A US geneticist from the University of Arizona is planning to use DNA testing to study the roaring bushmeat trade in west Africa with a view of identifying “species that can be harvested sustainably”.
According to a report on KTar.com, the geneticist, Hans-Werner Herrmann, will analyze the bushmeat at village markets, track how it got there and study how the information could be used to better manage affected wildlife populations. He hopes that finding species that can be hunted sustainably will curtail poaching and halt wildlife decimation particularly in African forests.
According to Herrmann, rural Africans are driven into bushmeat hunting and trade by extreme poverty and he cannot just say it is bad to hunt without answering the poverty question.
Roughly 1 million tonnes of bushmeat are harvested in the badly ravaged African forests. a CIFOR report that Dr Richard Leakey felt had erred in its recommendations says that 80% of proteins and fats in rural Africans’ diets come from bushmeat. This is a big problem and solutions to bushmeat hunting need to be found before all wildlife becomes extinct.
The study will involve African researchers in Cameroon taking DNA samples from bushmeat in the markets, and sending it to Arizona for analysis and identification. They will then track how the meat got to the market and study how the information can be used to help in management of the affected wildlife populations.
How useful this study will be is subject to debate. Particularly, when they find wildlife species that they perceive to be “bushmeat viable”, does it mean that they will recommend legalization of bushmeat hunting? Perhaps we need this research to prove that there is no way bushmeat can be harvested sustainably.
There are three things that make sustainable hunting virtualy impossible: one, there is not enough wildlife, two, there are too many humans on the planet, and three, our African governments have problems implementing anti-poaching legislation. To me, these are the fundamental questions: not whether wildlife can be harvested sustainably.
Perhaps the researchers – who by the way have applied for a $1-million from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) for the study – should use these funds to find out how we can prevent the malignant human population growth from overrunning the planet and all wild things that live in it. Better still, these funds could be used to find alternatives sources of protein and income (poverty reduction) for the rural poor in Africa. Alternatives that are not bushmeat.
For wildlife populations to recover, and to avoid imminent mass extinctions, all manner of wildlife trade needs to be stopped – at the very least, as a precaution. We don’t really understand wildlife population dynamics that well to sustainably use it. We haven’t yet fathomed the complex interaction between humans and wildlife to say that we are in control of hunting and trade.
We know a few things though. One, bushmeat hunting has already resulted in the empty forest syndrome, where the forest vegetation is relatively intact but no wild animals live there. Two, governments have good legislation intended to control bushmeat poaching but implementation is weak. Three, losing our wildlife is not good for the planet.
With these truths in mind, perhaps what we need is to stop all human-centric arguments that perpetuate eating of wildlife and start focusing on finding ways to improve wildlife’s welfare.