continent exist,” writes van Vliet.

Estimates of bushmeat harvest across the Congo Basin range between one and five million tonnes a year.

In the Brazilian Amazon, subsistence hunters have been estimated to harvest some 23.5 million individual animals annually for food. The yearly market value of wild game meat harvested by rural populations is estimated at US$191 million, second only to timber as a forest product.

A bushmeat hornbill near Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo © Nathalie van Vliet)

In Asia, the true scale and value of the wildlife trade are unknown, as much of the trade is carried out through informal networks, and not documented in government statistics. Many countries in the region including, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam, act as sources of wildlife that is traded and consumed.

To curtail bushmeat hunting to a sustainable level, the report recommends community wildlife management and other improved wildlife-management approaches, such as game-ranching and hunting tourism.

“Mini-livestock” can be produced on a sustainable basis for food, animal feed and as a source of income, the report recommends. These wild animals, such as bush rodents, guinea pigs, frogs or giant snails, can be raised on small farms or in backyards.

Other alternative livelihoods to bushmeat hunting, such as beekeeping and other sustainable harvests of non-timber forest products, should be supported, the report says.

The report recognizes the need to clarify and define land-tenure and access rights, improve monitoring of bushmeat harvesting and trade, and enhance enforcement of bushmeat-related laws.

“Sustainable utilization of wild resources can both guarantee human well-being and the long-term survival of those animal species targeted for consumption by millions of people worldwide,” said Broad. “This study lies at the nexus of conservation and development, biodiversity and human livelihoods.”

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