15 November 2005 Science News

Miranda H. Mockrin, Elizabeth L. Bennett and Danielle T. LaBruna

WCS Working Paper|Issue 23|Nov 2005


In many developing countries, wildlife is an essential food resource, a source of income for rural peoples, and an important part of human spiritual and cultural systems (Robinson & Redford, 1991; Hladik et al., 1993; Robinson & Bennett, 2000). In tropical forest regions, there is often little tradition of domestic livestock management; in regions without strong food production sectors, hunted wildlife can be essential for food security (Wilkie & Carpenter, 1999; Fa et al., 2003), or as a fall-back when other sources of food and income are scarce (Robinson & Bennett, 2002). Wild species commonly consumed in tropical forest countries include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, as well as invertebrates such as termites, beetles, and snails. Forest peoples rely most heavily on terrestrial vertrebrates and fish for their livelihoods.

In recent years, concern has been growing about the unsustainable levels of wildlife hunting, especially in tropical forests (e.g., Robinson & Bennett, 2000; Milner-Gulland et al., 2002). Growing human populations, the introduction of modern hunting techniques, increased access to diminishing areas of forests, and increasing commercialization of hunting have all increased pressure on wildlife populations (Robinson & Redford, 1991; Robinson & Bennett, 2000). Recent esti- mates of annual wild meat harvest include 23,500 tonnes in the Malaysian state of Sarawak (Bennett et al., 2000), 67,000 to 164,000 tonnes in the Brazilian Amazon (Redford & Robinson, 1991), and one million tonnes in Central Africa (Wilkie & Carpenter, 1999). This is causing population declines and local extinctions of many species across the world’s tropical forests (e.g., Bennett & Robinson, 2000), lead- ing to questions of whether food security for tropical forest peoples is being com- promised by the decline in the wildlife resource. Theoretical calculations for Central Africa project that, at present harvest rates, the protein supply from bush- meat will drop by 81 percent over the next 50 years (Fa et al., 2003). Alternative sources of protein are required to ensure both that people have a long-term source of protein, and that wildlife species are conserved.

One solution often proposed is to farm wildlife species for their meat (e.g., Cicogna, 1992). This would allow people to eat wild meat, while taking pressure off wildlife populations. The solution is controversial, however, with concerns about the viability of such farming, its cost effectiveness, and its impact on wildlife populations (e.g., Emmons, 1987; Fa, 2000). This paper, therefore, examines the viability and conservation role of wildlife farming in tropical forest countries. It focuses on farming of wild terrestrial vertebrates, where the primary motivation is to provide protein for local people’s consumption to take pressure off wild popu- lations. Savannah ranching, aquaculture, farming with the primary aim of produc- ing skins and hides, and export-based wildlife farming are not considered here.

Wildlife farming proponents envision fully-controlled production systems, inde- pendent of wild populations for source animals, operating in urban, peri-urban, and rural settings to supplement human protein intake without large investment costs (Cicogna, 1992). Farming a wide range of animals, including tropical forest species, has been proposed since the 1950s in response to food security concerns (de Vos, 1977; Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1997). Despite these historical origins, wildlife farming has not become widespread in Africa, Latin America, or Asia, and today few wild vertebrate species native to the humid tropics are commonly farmed for protein (Fa, 2000). The most notable exceptions are rodents in parts of West and Central Africa (Mensah, 2000).

The lack of advancement notwithstanding, the concept of wildlife farming continues to be proposed as a solution to the supply of hunted wildlife being unable to meet the demand. A wide array of vertebrate species has been inves- tigated for farming to obtain meat (Appendix 1), some because, when hunted, are preferred food species (Smythe & Brown de Guanti, 1995), others because they command a high price in markets (Jori et al., 1995).

Raising wild species for food does not necessarily comprise domestication of the species. Domestication is a long and intensive process whereby humans selectively control the animals’ reproduction, with resulting genetic changes (Box 1).

Many factors determine the feasibility of raising a species in captivity, includ- ing the species’ biological parameters, such as productivity and vulnerability to disease, and the cost-effectiveness of farming it. Conservation issues to be con- sidered include demands on source populations, genetic mixing with wild pop- ulations, potential introductions of invasive alien species, and law enforcement issues. Socio-cultural issues also influence the likely success of such efforts. This paper will consider all of these factors, to assess under which conditions wildlife farming of tropical forest species might, and might not, be feasible.

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