Consensus to Bushmeat Conundrum Lies Somewhere Near the Fuzzy Middle


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Wild boar (Sus scrofa) is a source of protein for Boepe village residents, Merauke, Papua, Indonesia.

NAIROBI, Kenya (10 June, 2011)_Finding consensus to one of the greatest threats to biodiversity—the exploitation of wild animals for food—has drawn both determined protectors of endangered wildlife and passionate defenders of the right of indigenous people to live by hunting to a stone-walled conference room in Nairobi this week.

There were times before agreement was reached in 2008 by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity that  something had to be done about the unsustainable hunting of bushmeat when the distance between the protectors and the defenders seemed vast. But the realization by those involved that beefed-up law enforcement alone is not the solution and that time is running out for both apes and hunters has widened the space in the middle.

“I think in the last few years there has been less of a divide in the group because there is growing realization that repressive law enforcement is not the way to go, and that finding sustainable livelihoods outside their environment for people who rely on bushmeat is also difficult,” said Nathalie Van Vliet, a researcher and consultant to the Secretariat of the CBD, whose Bushmeat Liaison Group is one of the two conveners of the joint experts meeting.

The Central Africa Bushmeat Working Group of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the other.

The arrangement of boxes linked by arrows on the single slide Robert Nasi, director of the Forests and Environment Programme at the Center for International Forestry Research, used in his presentation Wednesday summed up his position that “there is no single silver bullet” in the complicated process of reaching a common ground in helping disparate groups to understand the relationship between preserving the forest and limiting the hunting of bushmeat.

“You can’t work based only on repression of hunting, and you can’t tell them (indigenous hunters) to switch to fishing,” he said on the sidelines of the meeting.

“On the one side are those who favor absolute protection of wildlife, and on the other are the groups representing indigenous peoples who claim the right to hunt. We’re kind of in the fuzzy middle,” he said.

The bulk of the 16 presentations made by country representatives, most of them from Africa, stressed the existence of legislation banning hunting and the need to strengthen law enforcement against poaching.

But Nasi said he had been drawn to the way Guatemala—a country that does not feature prominently on the bushmeat crisis map—handles wildlife through concessioning and cooperation with indigenous hunters.

“Wildlife is better in concessions than in protected areas,” he observed.

The highly prized ocelated turkey, hunted for its meat in many parts of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Kurt Duchez, the head of Guatemala’s Department of Wildlife, who made the presentation, said he had never attended a bushmeat meeting before and had only learned about it by chance through his contacts at the CBD secretariat.

“I was surprised to learn that countries in central Africa have the same problems, the same difficulties and almost the same animals,” he said.

He said the Guatemalan concessionary model allows local people to live in protected areas where they can hunt the meat for their own use but cannot sell it.

One indigenous group has agreed to give up hunting the highly prized ocelated turkey for its own use in return for the authorization to charge hunters, mainly from the United States and Canada, $2,000 to hunt the same turkeys on a limited basis. The government then collects a tax from the local people, who also earn money working as guides for the foreign hunters.

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