In more than 61 countries around the world, rural families obtain at least twenty percent of their animal protein from wild game and fish. In West Africa, fully one quarter of the population’s protein comes from bush meat. Each year, local people in Sarawk, Malaysia eat 75 million dollars worth of such meat. In the Amazon Basin as a whole people consume more than 175 million dollars worth. The total catch from hunting in the Congo Basin exceeds over one million tons of wild meat each year. That is a lot of meat! People also catch live animals to sell, and they hunt them to protect their crops from pests, as part of cultural rituals, and for other reasons.
’Hunting of Wildlife in Tropical Forests: Implications for Biodiversity and Forest Peoples,’ by Elizabeth Bennett and John Robinson from the Wildlife Conservation Society, provides ample evidence that much of this hunting is unsustainable. Moderately or heavily hunted forests have a much lower mammal density. Vulnerable species often disappear entirely from these areas. This means fewer cute and cuddly animals, less protein and income for rural families, and greater hunger. Furthermore, changes in animal populations can alter other components of the ecosystem by affecting seed survival and dispersal, as well as the ratios of preditors to prey.
Hunters go after a wide range of mammals, birds, and reptiles, although typically a major proportion of bush meat comes from large hoofed animals and monkeys. Animals that travel in packs, move slowly, make loud noises, or don’t reproduce frequently are especially vulnerable. Old growth tropical rainforests generally produce less bush meat per hectare than savannas, grasslands, and secondary forest, so hunting there often takes a much heavier toll.
The hunting problem has worsened as populations in forested areas have increased and become more sedentary. Migrants who lack traditional norms for regulating hunting have moved in. Widespread encroachment of logging crews into the forest has proven especially problematic. Better access to the forest and improved hunting technologies – such as the introduction of firearms, wire snares, flashlights, dogs, motorbikes and outboard motors – have helped deplete game species. In many African and Asian countries, people actually consume more wild meat as their incomes rises, since they prefer it to other foods. In contrast, when given the option, Latin Americans generally prefer to purchase beef or chicken.
The authors recognize that few attempts to regulate hunting have proved effective in the tropics. They suggest greater efforts to promote community wildlife management, increased monitoring of logging companies, and continued support for protected areas.