In the Congo Basin, more than two million tonnes of wild meat – the equivalent of tens of millions of animals – are harvested each year.
Subsistence hunting is a vital and healthy source of protein and income for many indigenous and rural communities. However, as human populations grow, unsustainable levels of hunting are decimating wild animal populations in many areas – especially when wild meat is commercially hunted to be sold in cities where it has fetched high prices. Around 285 species of mammals worldwide are threatened with extinction, due to hunting of wild meats, which has devastating effects on cultural practices and the food security of those who depend on them. As we have seen internationally in recent years, the unregulated trade in wildlife can also pose significant risks for the emergence of zoonoses such as Covid-19 and smallpox.
The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Program works in 13 countries on the African continent – and beyond – to develop holistic, multi-scale solutions to the problem of overexploitation. These include working on legal and institutional reforms, managing wildlife, providing alternative protein production, reducing demand for wild meat through behavior change campaigns, reducing human-wildlife conflict, and monitoring health risks. .
“We need to manage the use of wild species as a food source, looking at the full range of possible options, from pure conservation to domestication and sustainable use. We can’t just tell people who rely on wild meat as their main source of protein to stop eating meat without offering affordable, healthy alternatives,” said Robert Nasi, executive chairman of the Center for Forest Research (CIFOR) in September. 15 at the launch of the SWM Program 3D multimedia exhibition, which was part of the GLF Africa 2022 Digital Conference.
Stella Asaha, Site Coordinator for the SWM Program in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), shared some of the biggest challenges for wildlife conservation in the site area, which is located inside and outside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve – one of the most several wildlife hotspots on the continent. The reserve occupies about a fifth of the Ituri forest and its resources are essential for local communities and indigenous peoples.
“The rich natural resources of this place, including underground resources, are a big challenge for us because they attract a lot of people,” said Asaha. So far, the SWM Program in DRC has focused on building knowledge about sustainable hunting and engaging with pilot communities on this topic through games, as well as using camera traps to learn more about current animal populations. The team also supports communities in developing alternative livelihoods and other sources of protein, such as palm seed production, bean cultivation and poultry. “One of our main achievements is involving communities in sustainable business,” she said. “And within cities, we are establishing contacts with companies to increase chicken production.”
Brent Stirton, National Geographic photographer, shared his thoughts and experiences about the photographs he took that are in the SWM Program’s virtual multimedia exhibition – which can be accessed free of charge on the program’s website along with various guides, training materials, publications and videos. “Food security is based on education at a certain level of coexistence”, he underlined, at the end of his presentation. “The communities where we find people very dependent on this trade need to understand that it is not a movement against them; it is a movement that considers its future as well as the future of nature. So it’s very important to try to find that fundamental balance, and it’s not easy. But the more we talk about it, the more we can suggest alternatives, and the more trust can reign between these different groups. This is the key to finding a solution for a truly viable future.”