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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
UK project tackles bushmeat diet
chimpanzees in a cage
People are turning to bushmeat to survive
A UK charity hopes to save wildlife from being hunted to extinction in Africa, by tackling the human needs behind bushmeat consumption.

The Durrell Wildlife research project wants to establish exactly how much bushmeat is being eaten, why, and what can be done about it.

It believes humans in forest areas are eating animals such as monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, reptiles and birds because they cannot get protein from elsewhere.

It comes as an expert says traditional animal conservation practices are a waste of time and money, because they have not taken into account human social and economic needs.

There is growing concern at the scale of hunting of apes, monkeys and other animals for meat from forests in Central and West Africa.

Everything from land snails to elephants is being consumed

Dr John Fa

It is feared that within 30 years many areas will be virtually emptied of wildlife.

The research project will focus on the pressures on people in Nigeria and Cameroon which lead them to rely on bushmeat for protein in their diet.

Not 'bunny hugging'

It will also suggest ways in which help for those communities could ease the pressure on animal populations.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme Dr John Fa, of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: "Bushmeat hunting in the Congo basin forest is a greater threat than deforestation these days.

"Everything from land snails to elephants is being consumed."

We are not just looking at animals, we are looking at the people themselves

Dr John Fa

He said rather than coming from a "bunny hugging" stance to save animals, the project is trying to promote alternative ways of eating in the African countries.

"We are not just looking at animals, we are looking at the people themselves," he said.

"We have to see the bigger picture and make sure people are in that bigger picture."

In the Congo basin some 34m people survive from the forest, eating around 3.4m tonnes of meat, he said.

And unless some changes occur, mammals such as chimpanzees will start to disappear.

Economic problems

The project coincides with a lecture from the chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, Professor John Lawton.

He will argue that unless the social and economic problems of people in developing countries are tackled, the efforts of conservation groups are in danger of going to waste.

"I know two intelligent young men in Cameroon who practice slash and burn agriculture to grow their food... simply because they cannot borrow the money to buy fertiliser so that they can grow cash crops," he will say.

"For God's sake, why not? What is so frustrating is that we already have the know-how to put many of the solutions to problems like these into practice - we just need the political will and courage to do so."

Dr John Farr, wildlife researcher
"It is a very large problem"
See also:

20 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Great apes in peril
12 Mar 01 | Africa
UN warns of bushmeat crisis
26 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Monkey species 'gone for good'
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