By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News Online science staff
The bushmeat trade in Equatorial Guinea is thriving thanks to a recent boom in oil, research has suggested.
Arboreal primates are particularly susceptible to firearms
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) says people buy bushmeat because they have more money to spend and there is not a good alternative source of meat.
Increased hunting is pushing species like the black colobus monkey to the edge of extinction in populated areas.
The ZSL says an improved production of domestic meat could take the pressure off endangered species.
"The bushmeat trade now poses a very real threat to a wide variety of species," said researcher Noelle Kumpel of the ZSL.
"In order to make the trade sustainable we need to understand why people eat bushmeat in the first place - in other words, whether it is choice or necessity - before we can contemplate managing the issue."
Noelle Kumpel spent 18 months in Equatorial Guinea, West Africa, investigating why people hunt wild animals and what effect it has on local species. She found that hunting is increasing for a variety of reasons.
In the village of Sendje, where she stayed, the number of animals caught has increased from around 2,000 a year in 1997 to over 8,000 a year in 2003.
Partly, this is because consumer demand is growing, and partly because hunting methods have become more sophisticated.
Equatorial Guinea's crude oil production has risen from next to nothing in 1995 to around 350,000 barrels a day in 2004, making it sub-Saharan Africa's third largest producer, after Nigeria and Angola.
"The general population are moving to the cities and have more money," explained Miss Kumpel. "People can now afford to buy meats and fish - so demand is increasing. And people are hunting to meet this demand."
Ironically, Equatorial Guineans do not necessarily prefer bushmeat to domestic meats like chicken or beef but these are hard to come by, according to Miss Kumpel.
People choose bushmeat because alternative sources of fresh meat are not available
"They choose bushmeat because it is one of the few sources of available fresh meat or fish," Miss Kumpel told BBC News Online. "There is frozen meat but they do tend to get the dregs of frozen produce.
"It is usually quite low quality cuts that we would put in dog or cat food in the UK."
So consumers opt for fresh bushmeat, even though it costs more.
Snares, traps and guns
For people living rural Equatorial Guinea, far away from the flourishing oil industry, eking out a living is hard. For many, the bushmeat trade is their only source of income.
But traditional snares and traps are giving way to guns, and some species are declining dangerously as a result.
Arboreal primates, like the black colobus monkey, are particularly susceptible to firearms.
"The black colobus monkey has basically been wiped out around the village of Sendje," said Miss Kumpel. "It is easy to catch and it is a big bodied species that is slow to reproduce, so it is easy to decimate quite quickly."
The ZSL recognises that because people's livelihoods depend on the bushmeat trade, banning hunting outright is not a viable solution.
Dr Glyn Davies of the ZSL said: "I think we have a better chance of having an impact if we stop trying to say ban it all and just alienating everybody. We can give support in a number of ways."
The ZSL would like to help Equatorial Guinean hunters turn their skills to farming and fishing, so consumer demand could be met while livelihoods are protected.
"To tackle the demand end you need to improve the rearing of livestock or improve local fish," said Miss Kumpel.
"In addition some form of alternative livelihood needs to be developed for the hunters - which could take the form of livestock husbandry."