Environmental News Network featured a study linking poverty and poaching/illegal hunting in Africa’s Serengeti. The study titled Awareness and perceptions of local people about wildlife hunting in western Serengeti communities was published in the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science and conducted by a research team with Stella Bitanyi as lead author.
According to the study, bushmeat is being eaten the most in Central and West Africa at unsustainable levels, significantly affecting wild animal populations in the region. The study reports harvest levels at an estimated 1 to 3.4 million range per year.
Laws and regulations about illegal hunting and poaching are established in these regions but bushmeat has been difficult to curb, driven by the rural people’s necessity and nutritional needs.
The estimated 2 million people (mainly native tribes) living in western Serengeti are mostly agro-pastoralists. They rely on cultivating crops as well as raising livestock for their sustenance and survival. Already the growing population (3.1% annual growth rate) in this region is increasing pressure on the land’s resources. The study reports annual income from livestock as starting from US $45 up to $130, while illegal hunting may bring in an annual $200 in income, comparable to average on-farm income. The number of illegal hunters within 45 km west of Serengeti National Park (SNP) and adjacent protected areas nearby are estimated at 52,000 – 60,000. This number shows a 90% increase in a decade (1988-98, national census data), though the study does not claim this figure to be absolute in accuracy.
It is not only the lure of bigger income that drives many to poaching. People who are living near protected areas are especially prone to taking advantage of illegal hunting opportunities when pressed by poverty. Other crises like food shortages, diseases, droughts, floods among others can also exacerbate existing difficulties or drive households to the limits of their capabilities to cope.
The study also mentions diverse reasons for poaching such as household consumption, social status, rebellion against perceived unjust policies, and exercise of traditional rights among others.
The study included respondents from 43 villages who were asked to answer questions about illegal hunting. The respondents were mostly heads of their households and comprised of 61% male and 39% female.
More than half (63%) said they did not use natural resources in protected areas near their villages. The remaining 37% admitted they or family members entered protected areas for wildlife resources. Illegal hunting and poaching as a primary source of income were reported by 13%, while 32% considered illegal hunting as secondary or extra income activity. 2% reported it as both primary and secondary, and the remaining 53% declined to answer the question. The study states that these figures are most probably being under reported.
Legal hunting and acquisition of hunting licenses are not considered as options for Serengeti’s local people, the study reports. High licensing fees prevent many from applying for a license. Illegal hunting simply seems more ‘accessible’ and readily capable of yielding great benefits, with only a low probability of arrest and prosecution. Government-based management that place restrictions on resource use may also have added to local people’s negative views as well as limited their access to perceived traditional rights to the resources of the land.
The study states that biodiversity loss and poverty are known to be connected, and so poverty and conservation must be treated as “interlocking challenges.” The researchers suggest increasing local food security for the people of Serengeti though support of the area’s agricultural sector as well as continual education aimed at enhancing community knowledge and active involvement in wildlife conservation. Policies aimed at reducing poverty also need to be conservation-friendly, especially in the Serengeti. Without a balance between the two, sustainable livelihood for local people and long-term survival of wildlife species will continue to be at risk.
Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by David Berkowitz on Flickr.
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