Bushmeat Hunting Threatens African Wildlife

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2001 (ENS) - Bushmeat has become the most immediate threat to the future of wildlife populations in Africa, according to the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. The task force, a consortium of conservation organizations and professionals, has just completed an international meeting to develop an action plan for countering this threat to wildlife.

bush meat

Poacher's bag of one trap night in a remote forest area (forêt classée de Mabi) on the South-East Ivory Coast includes a giant forest rat and a brush-tailed porcupine. (Photo courtesy T. Hofmann / H.H. Roth / H. Ellenberg)
Illegal commercial hunting for the meat of wild animals, also known as bushmeat, has apparently already caused the extinction of the Miss Waldron's Colobus Monkey, and many more animal species are being hunted at a rate that outpaces their ability to reproduce and replenish their populations, says the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF).

"Animals such as duikers, a small African antelope, as well as other species, are being hunted at an unsustainable rate and the risk of local and regional extinction of several species of African wildlife is very real," said Dr. Michael Hutchins, chair of the BCTF Steering Committee and director of the Department of Conservation Science for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).

The BCTF was formed in 1999 to conserve wildlife populations threatened by illegal commercial hunting of wildlife for sale as meat. Animals commonly used as bushmeat include elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates, forest antelopes or duikers, crocodiles, porcupines, bush pigs, cane rats, pangolins, monitor lizards and guinea fowl.

In addition to directly threatening wildlife in the Congo Basin, "this unmanaged and unsustainable hunting has the potential to result in a human tragedy of immense proportions," said Dr. Hutchins. "Some 60 percent of the protein needs of rural Africans are currently met by bushmeat and if the forests are emptied of their wildlife, then what will become of the people?"

In an announcement Monday at the National Press Club in Washington DC, actress Stefanie Powers, president of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, highlighted the BCTF action plan.


Actress Stefanie Powers, president of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation (Photo courtesy William Holden Wildlife Foundation)
"It is critical that Americans be involved in solving the bushmeat crisis," said Powers. "There is no way to set a value on Africa's wildlife. While it's impossible for most of us to picture the world without it, we are faced with that very real possibility."

"Beyond the beauty and intrinsic value of nature, we must acknowledge that we are dependent upon Africa's resources in many ways," added Powers. "Some are very visible, such as gold, diamonds and wood; other resources, which many people may not be aware of, are minerals used to make capacitors in cellular telephones."

The primary goals identified by the BCTF are the general education of key international decision makers about the problems of wildlife poaching. The group also supports its members' efforts in the areas of public education, proposal development, catalyzing local action, disseminating information and archiving.

In its new plan, the group details specific long term and short term actions to take place in both the United States and Africa.

Short term actions include forming hunter and market seller trade associations; building the physical and technical capacity to control trade routes; brokering linkages among non-government organizations, governments and private industry; public outreach and raising awareness; and developing economic and protein alternatives to wildlife hunting.

red colobus

The last confirmed sighting of a Miss Waldron's red colobus was more than 20 years ago. The species likely fell prey to bushmeat hunting and habitat destruction (Photo Illustration by F.W. Frohawk, courtesy Conservation International)
Long term actions include new wildlife management policy development, sustainable financing for conservation activities, public education, and protected area management and monitoring.

Specific steps included in the plan are assisting in the development of national wildlife policies, addressing issues related to food security and poverty reduction, and strengthening existing wildlife protection measures.

About 150 people representing more than 20 countries participated in the four day conference. Participants included biologists and educators working on the ground in Africa, representatives from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Conservation International, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the Jane Goodall Institute and World Wildlife Fund-U.S.

The directors of four wildlife and protected areas departments from the central African countries most affected by the bushmeat crisis also attended the conference.

"The bushmeat crisis is incredibly complex because so many different factors are involved. Economics, population growth, governments and policies, industry, and local tradition all affect the issue," said Dr. Hutchins. "Because it's so complicated, the BCTF knew from the start that no one organization could work to find solutions."

"This conference is a way not only to develop an action plan, but also to strengthen partnerships among African and non-African members to maximize use of limited human and financial resources, to communicate the plan and encourage a wide diversity of potential partners to get involved," concluded Dr. Hutchins.


A western lowland gorilla crosses a bai, or forest clearing, in Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo (Photo © Russell Mittermeier / Conservation International)
One of the ways in which the BCTF hopes to address the bushmeat problem is by raising public awareness of the issue. Beginning in 1997, Dr. Michael Fay of the Wildlife Conservation Society walked more than 1,200 miles across a corridor of forests in Congo and Gabon, Africa, surveying trees, wildlife and human impacts on uninhabited forests.

The trip was partially financed and documented by the National Geographic Society, and intended to rally the public around the plight of African wildlife hunted for meat.

"One of our main objectives is to help facilitate support" for the BCTF plan, Dr. Fay said. "It needs to start being implemented immediately, and everyone affected by this issue needs to be part of the solution. I'm optimistic that the African government and the United States government are working together with the conservation organizations to address the many factors contributing to the bushmeat issue."

More information is available at: http://www.bushmeat.org