In celebration of World Wildlife Day on 3 March 2018, as the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Protected areas are key to efforts to conserve global biodiversity. But a new study shows that hunting and recreational activities pose significant threats to these would-be sanctuaries around the globe.
The study brings together data from nearly 2000 protected areas (PAs) across 149 countries. Sixty-one percent of the sites surveyed list hunting as a threat, while 55 percent point to recreational activities. The results reveal a geographic split, with recreational activities posing the biggest threat in ‘developed’ areas such as North America and Europe, and hunting dominating in ‘developing’ areas such as Central Africa and parts of South America and Asia.
“It really demonstrates the different uses that people have for PAs in different regions of the world,” says Lauren Coad, who works under the Bushmeat Research Initiative (BRI) at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and is one of the authors of the study.
In developed regions, she says, putting further protections in place can be relatively straightforward: restricting tourist visits to PAs, for example, might be an unpopular move, but it’s unlikely to make anyone starve. In developing regions, however, addressing the most common threat – hunting – is a decidedly more complex proposition.
HUNTING FOR SURVIVAL
Communities living in and around forests have hunted wild animals for millennia, and in many remote settlements, people still depend on wild meat as a critical source of protein and micronutrients. Preventing people in these areas from hunting would be unethical, as it could have serious negative impacts on local livelihoods and food security, Coad says.
John Fa, a senior research associate at CIFOR and one of the leaders of the BRI, describes a workshop where his research team asked community members what kinds of alternatives they might pursue if they stopped hunting. “And I remember a 70-year-old man saying he wanted to be an airline pilot. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course – another way of saying, ‘Come on, what are you on about?’”
What’s more, says Coad, this kind of subsistence hunting – if managed well by local communities and PA staff – can be sustainable. Certainly, she acknowledges, if large populations of people are living close to a relatively small PA, subsistence hunting can impact wildlife significantly. “And in that case, you have to work in collaboration with those local communities to find a solution,” she says.
However, when large-scale commercial interests are involved, sustainable fixes can be much harder to find.
GANGS WITH GUNS
“Some people have actually called commercial hunting ‘wildlife strip-mining’, because what they do is enter an area and take as much as they can of everything, and obviously that’s not conducive to sustainable use of the wildlife,” Fa says.
These other kinds of hunters are usually highly mobile and well-armed, and tend to target high-value – and highly endangered – species like elephants, lions, tigers and pangolins for the urban and international market.
“I think sometimes ‘hunting’ gets treated as one homogenous activity,” says Coad, “And that can lead to the assumption that subsistence hunting is a problem. But it’s often not remote local communities out in the forest that are having the most critical impacts on wildlife: it’s organized, traveling groups of commercial hunters. So that’s much harder to deal with at a local scale – it requires national and international enforcement of existing wildlife laws.”
It’s important not to conflate subsistence hunting with these larger-scale extractive processes, Fa emphasizes. “Hunting is a major problem for protected areas, but we need to distinguish between the types of hunting that are going on.”
LOCAL PROBLEM, GLOBAL SOLUTION
Reducing national and global demand, then, is just as important as working with local communities to manage access to wildlife. Providing alternatives to wild meat in cities is one piece of the puzzle, says Coad. This comes with its own challenges: recent urbanization in many developing regions means many new city dwellers still want to buy and eat wild meat, “partly because it is familiar, and so people prefer to eat it over domestic meat such as pork or chicken,” she says.
Coad herself can relate: she recently lived in Bogor, Indonesia, and despite loving Indonesian food, “I was still going to the supermarket in Jakarta to buy the things I knew from Europe: not because I thought it was any more tasty; just because it was familiar, and I knew how to cook it. And we often forget that element when we introduce new things.”
Coad cites a Brazilian study where chicken was introduced at a discounted price as an alternative to wild meat, and it made no impact on wild meat consumption until the researchers instituted social marketing strategies, including cooking classes showing people how to prepare chicken dishes. “And suddenly, wild meat consumption was reduced by over 60 percent. It really demonstrated how if you don’t know how to prepare something, you’re not going to change your preference. So that shows how we have to think about these different approaches.”
Another element of good management is access to good information, says Coad, and one of the BRI’s key foci has been collating data on to what extent local people use wild meat for nutrition and income. From there, they hope to provide national governments with estimates on its contribution to GDP, so it can be managed like any other sector. “Because often we humans, if we don’t put a value on things then we don’t conserve them, because we don’t see them as important,” she says.
It’s also crucial to keep lobbying to reduce international demand for products derived from endangered species, like ivory from elephants, and medicinal products from pangolins, Coad says.
“We live in an increasingly connected society. Conserving the pangolins in Gabon will need changes in consumer preferences halfway across the planet. As consumers, we all have ecological impacts, and we all need to be part of the solution.”
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