The hunting and trade of wild animals for meat is a threat to global sustainability that should be managed on the same scale as deforestation, say researchers.
Academics from 45 institutions across 16 countries have published 16 papers in a special edition of the African Journal of Ecology to draw attention to the impact of wild meat on biodiversity, and to call for effective monitoring and intervention strategies at a local and global scale.
Professor of Tropical Ecology at the University of Stirling
If people hunt faster than their prey can reproduce, then we are pushing declines in those species and others in the food chain. This impacts the ecosystems that support people's livelihoods. It also increases vulnerability in the tropical forests we need to save, to fight climate change.
Professor of Tropical Ecology at the University of Stirling, Kate Abernethy, who is Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Ecology, said: “If people hunt faster than their prey can reproduce, then we are pushing declines in those species and others in the food chain. This impacts the ecosystems that support people’s livelihoods. It also increases vulnerability in the tropical forests we need to save, to help us fight climate change.
“These papers show how widespread subsistence still is in the tropics and how integral it is to people’s rural livelihoods. They also show that subsistence hunting is having a large impact on biodiversity conservation in Africa, reducing populations of key endangered species and changing wildlife community structures.”
Monitoring and intevention
Dr Lauren Coad, a senior researcher with the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), who helped co-ordinate the special issue, added: “While much attention is paid to deforestation and fisheries management in global biodiversity strategies, wild meat hunting and trade is largely flying under the radar. Not only do we need to effectively monitor it, but we also need holistic approach to tackling it.”
The papers explore illegal wildmeat in the urban restaurant trade in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the online trade of mammals and reptiles in Algeria; the decline of large mammals in Benin; the historical importance of pangolins in Mali; and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on pangolin trade in Cameroon. Zoonotic diseases have been associated with the wildlife trade, indeed pangolins were initially linked to the COVID-19 outbreak, though that has largely been disproven. The paper found that the bushmeat and pangolin trade continued in a major market in Cameroon during the pandemic despite national bans.
Other papers examine conflicting laws in the Republic of Congo, how national park regulation affects hunting in Togo, and the impact of infrastructure changes on hunting and trade in the Republic of the Congo.
Several others explore in depth how effective different interventions have been, such as local people monitoring hunting in Gabon, and a voucher system to monitor transport of animals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The special issue was co-ordinated by a team working on the WILDMEAT project, which aims to provide an evidence-base and research toolkit for researchers, practitioners and policy makers. It is a collaborative project run by CIFOR – ICRAF, the University of Stirling and the Tropical Ecology Research Institute (IRET) in Gabon.
Dr Donald Midoko Iponga, Director of IRET, said: “It is essential to work with local people to co-produce knowledge and effective solutions to ensure wild meat hunting is sustainable and management is equitable. Hunting and trade of bushmeat is important for local economies, and consumption may have cultural significance, making strategies to tackle it complex.”
Dr Daniel Ingram of the University of Stirling, who led the special issue, worked with Dr Lauren Coad and Jasmin Willis of CIFOR - ICRAF, and the University of Oxford, on the creation of a new open database listing interventions that have been used to reduce, or make sustainable, the hunting, consumption or trade of wild meat, starting with those conducted in Central Africa.
Dr Ingram said: “The problem is, details of interventions and their conservation and development outcomes often remain unpublished. As a result, there is a vast knowledge gap which stops researchers and practitioners from learning from the experiences and lessons of previous projects. Our wildmeat interventions database aims to tackle that, in a way that all stakeholders can access and use.
“We have several hundred projects documented so far, and we hope others will add to that, so that it can enable NGOs, communities and policy-makers to include wild meat hunting and trade in decision-making at all levels about how to protect and restore biodiversity.”
The papers are published in the special issue - ‘Contemporary wild meat hunting, consumption and trade in Africa’ - of the African Journal of Ecology.