“There used to be a lot of wildlife here in my father’s and grandfather’s time: deer, tapir, capybara and peccaries,” explains Asaph, a traditional hunter from the Wapishana Indigenous tribe in the Rupununi region of Guyana. “There are still some animals in the Kanuku Mountains, but they are harder to find.”
Wild meat and fish are important sources of protein and nutrients for Asaph and his family.
According to Asaph, in the past, hunting levels were sustainable. There was a balance between the number of animals hunted for food and natural wildlife reproduction rates. This equilibrium is now under threat, he argues, due to uncontrolled fires, expanding village populations, the construction of new roads and commercial hunting.
To help boost wildlife populations, Asaph is now the vice president of his local conservation group and a wildlife ranger.
“We are trying to conserve this area so that the wildlife will come back.” This will allow him to carry on hunting and feeding his children. “We are trying to educate the youth about conservation,” he emphasises, “so that they know what is good for the environment and the community.”
Millions of Indigenous and rural people depend on wild meat for their food and income, particularly in the tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Africa and Asia. The demand for wild meat is also growing in towns and cities where it is consumed as a luxury or by tradition. Hunting wildlife for food is now recognised as a major driver of biodiversity loss. Recent studies estimate that 285 mammal species are threatened with extinction due specifically to this type of hunting. If hunting and fishing for wild species are not contained within sustainable levels, then wildlife populations will decline and rural communities will suffer rising levels of food insecurity.
There is an urgent need to find solutions that achieve both sustainable development goals and wildlife conservation. A consortium of international partners, led by FAO, launched the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme in 2017. This programme works together with 13 countries, including Guyana, to return hunting of more resilient species to sustainable levels, reduce urban demand for wild meat and develop alternative sources of affordable and appetising food for rural communities. In many of these countries, there is also a need to revise and improve hunting laws and land tenure systems, which tend to be ambiguous and poorly enforced.