Since cakes don’t procreate you can’t have them and eat them too. However, animals reproduce themselves and under some conditions you can hunt them without losing them. That is good news for Africa, where wild meat is a key source of protein.
In much of West Africa hunters wiped out the more vulnerable species years ago. Most remaining animals reproduce quickly and adapt well to areas with crops, fallows, and small patches of forest. Hunters can catch lots of them without doing much damage.
Evidence for Post-Depletion Sustainability in a Mature Bushmeat Market by Guy Cowlishaw, Samantha Mendelson, and J. Marcus Rowcliffe from the Zoological Society of London shows that bushmeat consumption in parts of West Africa is probably sustainable. The authors use Ghana’s third largest city, Takoradi, as an example. They surveyed hunters and traders and collected data on several thousand bushmeat sales to figure out how many animals were caught and where, how many were sold, and at what price. The study particularly focuses on ten mammals that accounted for 84% of the meat sold, most of which were small antelopes and rodents.
Even though local hunters catch over one million kilos of the ten mammals each year they don’t seem to have depleted them. In all ten cases hunters are capturing fewer animals than is theoretically sustainable. Wild meat prices (adjusted for inflation) are much lower than 37 years ago, which suggests the species involved are not becoming scarcer. Nor are animals caught near the city smaller than the ones captured farther away, as typically occurs with over-hunting.
Hunting seems to have caused the worst damage some time ago. The authors found no sign in the markets of various slow reproducing species of monkeys, hogs, and antelopes, implying they had become rare or disappeared from the forests entirely. The hunters surveyed seemed to think that animals had become less abundant some time ago, but that in more recent years the decline had leveled off.
Cowlishaw and his colleagues conclude there is no need to worry much about commercial hunting in areas where people have been doing it for many years. The biggest problems arise when new forest areas are opened for hunting by logging operations or new roads or regions are settled for the first time. Conservationists should focus on protecting more vulnerable species. People should be allowed to hunt most other species, since – unlike cake – they can apparently eat them and have them too.
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The full reference of the article is: Cowlishaw, G., S. Mendelson, and J.M. Rowcliffe. 2005. Evidence for Post-depletion Sustainability in a Mature Bushmeat Market, Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 460-8.