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Thursday, 3 August, 2000, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Bush meat 'destroying African species'
Meat Friedkin Conservation Fund
Waste: A snared carcass rots in the sun
Friedkin Conservation Fund

By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

One of the main causes of falling animal populations in much of Africa is the trade in bush meat, conservationists believe.

Hunting is moving into protected areas, where the bush meat harvest is now the number one illegal activity

Rob Barnett, Traffic
But the meat is essential for poor communities which are struggling to survive.

A report on the trade says it is vital to reconcile food security with conservation interests. Otherwise, it warns, Africa faces a crisis "where there may soon be few large animals left on private land."

The report, Food for Thought: The utilization of wild meat in eastern and southern Africa, is published by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring arm of WWF, and IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

Illegal activity

Traffic conducted a two-year review of the trade in and use of bush meat in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana.

Pig Traffic
A bush pig heads to market

The report says thousands of species are eaten in the seven countries, including insects, rodents, birds, and mammals such as elephants, buffalo and impalas.

The report's author, Rob Barnett, of Traffic's east and southern Africa office, said: "Use of wildlife for food in the region is one of the main factors driving declines in wild animal populations.

"Hunting is moving into protected areas, where the bush meat harvest is now the number one illegal activity. Smaller species are being targeted as a result of declining populations of larger game.

"With declining populations of more popular species such as buffalo, hunters have now turned their attention to once taboo and totem species such as zebra and hippo. What was once subsistence use of these species is also becoming a much more commercialized trade."

Meat protein

Rob Barnett found that in many areas bush meat was the only viable source of meat protein, with domestic supplies prohibitively expensive and largely unavailable. In six of the seven countries bush meat was far cheaper than farmed meat - 75% cheaper in Zimbabwe.

Poorer households were more reliant on it than their richer neighbours, and it was very important during times of economic hardship, droughts and famine.

Meat protein: Dik dik is a small antelope
IUCN Mozambique

"Peak hunting periods coincide with dry season drought months, as vegetation is less dense and wildlife searching for watering holes is easier to locate and hunt", said Rob Barnett.

Much of the trade is illegal, and it is also a source of income to many communities.

Food security

Sabri Zain, of Traffic International, told BBC News Online: "So far most of the focus on bush meat has been on west and central Africa, and especially on the killing of primates.

Catch IUCN
A man displays his dik dik catch in Maputo, Mozambique

"We wanted to show it was a continent-wide problem involving thousands of species. One of the major concerns is the decline in larger mammals, and now even smaller ones.

"We're also concerned that it's not just a species-conservation issue. It's also very much about food security. Perhaps that's why we haven't made much progress on it so far."

Traffic says one way to help to make the bush meat trade sustainable is to transfer wildlife ownership to landholders and local communities, formalising land tenure in legislation, to prompt an interest in investment in sustainable management.

Rob Barnett said: "Once benefits increase to landholders, wildlife can play an important sustainable role in community development and, by doing so, ensure its continued survival. Without integrated action, wildlife will continue to be seen as a freely-exploitable, uncared-for resource that benefits only those who use it first."

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