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Rethink policy approach to dynamic bushmeat trade to conserve wildlife

African Journal of Ecology special issue
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Wildmeat for sale. CIFOR-ICRAF

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A lack of clarity regarding the influences driving commodification of the wild meat sector in Africa point to the need to rethink current strategies and policies.

Throughout the Global South, millions of people rely on wild meat as their main source of protein, but a growing largely rural-to-urban trade fueling demand for luxury meats puts dwindling species at risk of extinction.

New monitoring and intervention methods that address both domestic and international trade routes are just part of a comprehensive framework required to address the crisis, according to contributors to a special edition of the African Journal of Ecology, which features 16 articles by researchers representing 45 organizations in 16 countries.

We’ve identified three main thematic areas that must be better understood to create a more sustainable trade environment, said Lauren Coad, an associate scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry.

“We need to know how hunting, uses and sale dynamics are changing; how behavior and profiles of people involved in the sector are changing; and to learn more about current interventions and management for hunting, consumption and trade,” she said.

The complexity of hunting systems and behavioral changes must be recognized to transform the sector with innovative and sustainable-use management approaches to that address bushmeat hunting, consumption and trade sustainability goals in West and Central Africa.

Change is occurring as formerly remote areas are opened up due to habitat degradation, fragmentation, urbanization and greater access to markets.

The special issue highlights a range of circumstances and potential interventions.

In Republic of the Congo, new roads built to provide access to sites developed for commercial forestry led to changes in socio-economic developments and hunting dynamics, which highlights the role that extractive industries have to play in ensuring their activities do not lead to unsustainable hunting.

It has been generally assumed that most bushmeat is hunted in forests, but research in Benin and Togo demonstrates that it can also occur in other biomes, including degraded ecosystems and savannahs. Research in Togo revealed that hunting was mainly undertaken in a national park where wild animals were still available, a situation likely to deplete the resource at current hunting rates.

Public health risks have been associated with animal-human interactions, including wild meat capture, highlighting the need for greater research into hunting trends surrounding zoonotic disease outbreaks for better or worse.

Researchers in Cameroon learned that despite a COVID-related prohibition on hunting pangolins, which were initially considered a possible cause of the pandemic, harvesting and trade continued.

The transmission of disease between animals and people is nothing new. Animals have been the vector of more than 60 percent of infectious diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also states that three of every four new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.

Online platforms are also believed to have increased trade in wildlife. In Algeria, researchers learned that 5,400 wild animals belonging to 19 species were offered for sale. Most ads – 98 percent – offered birds for sale as pets, and fewer than 2 percent were selling reptiles and mammals.

In the cities of Brazzaville in Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), wild meat was highly priced and sold in informal establishments, mostly owned by women, according to researchers investigating bushmeat consumer patterns. Office workers and students were the most common customers.

“Regulatory frameworks often fail to differentiate between the different purposes of hunting in rural areas and large-scale urban consumption,” said Daniel Ingram, a postdoctoral researcher at Britain’s University of Stirling.

“We need to engage in holistic and interdisciplinary approaches to research and intervention design to effectively tackle the dynamic aspects of the wildlife trade.”

While interventions to date have focused on hunters, market vendors or consumers, bushmeat transporters have largely operated with impunity. Research conducted in DRC explored the possibility of a voucher system to track and enforce hunting regulations and monitor transport of bushmeat through a national park for sale at market.

It effectively demonstrated that the meat was not captured illegally in the park. Greater control on ammunition through vouchers also showed results, reducing the number of primates in shipping hauls by half in 2019.

Participatory community engagement is also seen as a promising option for conserving wildlife.

WILDMEAT is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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