To End Bushmeat Hunting, Let Them Eat Chickens
Posted by Richard Conniff on March 18, 2017
by Richard Conniff/The New York Times
The idea that the humble chicken could become a savior of wildlife will seem improbable to many environmentalists. We tend to equate poultry production with factory farms, downstream pollution and 50-piece McNugget buckets.
In much of the developing world, though, “a chicken in every pot” is the more pertinent image. It’s a tantalizing one for some conservationists because what’s in the pot there these days is mostly trapped, snared or hunted wildlife — also called bushmeat — from cane rats and brush-tailed porcupines to gorillas.
Hunting for dinner is of course what humans have always done, the juicier half of our hunter-gatherer origins. In many remote forests and fishing villages, moreover, it remains an essential part of the cultural identity. But modern weaponry, motor vehicles, commercial markets and booming human populations have pushed the bushmeat trade to literal overkill — an estimated 15 million animals a year taken in the Brazilian Amazon alone, 579 million animals a year in Central Africa, and onward in a mad race to empty forests and waterways everywhere.
A study last year identified bushmeat hunting as the primary threat pushing 301 mammal species worldwide toward extinction. The victims include bonobo apes, one of our closet living relatives, and Grauer’s gorillas, the world’s largest. (The latter have recently lost about 80 percent of their population, hunted down by mining camp crews with shotguns and AK-47s. Much of the mining is for a product integral to our cultural identities, a mineral used in
the circuit boards of our cellphones.) The victims also include at least three species humans have probably already eaten into extinction: the kouprey, a water-buffalo-size animal from Southeast Asia; the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo from Papua; and a squirrel-size hutia from Cuba.
Bushmeat hunting also often leaves large carnivores without prey animals to eat, one reason so-called protected areas across Africa now harbor only a quarter as many lions as they could, according to a recent study in the journal Biological Conservation. The lions and other predators frequently get caught in wire snares set out for smaller animals. Some animals escape, minus a limb, and
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Richard Conniff is a contributing opinion writer to the New York Times, and the author of The Species Seekers, and other books. Find out more here.