Wild meat for today and tomorrow

More sustainable management of tropical wildlife is possible
Bush meat in a market in Yangambi, Democratic Republic of Congo. The main animals hunted in this area are warthogs, monkeys and Gambia rats. CIFOR/Axel Fassio

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Worldwide, the meat of wild animals is sought after for a range of reasons. In remote rural communities, it is a primary source of protein and a buffer to economic shocks such as crop failures. But, it is also a tasty treat for city dwellers; a luxury good illegally traded to international markets and a major driver of biodiversity loss.

As populations grow and demand booms, the question arises as to how to ensure sustainable management strategies in support of both people and wildlife. In response to a call from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) secretariat, researchers with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner organizations reviewed the available knowledge on wild meat use in tropical and subtropical regions. They outlined key strategies to improve its sustainability. The study has now launched as a joint CBD-CIFOR publication.

Wild animals hunted for meat include creatures as small as caterpillars to as large as elephants. However, in most tropical and subtropical habitats, wild mammals provide almost all of the wild meat consumed.  In Congo Basin forests alone, more than 10 million tonnes of wild mammal meat is extracted per year, said co-author Professor John Fa, senior associate and coordinator of the Bushmeat Research Initiative at CIFOR.

Indigenous people have traditionally engaged in subsistence hunting with hand-made tools such as blowpipes, but the demand for wild meat in urban centers, together with the advent of firearms, has led to the over-exploitation of many forest species.

The loss of wildlife in tropical and subtropical forest regions not only threatens the integrity of the forests themselves but, just as importantly, jeopardizes the livelihoods and food security of some of the most vulnerable rural populations who depend on wild meat.

“Supply to these growing markets is aided by advances in hunting technologies, as well as increased access to once-remote habitat by commercial hunters and improved transport and market access,” note the researchers. In some areas, improved market access is linked to the expansion of agriculture and extractive industries such as timber, oil and mining.


The authors of the report present arguments to suggest that a more sustainable management of tropical wildlife is possible. However, the reality of achieving it is complex and will take new ways of thinking, and doing, things, said joint author and CIFOR associate Lauren Coad.

The first step is to take a more holistic approach to a problem that cuts across sectors, which encompasses actors at various levels and that responds to vastly different motivations.

“Wild meat is a cross-sectoral issue that involves the economy, health, infrastructure, agriculture and others, and therefore needs to be incorporated into national resource- and land-use planning,” Coad said. This requires collaborative efforts between ministries ranging from forestry and agriculture, to social affairs, fisheries, mining and infrastructure.

Along the same lines, researchers point out the need to “shift away from small-scale, isolated interventions with short-term funding, to designing interconnected interventions over a broader area, targeting both the management of rural supply and reduction of urban demand, and with long-term project sustainability in mind.”

Sustainable management can only be achieved by working along the entire value chain, from local hunting communities to urban consumers and wider civil society, the report states.

Another important aspect is the approach. For the authors, it is not about either tackling the issue as a threat to livelihoods, food security and cultural values, or as threat to biodiversity, but about merging both perspectives to ensure human well-being and wildlife survival.

“It is possible to ensure the sustainable harvest of hunting species that reproduce fast, supplementing this with domestic meats where necessary, alongside the protection of threatened animals,” the researchers said. “Approaches that focus only on either ecological or socio-economic goals run the risk of failure in the long term.”


Effective management strategies must ensure the sustainability of wild meat supply while reducing excessive demand, particularly in urban centers, and must be supported by adequate regulations and the capacity and resources to enforce them.

In many countries, hunting regulations are open to interpretation and are disconnected from the local context and needs, making it difficult for communities to sustainably hunt and trade wild meat legally, the study said.

The fact that indigenous and local communities often lack land tenure and management rights, makes it even more difficult for them to act as stewards of the landscape.

A key first step is the revision of national hunting laws and land tenure and governance systems in collaboration with a large range of stakeholders, including local communities representatives, with sustainable management, rather than only wildlife conservation, as a goal.

For example, governments and development agencies must work on viable alternative food supplies for newly urbanized areas, the researchers said. These are often provincial towns expanding near sources of wild meat, but where livestock production is incipient and falls short of meeting the demand for animal protein.

Designing and enforcing better policies and measures will take political will, financial resources and well-trained staff, but also requires more, and better, data. This is why the study calls for a shift in research focus: from description of current use [of wild meat], to one that helps improve management practices.

This includes more insights into the response of urban consumers to changes in the price and availability of wild meat and its substitutes; the impacts of campaigns aimed at changing consumer behavior; and testing models for setting sustainable hunting quotas of resilient species.

The study is the most extensive compilation of knowledge of the subject to date and one that provides clear guidelines on how the wild meat sector can be sustainable in the long-term.

“As a freely available reference document, we hope this study will become a reference document for many wildlife managers and governments managing the natural resources of their country,” Fa said. With political will, adequate resources and sound technical guidance, countries can take steps to ensure the wild meat — and the wildlife— of tomorrow.

This report was prepared in response to a call from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat and was also supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

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