Striking the Balance Between Public Health and Wildlife Conservation Policy Concerns in Africa: Why Sustaining Wildlife is a Crucial Element

Jessica Witmer

          Bushmeat hunting is a growing and immediate threat to the future of endangered species in Africa.  While bushmeat may be crucial to the diet of indigenous people in rural areas where other food may not be easily available or affordable, the continuation of bushmeat hunting will ultimately lead to the species extinction.  Bushmeat hunting has already caused the ecological extinction of multiple large animals and it continues to reduce the biological diversity of forest ecosystems.  Decreasing the population of these species at increasing rates is neither beneficial for the ecosystem or for the people whose livelihood depends on the species sustainability.  A recent study from the University of California found that consumption of bushmeat is beneficial to children’s nutrition.  The researchers predicted that “loss of access to wildlife as a source of food – either through stricter enforcement of conservation laws or depletion of resources – would lead to a 29 percent jump in the number of children suffering from anemia.”  The study also revealed that 20 percent of meat consumed by locals was made up of bushmeat, even though the hunting is illegal. 

It is exceedingly problematic that the livelihood of people living in these rural areas depends on the consumption of endangered species because no other alternatives are available.  Lia Fernald, a University of California, Berkeley associate professor in the School of Public Health, stated that rural households in Madacascar don’t have a choice but to eat endangered animals.  She also asserted that in areas “where a diverse range of nutritious food is unavailable, children rely upon animal-sourced food — milk, eggs and meat — for critical nutrients like fats, protein, zinc and iron. What we need for these children are interventions that can provide high-quality food sources that are not endangered.” Prisila Ferai, president of the animal rights group, Friends of Animals, disagrees with Professor Fernald’s solution of alternative animal-sourced food, arguing that the development of a vegan diet would be a better alternative to saving resources and reducing animal abuse.[1]  Christopher Golden, PhD, MPH, the leading researcher in the study aforementioned, agrees with Ferai’s viewpoint, however, he finds that it is not practical to provide an adequate diet for people in these areas, who are susceptible to anemia and other micronutrient deficiencies, without “fortification and supplemental programs in place.”

This controversy exemplifies the problem policy makers face when determining how to balance the health concerns of rural human populations with the ecological concerns of conserving wildlife populations.  Regardless of which interest policy makers find more critical, the current trend of illegal bushmeat hunting is equally detrimental to both concerns.  Unfortunately, there is no bright-line solution on how to deal with this complicated situation.  However, this year at the Convention on Biological Diversity, multiple alternatives for the unsustainable use of bushmeat were presented.  For example, one of the solutions suggested was Community-based Wildlife Management (CWM).  By giving the local people an incentive to protect their natural resources, the goal of this plan is to “maintain wildlife habitats and preservation of species, and improved social and economic well-being of the communities.” With an increase in economic well-being, the local residents will have the ability to obtain food without resorting to bushmeat hunting.  Regardless of what management policy is implemented, the government’s main concern should be sustaining wildlife populations.  If we continue to allow bushmeat hunting as a justification for feeding the hungry people in rural areas of Africa rather then implementing an alternative solution, we can permanently say goodbye to the wildlife populations and hello to increasing public health concerns.

12 Responses

  1. The huge issue of colonization has gone unaddressed here. “Culture is coded wisdom,” wrote Nobel-prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya. The Indigenous peoples of Africa have had their cultures systematically destroyed for more than century. Conservation nonprofits are top-down Western-based organizations with a long history of turning Native people into refugees by outing them from their lands. An excellent book for those interested in learning more about this under reported perspective is “Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples” by investigative journalist Mark Dowie. He says we need a new people-centered type of conservation. Not recognizing the appropriation of Africa’s natural resources and the oppression of its people by industrialized nations remains a blind spot among conservationists and animal rights advocates alike.

    “We in the world’s dominant cultures simply cannot sustain the earth’s ecological health without the help of the world’s endangered cultures.” — Alan Durning, Sightline Insitute

    “We conserve nature because we live in it, because it is our life.”
    — Maasai elder

  2. […] Striking the Balance Between Public Health and Wildlife … Bushmeat hunting is a growing and immediate threat to the future of endangered species in Africa. While bushmeat may be crucial to the diet of indigenous people in rural areas where other food may not be easily available or … Source: […]

  3. There’s no reason the North American model of game management — which includes well-regulated public hunting — can’t be applied in many of these areas.

    Prior to Aldo Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt and other conservation pioneers introducing that concept here, some North American animals had been wiped out, and others were on the brink — because of free-for-all, unregulated hunting. Now, we have thriving herds of deer, elk and other species.

    I’ll also note, some people labor under the illusion that North Americans now primarily hunt “for fun,” or just to get a set of antlers on the wall. While this certainly is true of some, many others of us really do still hunt primarily for food.

    I am one such person. My family is large, and our income is modest. But I live in a rural/wild area, were deer and elk herds are near enough, and hunting tags inexpensive enough, to make it very economically viable for me to help feed my family through hunting.

    I can hunt very close to home, without burning much gasoline to get there. My rifle has been in the family for nearly a half-century, and has thusly paid for itself many times over in terms of the meat it has brought home — and so on.
    Not to mention, I would rather feed my family venison than beef — for nutritional value — even if their were no relative disparity in cost.

    I can’t help but think a similar system of regulation, conservation and sound management would allow some locals in Africa (or other areas) to hunt for food without putting species in danger.

    It’s also worth mentioning, even those well-off or very wealthy American or European individuals who go on Safari in Africa to hunt purely for the experience and trophies have been vital to habitat and species preservation. Even the most strident anti-hunters can’t deny that.

    The money Safari hunters bring with them allows for preserves, game wardens and other protections that local jurisdictions could never hope to afford on their own. Not to mention, they give locals a vested interest in keeping and eye on things, and helping to keep illegal poachers out.

    Also, many of those Safari hunters will donate the meat from the animals they shoot to impoverished locals. One elephant hunter, for example, can feed an entire village.

    Even as a hunter myself, I might have a philosophical objection to the idea going to Africa to shoot an animal simply to hang a trophy on the wall, — but I can’t deny the good Safari hunters do in terms of conservation.

  4. How about a radical solution to this problem: birth control for the people ! Why is it that animals have to be hunted and become extinct to preserve our nutritional values? Why should we reproduce to no end and consume other animals for our survival? Where do we get off being so arrogant as being expressed not only in this article but by the above comments? I could care less whether you are a professor or a hunter, arrogance is just that. How would you like your head on a plate just like in the photo? And what makes you think you are better than bushmeat, except for arrogance?

  5. Maria,
    Population control — or perhaps more accurately, population distribution — is certainly a pressing issue. It’s one of many as we ponder a better approach to conservation, ecology and development.

    However, it’s hardly “arrogance” to consume or alter one’s surrounding to one’s benefit. Every animal and other living thing does that. Indeed, humans are the only creature with the capacity or inclination to even consider the status and plight of others in that regard. All other creatures simply do what is best for them or their own kind, with no such consideration whatsoever.

    Therefore, I’m dubious toward calls for essential non-intervention or non-use, which always seem to be couched in cynical misanthropy. I’m an optimist and geared toward action that produces results. I have no time to waste obsessing on the negative, or assuming only the worst in others. That’s ultimately sanctimonious, and accomplishes nothing.

    As for the head on the plate, it’s disconcerting, but probably only because of the projection of human notions, sentiments, and fear of death.

    Nature doesn’t blink at death, and finds absolutely nothing wrong with one thing killing and eating another. It’s as natural and complementary to the system as countless other processes.

    With regard to human activity, the question becomes one of moderation and restraint. Because of our capacity to overcome nature, we carry a responsibility to not become overly-consmptive or wantonly destructive of the world around us.

    After all, it’s primarily ourselves we hurt in the end, if we shirk away from those responsibilities.

  6. Maria Rosmini- I think it is a extremely rationale solution to force- feed massive amounts of a population birth control as the rights that exist in the UNited States should not extend or be promoted in any other country. Temporary sterilization has worked wonders in many societies; for instance Hitler used it in creating the aryan race in nazi Germany, the anglo-saxons used it on African slaves in the United States and China is currently enforcing the 1 child rule, sterilizing women after they “have/ recognize” their one child. As most Americans have come to realize, these measures were not only grossly inhumane, but were only effective to the extent that they deprived humans of their right to free will. This is not to say that animals should not have rights and be recognized as having a valuable life as well, however not all persons can afford to take the supplements neccesary to live a veagan lifestyle. Whole Foods, Trader Joes and other recent food markets are located primarily in wealthy areas where stay at home mothers can count calories and feed their children holistic foods. However, most Americans, and particularly Africans do not have the leisure, time, education, money or means to even comprehend what “vegan” means, as most of them are more concerned with where they’re next meal is coming from. This is not to disregard the obvious fact that my statements are sweeping and generalized, however, let’s be honest, Africa has one of the highest, if not the highest Aids rate, and thousands of children die a day of dehydration caused by diarrhea. Therefore, making allegations that the above article is “arrogant” is unfortunately naive and fails to account for the realistic factors that many “animal advocates” seem to ignore. Am I saying that the lives of animals should not be respected and protected at every chance, no. But the lives and rights of humans, shall come before the life of an animal when it is to save human lives, and in the case of Africa, the proposal made by Jessica Witmer is much more practical and sensical than the obnoxious proposition that birth control should be forced on a population to reduce the amount of animals killed for food.

  7. Seems that Prisila Ferai, president of the animal rights group, Friends of Animals, may be on to something… At least in regards to the elephants that Hal 9000 advocates killing. I’m speaking of the alternative mentioned in the posted study that allowed a whole community to discourage elephants away from their crops by planting a very profitable border of chilli peppers. By this simple reconfiguration of priorities – The village has prospered and the elephants are allowed to live their precious lives unharmed.

    I think it does take more effort to go beyond the immediate fix (usually of “sustainable” killing) – It takes some clever ingenuity. And since I believe man’s purpose is to discover equitable ways to go beyond nature’s lack of fairness – I think we ought to make every solution one that promotes life rather than in defeated-desperation condones the taking of it.

    I’m an optimist too – And this ideal has no room for slaughter of the innocent.

  8. Provoked,

    The issues here aren’t a supposed overabundance of elephants, or the animals getting into people’s crops.

    It’s how to protect animals from illegal over-killing, poachers and habitat loss.

    In the instance you cited, I agree with what the village did. There’s no reason to kill or hurt elephants to keep them out of crops.

    But that does nothing to conserve their habitat or protect them from poachers. Again, the money and vested interest Safari hunters bring in allows for habitat protection, plus can fund putting adequately trained and equipped game wardens on the ground to stop, catch and arrest poachers.

    I understand killing of any sort offends you sensibilities. But, the argument that “it’s wrong and should be stopped because it offends my ideology” is neither rational or pragmatic.

    One creature hunting and killing and consuming another in no way, shape or form violates the law, function or process of nature.

    As I said, I’m not a big fan of trophy Safari hunting, but I can’t deny the good it has done for numerous species around the world — not only elephants. You might want to try reading the article published some years ago in Mother Jones Magazine, regarding the good selective trophy hunting did in protecting and conserving wild bighorn sheep.

    Hunting is not applicable, or justified, in all circumstances. Indeed, in some cases, it’s very damaging. But, there is no intrinsic wrong in it either.

    There’s no reason a range of solutions — which might include well-regulated public hunting — can’t be applied in Africa.

  9. First, a note of correction – The correct spelling of the President of Friends of Animals is Priscilla Feral.

    Hal 9000 “Over-killing” that’s an interesting term. I suggest that if there is money for folks to travel half way around the world, to hire guides, to pay for equipment to kill (in order to “save”) that it might also be possible for adequate funds to be put towards saving the nonhumans and their habitat initially. Money is the motivator – The priorities of how it should be spent just need to be realigned.

    Yes, killing does offend me because it harms the innocent. I’m really quite a reasonable person… But being “pragmatic” about someone else’s death doesn’t fit in with my idea of being rational.

    And I’m familiar with the bighorn sheep and the delight that hunters take that their numbers have been re-established. I can imagine the sheep ever so grateful now that (to paraphrase Henry Salt), they have a kind protector willing to eat them.

    I don’t believe you and I will see eye to eye on this. I think these problems – whether it’s bush meat or factory farms, drive by shootings or world wars stem from the same source. The notion that anyone has any right over any other living being without just cause (self defense/survival) is arrogant and tragically erroneous. To kill when there are other choices not to do so will never, in my world view, be acceptable.

  10. A hero of mine, South African conservationist and author of THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER Lawrence Anthony, says of hunting for pleasure:

    “… killing only for the thrill of it is to me an anathema. I have met plenty of trophy hunters.”

    He adds, with a touch of light sarcasm, “They are, of course, all naturalists; they all know and love the bush; and they all justify their action in conservation speak, peppered with all the right buzz words. The truth is, though, that they harbour a hidden impulse to kill, which can only be satisfied by the violent death of another life form by their hand. And they will go to inordinate lengths to satisfy, and above all justify, this apparently irresistible urge. Besides, adding to the absurdity of their claims, there is not an animal alive that is even vaguely a match for today’s weaponry. The modern high-powered hunting rifle with telescopic sights puts paid to any argument about sportsmanship.”

    What I respect, even cherish, about Anthony is that he is not content to simply blast away verbally at the trophy crowd. Indeed, his entrancing book tells how he founded a 5,000-acre preserve in Zululand, South Africa, in order to both protect wildlife and help tribes benefit economically. He and his wife, Francoise, employ almost all locals, including the staff of the luxury tourist lodge they build at their reserve, Thula Thula.

    Anthony proves there are options to safari hunting as a means of supporting humans in Africa. Many more such ventures are just waiting to be discovered.

    The most intriguing part of THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER is the bond he establishes with the herd of wild elephants he agrees to take in one fateful day in 1999. The nine supposed rogues would otherwise have been shot.

    Little did he realize when he said “yes” the depth of the connection he would make with them. Nor did he imagine the depth of their emotions, the uniqueness of their individuality, the unselfishness of their nature, the wonder of their trust, the wisdom of their species.

    Anthony makes it clear that he owes the elephants everything — that he is a better man because he humbly allowed each one to teach him much-needed lessons. To change him.

    “They say you get out of life what you put in, but that is only true if you can understand what it is that you are getting. As Nana’s and Frankie’s trunks snaked out to me over the fence, it dawned that they had given me so much more than I had given them. In saving their lives, the repayment I have received from them was immeasurable.

    “From Nana, the glorious matriarch, I learned how much family means. I learned just how much wise leadership, selfless discipline and tough unconditional love is the core of the family unit. I learned how important one’s own flesh and blood actually is when the dice are loaded against you.

    “From Frankie, the feisty aunt, I learned that loyalty to one’s group is paramount. Frankie would have laid down her life in a blink for her herd. To her, nothing was more important – there was no question about this being a ‘greater love.’ And the love and respect she received in return for her courage was absolute.

    “From Nandi, I learned about dignity and how much a real mother cares; how she was prepared to stand over her deformed baby for days without food or water, trying right until the end, refusing to surrender until the last breath had been gasped.

    “From Mandla, I saw how tough it can be for a baby to grow up on the run in a hostile world and how his devoted mother and aunts ensured he made it as best he could. Since Mnumzane’s death, he had reached puberty and was about to be kicked out of the herd, as nature decreed, and would have new challenges to face.

    “From Marula and Mabula, Frankie’s children, I saw firsthand what good parenting can achieve despite adverse circumstances. These beautiful, well-behaved children would be what we in human terms would call ‘good citizens’ – something often in short supply in our world. They saw how their mother and aunt treated me, and in return, they accorded me the respect one would give to a distinguished relative. I loved them for that.

    “From ET I learned forgiveness. I had managed to reach out to her through her heartbreak and distrust, but only because she had let me. Somewhere along the way she had recovered her life and in the process taught me how to forgive, as she had forgiven humans for the horrors they had visited on her own family before she came to us. She had given birth while I was away and was standing close by looking at me, proudly showing off her baby. I made a special fuss of her.

    “And, of course, there had been Mnumzane, my big boy who had become one of my dearest friends. Like anyone, there are things I regret in life – and to me the biggest one is that I did not somehow guess that an excruciating tooth infection had been the cause of him going ‘rogue.’ I console myself knowing that no other game ranger would likely have worked that one out either. Indeed, he would have been shot out of hand a lot earlier on most other reserves.

    “But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”

  11. Provoked,

    It might be ironic that I agree with much of what you say, in principle.

    However, I simply don’t agree that killing, death and eating objectively bad things. From the point of view of nature, they are simply part of the process. Bighorn sheep honestly don’t care. Some of their number being killed by a predator — be it human or four-legged, is a perfectly natural state of play for them. You’re projecting your sensibilities and ideology on nature and animals. And in that context, it’s non-sensical.

    The question of violence and hatred is far more complex. There’s no doubt in my mind, for instance, that the essentially patriarchal nature of human society so far is at the root of most of our warfare.

    But at the same time, you can’t just draw a direct line from anything that runs counter to your ideas and the world’s vexing social and ecological problems. I’ve hunted all my life, but I’m probably one of the most non-violent, non-judgemental, empathetic and open-minded people you’ll ever meet — not to mention, non-nationalistic and stridently anti-war.
    As I’ve said before on this site, I really don’t have any use for ideas that are essentially pessimistic, cynical toward the human race, strident or sanctimonious. That said, you’re welcome to your opinions.

    CQ, I applaud Lawrence Anthony. As I’ve already said, hunting isn’t the only option. Good for him for finding a way to protect a population of elephants with out it.

    His ideas might not work in all circumstances, however.

  12. Is a total waste for rare species to go extinct to feed poor people.
    Is the poor people’s fault to have 8-20 kids while they cannot feed one kid.

    No species should vanish rather if is a beautiful, neutral or ugly species, they all have the right to exist.

    The life of a rare species is more precious than the life of any (LC) species.
    LC species such as humans, foxes,coyote, beaver, raccoon and rats.

    Is not the intelligence that makes a species precious, is the rarity of the species.
    Of course my friends and family are precious to me.

    Is the same argument as valuing your friend and or family member above a stranger’s life.

    Man has done enough damage already with greed, speciesism, anthropocentrism and hatred toward animals.

    I have a page explaining about it.
    It has many source from random forums, video and other sites.

    Save an endangered species or a human life?

    Even contain the news about conservationist shooting scumbags poachers dead.
    Is normal to value the rhino above waste of flesh’s lives.

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