Faced with “Empty Forests,” experts urge better regulation of bushmeat trade

13th Jun 2011 Press Releases

Nairobi – A growing and lucrative illegal international commercial trade in the meat and other parts of wild mammals, birds and reptiles (‘bushmeat’) is causing widespread loss of biodiversity, imperilling the livelihoods of communities around the world, and destabilising fragile tropical forest ecosystems, say experts at an international conference in Kenya called to discuss the crisis.

There is also a growing domestic trade in bushmeat between rural areas and urban markets, mostly for food. The resulting ’empty forest syndrome’ is increasingly threatening food security, in particular in Central Africa. Stemming the loss of forest fauna will require coordinated action between international actors working on forest and wildlife management, conservation of biodiversity, wildlife trade regulation, law enforcement and health officials, concluded a meeting of experts on the bushmeat trade.

In the Congo Basin, for example, increasing population and trade from rural to urban areas compounded with the lack of any sizeable domestic meat sector are the main causes of unsustainable levels of hunting. If bushmeat consumption was to be replaced by local beef, as much as 80 per cent of the Democratic Republic of Congo would have to be pastures. Therefore, there is no alternative to making the use of wildlife for food more sustainable.

Some 55 experts representing 43 governments and United Nations agencies, international and national organizations and indigenous and local community organizations meeting in Nairobi from 7 to 10 June 2011 recognized with alarm that classic approaches and international efforts are not reversing this growing trend, and adopted a set of recommendations to the international community and to concerned national governments and stakeholders. Key recommendations include:

–    Implement community wildlife management, and other improved wildlife management approaches, such as game ranching, and hunting tourism

–    Increase the raising of ‘mini-livestock’ (wild animals such as cane rats raised in small farms)

–    Support the sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products, such as bee-keeping.

The meeting also recognized the need to clarify and define land tenure and access rights, improve monitoring of bushmeat harvesting and trade, and enhance bushmeat-related law enforcement.

Over-hunting of tropical and sub-tropical wildlife also jeopardizes the livelihoods of local and indigenous people as well as the long-term stability of forest ecosystem services and their economic utilization, including timber production and carbon storage. For example, up to 75 per cent of tropical tree species depend on animal seed dispersal. Many tree species will no longer be able to reproduce with their seed dispersers hunted to local extinction.

National economies and governments lose significant revenue if the wildlife as a key resource is managed poorly, and depleted irreversibly. For example, in the Central African Republic, it is estimated that the unregulated bushmeat trade is worth 72 million USD per year.

“We see legitimate subsistence hunting being replaced by commercial hunting and trade of often endangered species in tropical forests, including elephants and primates” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) co-organized the meeting, “The collaboration between the CBD and CITES is leading the way for a stronger push to stem this tide.  A global partnership to tackle illegal wildlife trade and unsustainable hunting for bushmeat is urgently required” he said.

John E. Scanlon, the Secretary-General to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), said “Tackling the impact of unsustainable and illegal trade in bushmeat is critical for protecting the livelihoods of rural people and conserving wildlife in biodiversity-rich areas. It requires us to redouble collaborative efforts from international to the local level. The CBD and CITES Secretariats are committed to work together with indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders to address this problem and promote sustainable solutions.”

“Multidisciplinary approaches are needed as are the strengthening of legal frameworks, the provision of food and livelihood alternatives and the sustainable use of wildlife. None of these alone appear to be able to solve the so-called ‘bushmeat crisis’, but combined and incorporated into solid national and regional strategies, there is potential to achieve a more sustainable use of wildlife for food in the Congo Basin”, said Robert Nasi, Program Director of the Forests and Environment Program at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

The meeting was convened at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and was made possible with funding from the European Commission. Additional partners for the organization of the meeting are the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Great Apes Survival Partnership, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-GRASP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC). The full report of the meeting will be available shortly on the CBD and CITES website (www.cbd.int/meetings ; www.cites.org).

Photo by Karl Ammann