Bushmeat: Life vs. Death

(Wikimedia:Endangered lemurs are killed for bushmeat in Madagascar)

Who gets first dibs on the almost extinct bushmeat? The male, malnourished, malfed, malposed body with anemia or the conservation biologist/ecologist that owes their entire life to the megafauna species?

Well, Justin S. Brashares in “Economic and geographic drivers of wildlife consumption in rural Africa” chooses not to answer this question and instead reveals an interesting relationship between wealth and bushmeat consumption in 2,000 households from 96 settlements in Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Madagascar (Brashares et al., 2011). Data from this research suggest that wealthier households consume more bushmeat in settlements nearer urban areas, but the opposite pattern is observed in more isolate settlements (Brashares et al., 2011). Also when alternative livelihoods are limited, bushmeat consumption and hunting increases for those people living near harvestable wildlife (Brashares et al., 2011).

You are probably wondering how could a solid finding arise from a region that covers 4 different countries with a million different languages, policies, cultures, rituals, religions, currencies (etc.) each? Brashares has decided to look at bushmeat consumption only through an economical and geographical perspective and transformed raw country data into relative scales available for direct comparisons (Brashares et al., 2011).

I have contacted the authors and researchers of this research and asked why these countries were observed and if ignoring social, cultural, or political differences among the countries and dividing values of wealth, wildlife consumption, and availability of alternative sources of animal protein into decicles hindered their research. When I hear back, I will let you know. In my opinion, the drivers of bushmeat hunting are complex and varied; so multiple interventions will be required, with the suite of appropriate solutions varying between sites.

So everyone is eating out of the bushmeat pile, the bushmeat pile is slowly disappearing, and Africa has the fastest growing population. Who is going to refill the bushmeat pile? Who is going to fill the stomachs of the malnourished, malfed, malposed African bodies?

C. Josh Donlan’ s idea of rewilding the bushmeat in North America may solve the disappearing pile of bushmeat dilemma but what about the African people (Donlan et al., 2006)? We need a more balanced solution.

“The Importance of Bushmeat in the Livelihoods of West African Cash-Crop Farmers Living in a Faunally-Depleted Landscape” was published two years after Brashares article and further intensifies Brashares finding that bushmeat hunting becomes a safety net for rural settlers with alternative livelihoods (Brashares et al., 2011 and Schulte-Herbrüggen et al., 2013). Schulte-Herbrüggen observed bushmeat hunting tendencies among coca farmers in a faunally-depleted rural Ghana and discovered that, the value of harvested bushmeat is relatively low and contributes little to household production, yet there is evidence that bushmeat is important during the agricultural lean season, providing a source of income or enabling households to save money and thereby provide a safety net function during a time of economic hardship (Schulte-Herbrüggen et al., 2013).

Brashares and Schulte-Herbrüggen both suggest offering those heavily dependent on bushmeat, non-hunting jobs on or off the farm (Brashares et al., 2011 and Schulte-Herbrüggen et al., 2013). How this would go about is another question for another time, but it is crucial that developers incorporate public health and conservation officials in their future plans. Whatever the resolution, there needs to be a balance between the needs of nature and the needs of impoverished peoples in Africa.

Works Cited:

Brashares, J.S., Golden, C.D., Weinbaum, K.Z., Barrett, C.B. and Okello, G.V. 2011. Economic and geographic drivers of wildlife consumption in rural Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:13931-13936.

Donlan, C.J., Berger J., Bock, C.E., Bock, J.H., Burney, D.A., Estes, J.A., Foreman, D., Martin P.S., Roemer, G.W., Smith, F.A., Soulé, M.E., and Greene, H.W.2006. Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty-First Century Conservation. The American Naturalist 168: 660-681.

Schulte-Herbrüggen, B., Cowlishaw G., Homewood K., and Rowcliffe, J.M. 2013. The Importance of Bushmeat in the Livelihoods of West African Cash-Crop Farmers Living in a Faunally-Depleted Landscape. PLOS ONE 8(8): e72807. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072807

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