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Africa's appetite for wild animals increases
Basic survival drives human populations to use what naturally occurs around them. In eastern and southern Africa, where wages are low and poverty and famine are frequent, more people are turning to wild animals as an economic resource and a source of food.
At the same time, the region is facing a serious decline in most of its wildlife populations outside protected areas. The illegal killing of wildlife for meat the bush meat trade may be the primary reason for this decline, according to a report released today by the wildlife monitoring organization TRAFFIC, finds.
"Food for Thought: The Utilization of Wild Meat in Eastern and Southern Africa" documents the economic value of bush meat to rural communities in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Previous studies on the bush meat trade have focused on species conservation rather than the social aspects of food security, said Sabri Zain, communications manager for TRAFFIC.
"Geographically, bush meat research has also focussed on western and central Africa, leading many to perceive bush meat use as a tropical forest phenomenon (that mostly effects primates)" he noted. "Growing concern over the bush meat trade and scarcity of critical information regarding the eastern and southern Africa region led TRAFFIC to initiate the study two years ago.
"Among the majority of people, bush meat is recognized as a valued resource," said lead author of the study Robert Barnett. "In many areas, bush meat also represents the only viable source of meat protein, with domestic meat being prohibitively expensive and largely unavailable."
In six of the seven countries surveyed, bush meat was substantially cheaper than domestic meat. In Zimbabwe, bush meat was 75 percent less expensive.
People rely on bush meat the most during periods of drought or famine, the report found.
"Peak hunting periods coincide with dry season drought months, as vegetation is less dense and wildlife searching for watering holes are easier to hunt and locate," Barnett explained. "Hence supply peaks during times of hardship and constitutes an important drought and famine coping strategy for the majority in the rural areas surveyed."
Thousands of species, from insects to rodents to elephants, are killed for their meat. "Even smaller species are being targeted as a result of declining populations of large game," Barnett said. "With declining populations of more popular species such as buffalo, hunters have now turned their attention to once taboo and totem species such as zebras and hippos."
To protect these species, TRAFFIC urges integrated action from two sources: wildlife conservation and food security.
One recommendation in the report involves the transfer of wildlife ownership from the government to landholders and local communities.
"The situation now is no one apparently 'owns' wildlife resources in question and it is a free-for-all," Zain said. "The main thrust of our recommendations is that the resource be managed and managed sustainably through activities such as wildlife ranching and commercial utilization of the wildlife resource."
Game meat production in all of the countries studied suffers from veterinary restrictions associated with the transfer of wildlife-borne diseases to domestic livestock, the study found. As a form of land use, game meat initiatives receive little in the form of government subsidies in comparison to domestic livestock operation.
Yet, wildlife represents great economic potential because of its adaptability and the possibilities that exist in photographic tourism, trophy-hunting and hide and meat production.
According to Barnett, formalizing land tenure through legislation would "prompt an interest among local communities and landowners to invest in the sustainable management of the wildlife resource for meat production."
"Without integrated action, wildlife will continue to be seen as a freely exploitable, uncared-for resource that benefits only those who use it first," he said. "This will only lead to even more dramatic declines in wildlife populations and the gradual loss of what is now a vital food resource."
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