LED flashlights increase food insecurity risk in wild-meat dependent communities

Scientists urge sustainable hunting strategies to mitigate impact
Full moon in the night sky
Full moon in the night sky. Icaro Cooke Vieira

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Flashlights featuring light-emitting diodes (LED) have made it easier for subsistence hunters in tropical forests to capture animals at night, pinpointing the need for sustainable hunting policies to conserve wildlife and reduce the potential for food insecurity.

Although LED flashlights are not a new technology, in recent years they have become more readily available and more affordable relative to the high cost of using flashlights with incandescent bulbs, which drain batteries quickly.

Brighter LED flashlights contribute to greater efficiency in capturing species through a process known as “spotlighting” or “lamping” which causes animals to freeze in their tracks, making them easier to shoot and kill with a gun, arrow or other sharp projectile, state the authors of a new research paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment journal.

“In the Global South, millions of people rely on wild meat as their main source of protein,” said J.E. Fa, a senior associate scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a professor at Britain’s Manchester Metropolitan University and one of the authors of the study, which was led by the University of Suffolk.

“By studying the impact of LED usage in hunting, scientists learn more about the risks posed for species extinction – research that supports the value of implementing sustainable hunting methods to ensure food security,” Fa said.

Researchers compiled 13 years of data and interviewed 120 shotgun hunters in Brazil, Gabon and Peru between 2016 and 2017. They surveyed 58 subsistence and commercial hunters in Peru, 32 subsistence hunters in Brazil and 30 primarily commercial hunters in Gabon to get a picture of the relative threat to wildlife from increased hunting efficiency related to increased LED illumination capacity.

In all three countries, most hunters who used LED flashlights – 69 percent – said they killed more nocturnally hunted species than when they used incandescent lights, the paper states. Hunters in Brazil and Peru hunt lowland paca, brocket deer (Mazama spp), armadillo (Dasypus spp) and lowland tapir as the most common species hunted at night. In Gabon, hunters pursue brush-tailed porcupine (Atherurus africanus) and various species of duikers (Cephalophus spp).

“Our research showed that these flashlights are perceived to have increased the efficiency of nocturnal hunting in tropical sites in three countries, and that local people now hunt at night more often and kill greater numbers of nocturnal animals,” Fa said. “The findings lead us to suspect that wild meat off-take has increased throughout the tropics.”

Not only are flashlights bearing an influence on hunting, but some hunters in developing countries are also using floodlights, infrared LEDs and night-vision equipment, tools already in common use by hunters in the Global North.

In some instances, hunting has shifted from being primarily a daytime activity to a nocturnal pursuit. For example, in Brazil’s Amana Sustainable Development Reserve, before LED flashlights were introduced, lowland tapir hunting was declining due to over-harvesting, but now the catch-per-unit-effort – the standard measurement used by scientists – is increasing, a trend likely to have occurred across the Amazon region, the paper states.

“The paca is commercialized in city markets and restaurants, and due to their relatively slow reproductive rate, they are at risk of local extinction,” Fa said. “Local management is recommended to curb the potential for the loss of species, vital calories and protein.”

Scientists recommend establishing no-take areas, changing harvest quotas and restricting permission to hunt vulnerable species, efforts that should be supported by local enforcement.

“We’ve observed successes with community-based co-management through which local communities make management decisions, implementing conservation efforts with technical support of ‘co-managers’ in governments, non-governmental organizations or academic institutions in some regions,” Fa added.

“In these scenarios, increases in catch-per-unit-effort are often detected, particularly when new hunting techniques are embraced.”

For more information on this topic, please contact John E. Fa at
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Topic(s) :   Wildlife