Bush-Meat Ban Would Devastate Africa's Animals, Poor?

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"Duikers in general can sustain high levels of hunting, as can rodents like porcupines or cane rats," said Nathalie Van Vliet, an associate expert for CIFOR in Cameroon.

Large-bodied animals are most at risk from the bush meat trade because they're found at lower densities than other species, experts say. And because bigger species tend to live in groups, it's easier for hunters to track them down.

Regulated hunting would also aid researchers' efforts to monitor bush meat harvests, Van Vliet added.

"People involved in hunting and selling bush meat currently hide most of the data because they know it's forbidden," she said.

Early Success

Successful schemes are already in place, including an agreement in southwestern Cameroon that allows local people to hunt non-threatened mammals and spare endangered Cross River gorillas.

(See a photo of a gorilla killed as bush meat in Cameroon. Warning: graphic photo.)

"There are no longer reports of hunting for this species," Van Vliet said.

Bush meat makes up 30 to 80 percent of the overall protein intake of rural communities in Central Africa, according to the new research.

Even so, various conservation groups have called for an all-out ban on bush meat.

"This has been the usual way of looking at the bush meat issue," Van Vliet said.

Noelle Kumpel, bush meat and forest-conservation program manager for the Zoological Society of London, agreed that this is the case "with certain more vocal wildlife groups, but it's not all of us."

Protein Shortage

"There's been increasing awareness of the fact that the reason why the level of bush meat has increased, and why wildlife species are threatened, is because there are more people but fewer alternative sources of protein available," Kumpel said.

Africa's growing population, coupled with reduced livestock availability and overexploitation of marine and freshwater fish stocks, means that "per capita, the bush meat protein supply is increasing," she said.

Kumpel agrees with the report's call for regulated hunting and improved land use rights for indigenous forest communities, but she says more incentives are needed to conserve wildlife.

Around 50 percent of Africa's remaining forests are now under timber concessions, she noted.

Internationally recognized timber certification awarded for sustainable logging practices can help counter illegal logging, Kumpel said, which reduces wildlife habitat.

"Tourism and things like carbon payments and payments for ecological services could bring in money for local communities," she added.

"We're looking at different ways of bringing finance into the forest to help communities work out ways of managing the wildlife, because the forest won't be sustained if there aren't animals in it."

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