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  • Forests, people and wild meat in Chocó

Forests, people and wild meat in Chocó

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Established by CIFOR in 2011, the Bushmeat Research Initiative (BRI) brings together diverse researchers and practitioners to generate and share knowledge on bushmeat harvesting, marketing and consumption across Latin America, Africa and Asia. The initiative was established under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

This video shows what bushmeat means for the population of Chocó, one of 32 districts of Colombia.

It is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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  • Let’s talk about bushmeat

Let’s talk about bushmeat

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Bushmeat is the meat of wild animals used by humans for food. In this video, Professor John Fa of Manchester Metropolitan University and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) walks viewers through the concept of bushmeat, and the challenges it poses for sustainability of wildlife and sustainability of livelihoods.

Learn more about bushmeat at www.cifor.org/bushmeat

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  • All about bushmeat: A new website for sustainable management of wildlife

All about bushmeat: A new website for sustainable management of wildlife

A man holds up bushmeat, Papua, Indonesia. Photo: Agus Andrianto/CIFOR
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A man holds up bushmeat, Papua, Indonesia. Photo: Agus Andrianto/CIFOR
A man holds up bushmeat, Papua, Indonesia. Photo: Agus Andrianto/CIFOR

Bushmeat is defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (2011) as: The meat of wild animals harvested in tropical and sub-tropical countries, for food and for non-food purposes, including medicinal use.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) today launched a new website on bushmeat – wild species that are hunted for food. The site brings together decades of research on the sustainable management of wildlife, with a particular focus on hunting in the tropical forests of the Congo Basin and the Amazon. The research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Visit the Bushmeat website here.

Read about the latest research on Forests News here.

The new site builds on the work of the Bushmeat Research Initiative (BRI) and the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW) to create a comprehensive resource for journalists, researchers, policy makers, students and the general public.

The latest publications and research findings on bushmeat are presented together with news from the field, as well as a suite of multimedia products, including animation, videos and photo essays. Researchers are encouraged to add their own findings to the interactive Bushmeat Database and Data Map, joining a global community of practice on bushmeat.

CIFOR plans to launch similar content packages on other areas of research in the near future.

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  • From the Congo to the Amazon, hunters speak the same language

From the Congo to the Amazon, hunters speak the same language

Research suggests hunters in the Congo Basin face similar issues to hunters elsewhere. Photo: Ollivier Girard / CIFOR.
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By Barbara Fraser, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Although continents apart, hunters in the forests of Africa and Latin America can learn from each other’s experiences in wildlife management and the use of bushmeat, according to experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“In both the Congo and the Amazon, millions of people depend on wild species for food, and hunting and fishing provide a large percentage of nutrients,” said John Fa, senior research associate at CIFOR and coordinator of the Bushmeat Research Initiative.

In addition to hunting to feed their families, hunters in both the Congo and the Amazon Basins sell some of the wild meat they catch. The income provides a buffer against crop failures or other economic crises, as well as money for household expenses, health care or school fees.


But wildlife management is crucial to make sure that hunting—or rather, overhunting—does not have excessive negative consequences for ecosystems, Fa said.

For example, overhunting of a certain animal species could reduce the scattering of the seeds of plants on which it feeds, gradually decreasing the number of those plants and, therefore, the food supply.

“Changing the vegetation changes the food supply, which affects the animal species that can survive in that landscape,” Fa said.

Overhunting can be controlled if hunters know how much game their communities are harvesting, said Nathalie Van Vliet, a senior researcher at CIFOR.

“The problem is that hunters know how much they or their neighbors harvest, but not what others harvest, so they don’t know how much the community harvests as a whole,” she said.


Community monitoring can fill that gap. In parts of Africa and the Amazon, hunters are armed not only with shotguns, but also with notebooks or cell phones to record information about where and what they hunt and conditions in the forest.

In Namibia, where hunting—including trophy hunting—is an important source of both income and food for communities, game guards keep detailed records that allow community conservancy committees to monitor impacts and adjust quotas, according to Greenwell Matongo of WWF Namibia.

Matongo was among a group of researchers, government officials and hunters who met in Leticia, Colombia, in October 2015, to discuss regulatory changes for legalizing the sale of bushmeat in Colombia.

Hunters in the Ticoya Indigenous Reserve or resguardo near Leticia, along the Amazon River where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru converge, are experimenting with a cell phone app to help them track wildlife.

By becoming citizen scientists, hunters gather data that are valuable to their communities and to researchers, said Brian Child, associate professor in the geography department and the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida.

“People love it—it’s so empowering. They love learning, they love doing graphs, they love understanding what the data are saying, they love presenting it back to communities,” Child said of community-based wildlife monitoring.

“That’s where the real gain is—in the communities themselves becoming paraprofessionals and collecting, analyzing and responding to data,” he added.


Although both the Amazon and Congo Basins include expanses of tropical forest that is home to bushmeat hunters, the two regions differ in some significant ways.

The Congo Basin has less than half as much dense forest—1.6 million square kilometers, compared to 3.9 million square kilometers in the Amazon—and more than twice as many inhabitants as the Amazon.

Research in the past seemed to indicate that substantially more bushmeat is consumed in the Congo Basin than the Amazon. According to one rough estimate from 2010, bushmeat consumption in the Congo basin totaled about 3.2 million tons in one year, compared to just under 1 million tons in the Amazon.

But that estimate and others like it are extrapolated from relatively little data, some of which is old, Van Vliet said. More recent studies show that people continue to consume bushmeat even after moving to cities from rural areas, but further research is needed to understand how consumption patterns change, she said.

Community wildlife management is crucial for adapting to changing circumstances, said Van Vliet, who works with hunters in Colombia and Gabon who are designing hunting management plans.

“The hunters in Gabon realized that they needed to set limits on the hunting of partially protected species in their area,” she said. “The question was where to set the limit, because they did not have data showing how much would be sustainable.”

Van Vliet suggested an adaptive management plan, which would begin by setting the limit at the amount currently being harvested. The hunters would then monitor the impacts and adjust the plan as necessary.

“The problem was that no one knew how much they harvested as a community,” she said. “A community monitoring system provides important information to fill in those gaps.”

The hunters in Gabon—who set a limit of 30 bush pigs a year, based on data showing that they had hunted 28 in 2014—are using a monitoring system similar to one used by hunters in the Ticoya resguardo, which is in the southernmost corner of Colombia, near the Amazon River.


Van Vliet would like the two groups of hunters to be able to learn from each other’s experiences.

“They face similar challenges,” she said. “I think there are fewer differences between a hunter in Gabon and a hunter in the Amazon than a hunter in Gabon and a city dweller in Gabon.”

While meeting with hunters during a recent trip to Gabon, Van Vliet received messages from hunters in the Ticoya resguardo via the smartphone app WhatsApp, and began to think about ways in which the two groups might be able to communicate.

“The problem is language, but they could exchange photos,” she said.

The hunters in Gabon were especially interested in how the hunters in Colombia managed fruiting tree species to attract certain animals.

“They said they felt wildlife was farther away now than in their grandparents’ day,” she said of the Gabon hunters. “They said that could be due to hunting or to logging, which sometimes removes trees that bear fruit.”

The African hunters were intrigued by the idea of planting some of those tree species closer to their villages to attract animals, as communities in the Ticoya resguardo had done.

“I think these exchanges are very useful,” Van Vliet said. “I learn a lot from looking at these different situations, and I think they would, too.”

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  • Mix up the diet with some wild meat

Mix up the diet with some wild meat

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Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
Hunters in the Ticoya Indigenous Reserve can share bushmeat with family and friends—but trade is illegal. Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR.

By Barbara Fraser, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Tráncito Rodríguez was waiting for a package of wild meat from her brother when she got the bad news: police at the airport in Leticia, a small Amazonian city in the southern corner of Colombia, had confiscated the meat.

“It was a whole boruga,” she said, using the local word for a large rodent (Agouti paca) that is common prey for hunters in rural communities in that part of the Amazon.

Although hunting for subsistence is legal in Colombia, selling the meat is not, and authorities sometimes confiscate it if they believe it will be sold. But there is still a steady flow of bushmeat, or wild meat, into Leticia, the nearby Brazilian towns of Tabatinga and Benjamin Constant, and the Peruvian town of Santa Rosa, along the Amazon River where the three countries converge.

Researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who have been studying the hunting, use and commercialization of bushmeat in the triple-border area, recommend exploring the possibility of legalizing and regulating the sale of certain bushmeat species, rather than leaving it in the shadows.

Although consumption of bushmeat is most often associated with rural communities, the researchers found that about 473 tons a year pass through the markets in the towns near the triple border.

“Bushmeat is not important in terms of the number or percentage of meals that include it, compared to meat from domestic animals, but it is an important source of diversity in people’s diets,” said Nathalie Van Vliet, a senior research associate at CIFOR who is leading the study.


On Sundays, the rustic restaurants in a rural area known as “Los Kilómetros,” along a paved road leading out of Leticia, fill with families out for a leisurely afternoon meal and perhaps a dip in a pool.

Although it’s not on the menu, some chefs serve up boruga, deer or other game if asked. They are cautious, however, fearing that police will raid their kitchens. Local hunters say their sales to restaurants drop off when there have been police sweeps.

The diners seek out a bushmeat meal for various reasons.

Some just like the taste. For others, who have migrated to the towns from rural areas, it’s a reminder of the flavors of home and childhood. Bushmeat is often a highlight of festivals or meals served as part of the communal work days known as minga.

But for Rodríguez, a member of the Muinane indigenous people, the biggest advantage is nutrition.

Her father ate no pork, beef or chicken, she recalls—“just bushmeat”—and she followed his example.

“I raised my children to be healthy,” she says. “That’s the way my mother raised me.”

But the youngest was only 18 months old when Rodríguez, a leader of a women’s organization in the town of Aracuara, received a death threat that forced her to flee to Bogotá, the Colombian capital.

She believes her youngest daughter was less healthy because in the city she ate more processed food and meat raised on industrial farms.


Meat from wild animals and fish provides not only protein, but also a range of micronutrients—vitamins and minerals that are important for health. Families that eat a variety of bushmeat and fish consume a wider range of micronutrients than those whose protein comes from one main source, such as chicken, Van Vliet said.

So when Rodríguez moved to Leticia six years ago, she was determined to return to her traditional diet.

She is not alone. Although people’s dietary patterns tend to change when they move from rural areas to the neighborhoods around the edges of Leticia and Tabatinga, there is still a place for bushmeat on the table, although families eat less meat from wild game and more chicken and other meats.

In a survey of 1,145 children in 11 schools in a small town, rural villages and the urban neighborhoods on Leticia’s periphery, the CIFOR researchers found that nearly all the children had eaten meat the previous day.

The sources of meat differed significantly, however. In the rural areas, 11 percent of children reported having eaten bushmeat the day before and 40 percent said they had eaten fish. In urban areas, however, only 2 percent of the children said they had eaten bushmeat and 9 percent had eaten fish.

For lower-income kids, especially, chicken and eggs had taken their place.

The findings indicate that in urban areas, where chicken replaces bushmeat and fish, children have a less diverse diet than their rural counterparts. And that can affect their health and food security, as Rodríguez found when she was forced to flee to the city.


In Leticia, Rodríguez returned to her roots, finding places to plant crops as she did at home. In 2011, she opened a small restaurant where she sold home-cooked meals, including bushmeat.

She would buy paca, deer or other meat in the market in Tabatinga and carry it back to Leticia through the gate that marks the Brazilian–Colombian border between the two neighboring cities.

One day, police at the border confiscated a leg of peccary she had just bought. After that, they began to stop her more frequently. For a while, she hired a man who had a motorized rickshaw to transport the meat between the two cities, but she finally decided it would be easier to start a restaurant in a tourist area on the Brazilian side of the border.

In the meantime, she continues to sell fresh fruit juices and food made from the crops she grows on the Colombian side, preparing meals that her customers can take home and running her carry-out business by cell phone.

Rodríguez also heads a women’s group called Mujeres Triunfadoras Tejiendo Vida—roughly translated as “Winning Women Weaving Life”—whose members represent four ethnic groups.

After attending a workshop on the steps that would be necessary to legalize and regulate bushmeat in Colombia, Rodríguez returned to her neighborhood to tell the women in her organization what she had learned.

Legalizing the trade and giving women more access to the meat for their families, she says, is one step on the road to a healthier future.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.
This research was supported by USAID.
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  • Agouti on the wedding menu: Bushmeat harvest, consumption and trade in a post-frontier region of the Ecuadorian Amazon

Agouti on the wedding menu: Bushmeat harvest, consumption and trade in a post-frontier region of the Ecuadorian Amazon

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Authors: Cummins, I.; Pinedo-Vasquez, M.; Barnard, A.; Nasi, R.

The availability, consumption and trade of bushmeat is highly variable across time and space. This paper examines how the bushmeat market in Napo, Ecuador has evolved alongside a variety of interconnected factors including local game scarcity, increased law enforcement, infrastructure development and increasing urbanization. Much of the human occupied landscape has already undergone extinction filters with only the most hunting resistant species still present. However, Napo maintains significant areas of largely intact forest which are not hunted due distance from roads and rough topography, which may serve as source habitat in the future. Two modes of hunting are identified both of which have very different implications for conservationists and for rural livelihoods. Supplemental or sustenance hunting generally focuses on more abundant species and thus occurs primarily within local agroforestry systems or nearby patches of forests. Commercial hunting meanwhile takes place within larger catchments and is focused on large-bodied species, which are especially susceptible to hunting pressure. Efforts by the Ecuadorian government to interdict bushmeat have largely driven the trade underground making it difficult to estimate current consumption rates. Demand generated by traditional Kichwa wedding parties remain a significant driver of commercial hunting. Policy recommendations include a greater focus on species-level game management, greater education about endangered species and more emphasis on using conservation programs to create corridors between protected areas. Due to the relatively small size of most communal forest areas, wildlife management is especially difficult for wide-ranging species and conservation efforts should focus on common pool resource management.

Series: CIFOR Occasional Paper no. 138

Publisher: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia

Publication Year: 2015

ISBN: 978-602-387-009-7

Also published at Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)


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  • Bushmeat on the wedding menu

Bushmeat on the wedding menu

Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
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Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
Colombian women preparing bushmeat like deer and boruga (Agouti paca). Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR

By Jack Hewson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

New study examines how bushmeat is evolving from forest to garden hunting, and from a food staple to a wedding delicacy in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Getting married can be an anxious affair. One may worry about different sets of friends or family getting along, or if your best man drinks one glass too many and gives an inappropriate speech. Any number of embarrassments might befall you.

In the Amazonian cities and towns of Ecuador, an additional concern is proving that you can provide enough dishes made from bushmeat during the wedding to satisfy the expectation of all invitees, particularly those of your close relatives.

“For this reason, wedding planners have to be connected to sophisticated network of suppliers and to know how to request bushmeat using cell phones and even apps to an illegal product of great cultural significance among Ecuadorian Amazonians,” said Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, the leading author of a recent study on bushmeat conducted under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.


This is bushmeat... Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
This is bushmeat… Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Modernity has brought less reliance on the forests for Ecuador’s urban and rural population in Amazonia, with many migrating to the cities for work.

When it comes to protein, farmed poultry and livestock are now more regularly consumed, but bushmeat has retained its traditional value for social events, particularly weddings.

Overhunting of large-bodied game and the illegal nature of bushmeat meat are incentives for managing game species (particularly small-bodied species) in production landscapes dominated by smallholder agriculture fields, fallows and forest patches.

“We found that the risk of declining on game populations results more from the loss of habitat and the growth of road networks and other infrastructure that is putting humans closer to populations of game species, even within protected areas,” Pinedo-Vasquez said.

The Napo province is rapidly undergoing a transition to a more mosaic landscape. Today, it boasts the highest urban population density and road infrastructure of any province in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

These changes have had significant impacts on species in areas now more easily accessed by forest hunters, with large-bodied game being significantly depleted. Pinedo-Vasquez and his colleagues have found that the decline of game populations in forests have emerged as an incentive for managing game species in agriculture landscapes and for practicing garden hunting.

What’s more, women become hunters, particularly of small-game species that are managed or protected in fallows, fields, or their house gardens.

...and this as well. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
…and this as well. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

While there have been no known extinctions in Amazonia due to the bushmeat trade, there are concerns that unsustainable hunting could prompt local extinctions, particularly of large-bodied species. Such risk seems to be reduced by integrating game management in production landscapes, as is the case of the Napo province.


To promote sustainable practices and lessen the impact of hunting, Pinedo-Vasquez’s research offers a number of recommendations including: greater coordination between conservation organizations and rural communities, the targeted conservation of depleted species, and monitoring of off-takes coordinated between law enforcement and hunters.

“Crucially, there needs to be engagement with smallholders and indigenous peoples – on a household scale and on a landscape scale,” Pinedo-Vasquez said.

“On a landscape scale, people have to get together and decide when to hunt and what to hunt. Hunting is not a random thing; it’s an issue of local governance.”

For instance, local people are actively enforcing rules governing garden hunting while they are increasingly less interested in enforcing rules governing forest hunting, particularly in areas near or within protected areas.


By comparison, Pinedo-Vasquez’s research suggests that less severe measures are required in Ecuador, and he actually recommends three “Rs” for sustainable hunting and bushmeat procurement in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

First, “recognize” the process and patterns of changing landscapes for bushmeat, including the decline of forest hunting and increase of garden hunting. Also recognize the dependence shift from large-bodied to small-bodied game species of bushmeat. Recognize as well that there are more women than men hunters.

Secondly, “regulate” and monitor the sale of bushmeat by species and origin.

Finally, “replicate” the experiences of sustainable game management and the enforcement of rules controlling the hunt, sale and consumption of bushmeat. Certification might be an incentive for replicating good practices in the Amazonian Ecuador. The urban tradition of featuring bushmeat on the wedding menu could be an incentive for the sustainable hunting and sale of bushmeat.


With lessening of concerns for the survival of Ecuador’s indigenous fauna, Pinedo-Vasquez himself has tried the local bushmeat cuisine.

“While the tradition of eating bushmeat is local, it’s a globalized society. The preparations that people come up with are very varied. You could have peccary with Japanese sauce,” he said.

“I’m really surprised how television has influenced the preparation of bushmeat, but has not eliminated it from the tradition.

“On a recent research field trip, a guy gave me some dried meat with cabbage and it was delicious. When I asked him where he got the recipe from, he said he had learnt it from a British cooking show.

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  • YouTube hunting videos offer scientists invaluable insight

YouTube hunting videos offer scientists invaluable insight

A hunter returns home early in the morning after checking traps he set the day before. The day’s take: an armadillo. Photo: Barbara Fraser CIFOR
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A hunter returns home early in the morning after checking traps he set the day before. The day’s take: an armadillo. Photo: Barbara Fraser CIFOR
A hunter returns home early in the morning after checking traps he set the day before. The day’s take: an armadillo. Photo: Barbara Fraser/ CIFOR

By Jack Hewson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

The shaky camera footage depicts torch-lit woodland and the fuzzy outline of a gun barrel as the shot is fired. The hunters move in to collect their prey — paca, a species of large rodent found in South and Central America.

A man dressed in military fatigues displays the kill proudly next to his carbine. The animal’s unblinking eye reflects light back into the lens and the nighttime ring of woodland crickets serves as a backing track.

As part of new research under the CGIAR Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry into the extent and impacts of unregulated sports hunting, scientist Hani Bizri and his peers have watched more than 383 YouTube videos like this one, primarily depicting the pursuit and killing of wild animals.

“When we started looking at these videos we became a little bit disturbed, but at the same time we got a lot of information about the hunters and their strategies,” said Hani.

Click on image to watch the video on bushmeat hunting in Colombia.
Click on image to watch the video on bushmeat hunting in Colombia.

“It isn’t only occurring deep in the Amazon. We found videos for every biome in the country, and some of those posted were of hunting happening within driving distance of Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil.”

The videos on which the study is based upon have collectively accumulated 15 million views, suggesting that interest in sport hunting is widespread, despite being illegal under most circumstances in Brazil.

And due to the apparent inefficacy of prohibition, Hani says more needs to be done to ensure that hunting is conducted sustainably.

Hunting linked to Brazil’s cultural history

Unlike the “trophy hunting” of big game observed on the savannahs of southern Africa, which is predominantly perpetrated by rich, fee-paying Westerners, the roots of Brazil’s sport hunting culture lies in the “rural connection” of much of the country’s urban middle class.

Intermittent periods of rapid economic growth during Brazil’s post-war history resulted in widespread urbanization, as rural residents moved to cities in search of higher-paying work.

Nonetheless, hunting traditions have been retained by the ensuing, wealthier generations. For many of Brazil’s newly urban population, hunting has become a leisure pursuit rooted in their cultural history.

“These people’s parents used to hunt and eat this meat out of necessity, so it’s a part of their heritage,” said Hani.

A vendor shows off some deer meat that he recently received from a hunter. Because the small-scale commercialization of bushmeat is illegal in Colombia, he keeps the meat out of sight. Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR
A vendor shows off some deer meat that he recently received from a hunter. Because the small-scale commercialization of bushmeat is illegal in Colombia, he keeps the meat out of sight. Photo: Barbara Fraser/CIFOR

The posting dates of the videos are seasonal and concentrated during vacation periods in July and December, suggesting that hunts are conducted as a holiday sport. Moreover, the cost of the air-pressure carbines observed in the videos viewed by the researchers range from $350 to $2000 — far beyond the means of a subsistence hunter.

The study’s findings stand in contrast to other studies conducted on hunting in the urban and semi-urban areas over the country, where game hunters often hunt to satisfy their need for food, or supplement their income.

“[With regard to sports hunters] they like the process and the act. They enjoy running after the animal and the thrill of the chase,” said Thaís Morcatty, the study’s co-author. “But they also eat the meat.”

The most commonly targeted species observed in the video study have been lowland pacas and armadillos, the former of which features on nearly every state endangered species list in Brazil. White-lipped peccaries, tapirs and capybaras are also targeted to a lesser extent.

How can hunting be regulated?

So what can be done to curb the impacts that sports hunting is having on forest wildlife?

“Rather than continuing with prohibition, which appears not to be working, I think regulation could be good to generate money for conservation,” said Hani.

Although it is a measure that is opposed by many animal rights activist groups, the creation of reserves for sport hunting is often touted as a way to advance the interests of conservation.

As an example, Hani and Thais point to the permitted hunting of birds in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, where populations of the target species remained stable during a five-year period, although the program was eventually abandoned.

According to Hani, greater richness and larger populations of waterfowl species were observed in the region than states where sport hunting remained prohibited because hunting areas were spared from habitat conversion to agriculture.

Hani believes that the same results could be achieved by regulated hunting of forest game, and if the interests of sustaining animal stocks are shared by some of the hunters themselves.

“The hunters are already discussing how to legalize and regulate themselves on the videos and in the comment sections, so it would be more effective for them to be included in the process.”

“We can’t be effective with just the surveillance effort that Brazil has been applying,” said Hani. “They’re not going to stop due to illegality, so we must start a dialogue.”

The article The thrill of the chase: uncovering illegal sport hunting in Brazil through YouTube™ posts was selected among more than 200 articles published in “Ecology and Society” in 2015 and awarded “Best Paper”.

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  • Wildlife: a forgotten and threatened resource

Wildlife: a forgotten and threatened resource

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Presentation by Robert Nasi, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, et al. at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation in Montpellier, France, 19-23 June 2016.

The harvest of forest wildlife provides invaluable benefits to local people, but understanding of such practices remains fragmentary. With global attention drawn to the issue of declining biodiversity, this talk assesses the consequences, both for ecosystems and local livelihoods, of the loss of important forest resources, and alternative management options.

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  • Understanding wildlife hunting means knowing people, animals and the numbers

Understanding wildlife hunting means knowing people, animals and the numbers

Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
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Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

By Deanna Ramsay, originally posted at CIFOR’s Forests News

For many living in rural parts of the world, hunting wild animals offers both a vital source of protein and extra cash. In Cameroon, that work can result in additional annual income of €80, according to a recent study.

Defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2011 as, “The harvesting of wild animals in tropical and sub-tropical countries, for food and for non-food purposes,” bushmeat hunting is simultaneously mundane and a hot topic.

In a keynote speech titled “Wildlife: A forgotten and threatened forest resource” at the annual Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) meeting, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry director Robert Nasi discussed the bushmeat issue in the Congo and Amazon basins.

“The use of wild animals as a resource for local people is an exceedingly important issue, and generally overlooked. The hunting and eating of wild animals is widespread, essential and socially acceptable, but is de facto criminal activity in most countries,” he said.
Stall selling bushmeat. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
Selling bushmeat. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

With the recognition that millions around the world use wild animals for food and income, and that such practices can negatively impact biodiversity, researchers are focusing on the extent of people’s dependence, looking at quantifying matters such as wildlife harvest numbers, consumption amounts and the accrued financial benefits.

Round numbers

Generating appropriate data on extraction from the wild helps elucidate the importance of wildlife for poor people, as well as contribute to necessary conservation work.

“Some groups argue that conservation of areas is bad for local people. It is possible to achieve a balance, but better data are required to establish how both protection of biodiversity and the needs of people can be made compatible,” said John E. Fa, a senior research associate at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and coordinator of CIFOR’s Bushmeat Research Initiative.

Guyana offers a lot of bushmeat such as this Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR)
Guyana offers a lot of bushmeat such as this Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

Better access to information and research data is required across fields and disciplines. Taking this into account – and that for hunting what little information available is dispersed – there is now a resource that collates datasets on subsistence hunting and related practices from around the globe called OFFTAKE.

At ATBC, Bushmeat Research Initiative member Lauren Coad discussed the database – which she helped to develop – that aims to provide accurate information on the harvest of wild animals and to inform policy.

“Bushmeat research has been mainly site specific and gathered by NGOs and academics. This data needed to be brought together, and we are continuing to add to it,” she said during her talk, which focused on bushmeat consumption figures in Central Africa.

In recently published research in International Forestry Review, seconded CIRAD scientist at CIFOR Guillaume Lescuyer and Robert Nasi looked at another side of the bushmeat equation, determining the financial (i.e. trade) and economic (i.e. self-consumption) benefits derived from bushmeat from the full range of actors in Cameroon.

There are an estimated 552,000 people in the country who hunt for income, subsistence and a combination of both. Lescuyer and Nasi calculated a net financial benefit of hunting in rural areas as €10 million a year and a net economic benefit of €24 million.

“People have not been that interested in the question of quantifying the importance of bushmeat. That is why we decided to do a financial analysis – this has not been done before in Cameroon, and our findings are powerful,” Lescuyer said.


Lescuyer and Nasi found that local hunting was rewarding, with a profit margin of approximately 22 percent. They also determined that the annual turnover of the bushmeat sector is much higher than previous official assessments at close to €97 million, with the contribution to Cameroon’s GDP as substantial as the mining sector.

Equipped with figures indicating the economic significance of the practice for the rural poor and local and national economies, the question emerges – are such practices sustainable?

Some say no. But, as bushmeat discussions can revert to familiar debates that position conservation against livelihoods, numbers, again, are vital. Having studied bushmeat for decades, Fa said measuring sustainability is a difficult task.

“One problem is we know very little about tropical animals and their biology, including reproduction. Even if you have abundant data on the species out there you also have to know the fluctuations in how many animals a hunter gets per day,” he said. And, the consumption figures that emerge often vary in comparison to extraction numbers. These discrepancies mean more studies on tropical animals and human practices are needed, Fa said.

Too legit

Honoring both concerns, researchers are recommending a combination of on-the-ground changes and government policy steps. “Up to 80 percent of rural households in central and western Africa depend at different levels on bushmeat for their daily protein requirements and essential income. A blanket ban on the trade would endanger both humans and wildlife,” Nasi said.

Developing alternative protein sources in rural areas, working to reduce demand in urban areas and enforcing bans on exports has been advised. “Alternative meats could be a good way of deterring people from eating bushmeat, but that is more likely in big cities because they don’t rely on it,” Fa said. Fostering the consumption of other proteins is a long-term goal, but addressing urban consumption is key in the short-term, Lescuyer said.

At ATBC in Montpellier, Nasi discussed the problem of bushmeat exports to Europe, advocating for better law enforcement. “You can walk five minutes from here and I can bring you back a duiker leg from a small grocery. There is no reason why anyone in Europe should be eating bushmeat.”

For researchers, it is time to use the hard numbers and data emerging to clarify a complex issue. “There has been a one-way view for the last 25 years without success. It is time to try something else. It is time to legitimate the debate around bushmeat,” Nasi said.

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