Bushmeat Consumption in Tropical Forests
Commercial trading in the meat of wild animals is on the increase. Exploitation of the world’s remaining tropical forests through overhunting is considered a major cause of biodiversity loss, in some cases more important than deforestation. The evidence is that exploitation of wild animals for food (bushmeat) by tropical forest dwellers has increased in recent years. This is due to growing human populations, greater access to undisturbed forests, changes in hunting technology, and scarcity of alternative protein sources. Mammals hunted for subsistence or commercial purposes are particularly affected.
The bushmeat crisis is a multi-layered problem with, until now, unstudied linkages between the socio-economics of the human consumers and the biology of the prey species. In a collaboration with John Fa of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, we undertook a study of the issue in tropical west Africa. We chose a crucially significant biodiversity “hot spot”: the Cross-Sanaga Rivers region (Cameroon and Nigeria), and including Bioko Island (Equatorial Guinea). The Cross-Sanaga River region (an area of approximately 40,000 km2) has fauna of major international conservation importance.
We surveyed an unprecedented number of sites, totalling close to 100, in a large part of the region. We found that a staggering quantity of bushmeat was being consumed annually, and at a rate which is clearly unsustainable for many species, particularly primates. We also found evidence that protected areas were important; bushmeat was scarcer and more expensive further away from national parks. We also observed that social effects on consumption patterns were variable; in urban areas, wealthier people we more likely to consume bushmeat (and less likely to consume fish). In rural, and poorer areas, there was no such ‘luxury’ effect.