Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Big birds as bushmeat

Historically, the hunting of wildlife species in tropical regions of Asia, Africa and South American has mainly been for subsistence consumption and local trade. Over centuries people relied on harvested wildlife products as a source of food and income. However, recently both local communities and foreign commercial interests are focusing on bushmeat and other products not only for food but also the development of medicinal products, both traditional and modern which led to massive overhunting  of tropical wildlife populations and the harvest of bushmeat has become a global crisis with a growing threat to the survival of many animal species. 

Bushmeat, the use of native animal species for food or commercial food sale, has been heavily documented to be a significant factor in the decline of many species of primates and other mammals. The bushmeat trade is not only a conservation challenge, but has also been highlighted as a significant human health concern linked to several zoonotic disease outbreaks globally.

As a result of the increasing demand illegal poaching and international trafficking in endangered species ranks among the largest of crimes, representing a value of tens of billions of dollars per year.

In 2012, Google announced the first seven Global Impact Awards, including a $3 million grant to the Smithsonian Institution for their Barcode of Wildlife Project. This project aims to enable six developing countries to begin using DNA Barcoding to identify species from samples in the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes. As part of the project each partner country has been asked to compile a list of approximately 200 species that are priority species for them. The currently four partner countries (Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa) have selected 774 priority species for the project. Among those are 85 species of birds (11%) and it seems that this number will likely increase in the future.

A new study indicates that actually more than half of the species being consumed are birds, particularly large birds like raptors and hornbills. So far village-based surveys of hunter offtake and surveys of bushmeat markets have shown that mammals and reptiles are affected most, followed by birds. However, hunters also consume some animals in forest camps and these may have been overlooked in surveys that have focused on bushmeat extracted from the forest. 

The researchers surveyed not only the meat made available for sale but the meat that is being eaten inside the forest by hunters and brought to villages for consumption by examining discarded animal remains at 13 semi-permanent hunting camps in the Ebo Forest, Cameroon, over 272 days.

They noted a significant percentage (55%) attributed to bird species especially large birds like eagles, vultures and hornbills which poses yet a new challenge to conservation.

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