"Raising poor families out of poverty is a moral imperative," said Dr. David Wilkie of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the lead author of the study. "However, if doing so results in the depletion of the wildlife that these families rely upon to meet their daily protein needs, then development assistance may not only result in a loss of biodiversity. It also may put at risk the long-term security of these clients of aid--the rural poor.
The study--which was the first to explore the bushmeat issue across the entire country--was based on surveys conducted in some 1208 households in six locations across Gabon, collecting information on meat consumption, socioeconomic status, and demographic factors. In all instances, the consumption of meat, including wildlife, fish, chicken and livestock, increased with wealth, while rising prices resulted in a decrease in consumption. Growth in the income of poor families resulted in the largest jumps in bushmeat consumption. The rural poor are only 16 percent of the Gabonese population, but as they rely on wildlife for food, they eat 51 percent of all bushmeat consumed. Given this, even a small step out of poverty for the rural poor might have a huge unexpected impact on wildlife conservation and the long-term food security of poor families.
Contrary to what was expected, the price of poultry and livestock appeared to have little statistical effect on the amount of bushmeat consumed. But, increases in the price of bushmeat resulted in both a decrease in bushmeat consumed and an increase in fish consumption. The authors caution that attempts to reduce the amounts of bushmeat purchased by consumers may produce higher demand for fish. This finding indicates that management of wildlife and fisheries must go hand-in-hand, so that conserving one does not result in overexploitation and loss of the other.
A truly effective method of protecting wildlife populations and the welfare of the rural poor, Wilkie said, would be to use law enforcement to stop non-local hunters from stripping the forest of its wildlife to supply urban dwellers with a luxury item eaten on special occasions.
"In countries such as Gabon, where the poor and wildlife live together, conservation organizations need to work closely with development organizations," added Wilkie. "By understanding how client families use natural resources, we can formulate holistic strategies to protect wildlife and natural resources and promote the welfare security of local people."
WCS President and CEO Steven E. Sanderson said: "To say poverty alleviation and conservation must go together is the easy part. To solve the problems of poor people and wildlife where they actually live their lives is more complicated. It is what we try to do, and it will make the difference between a slogan and a good action agenda."
The Gabonese government has invested significantly in the conservation of wildlife within its borders. In 2002, Gabon created 13 national parks across the country, protecting over 10 percent of its land cover in the process.