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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 15:37 GMT
UN warns of bushmeat crisis
orphan elephants
Larger animals such as elephants are now at risk
By Elizabeth Blunt

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned of an impending "bushmeat crisis" in many parts of the world.

With wild game being over-hunted it is reaching the point where the dwindling number of animals is threatening the food security of forest communities.

It is also threatening the survival of some animal species.

For the people who live in the forests of Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia, hunting is a way of life.

bushmeat at market
Bushmeat is considered a delicacy

But it is also now a profitable business, conducted on a commercial scale to provide game meat for the growing urban population.

In Africa and south-east Asia, bushmeat is considered a delicacy and generally preferred to beef or mutton.

Studies in African city markets give some idea of the scale of the industry:

  • 400 tonnes of bushmeat a year sold in Bukavu, in eastern Congo
  • more than 3,500 carcasses counted in the markets of the central Ghanaian city of Kumasi in a single month.

Compounded by civil war

Douglas Williamson of the FAO's forestry department says that there are increasing worries about the sustainability of this trade.

There is particular concern in places such as the forests of the Congo basin where commercialisation of the bushmeat trade has been compounded by civil war.

Soldiers and militiamen, he says, are hugely destructive - slaughtering animals to eat, to sell, or just for amusement.

Modern weapons are now widely available, and make it possible for hunters to go after larger animals, including gorillas and forest elephants, which produce much greater quantities of meat than smaller game.

Threat of extinction

Mr Williamson says this is a particular concern since these larger species reproduce slowly and could be quickly wiped out in areas where they are intensively hunted.

Discussions are now going on about how people, although desperate to make a living, can be persuaded to hunt in a more sustainable manner.

They are being encouraged to concentrate on species like small duiker antelope and large rodents, which breed quickly and can survive a good deal of hunting.

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