Groundbreaking UN report pinpoints key wildlife extinction driver

WARNING - DISTURBING IMAGES: Hunting wild animals for their meat is driving protected migratory species towards extinction, a groundbreaking United Nations report has revealed.

While fighting the international black market in wildlife has dominated conservation efforts, combatting domestic hunting is forcing declines of species protected by international treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) study found.

Migratory primates, bats, carnivores and other large mammals are seriously affected by both legal and illegal hunting, and intensified during famine, conflict and changes in land use.

Restaurants offering bush meat in Guyana. Source: Manuel Lopez / Francois Sandrin / CIFOR
Restaurants offering bush meat in Guyana. Source: Manuel Lopez / Francois Sandrin / CIFOR

The report, which examined animals in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Caribbean found 98 per cent of terrestrial migratory species are threatened by hunting, excluding bats.

Key findings in the report

  • Hunting animals for meat is impacting most CMS protected species

  • Domestic slaughter is driving declines more than the international trade

  • Legislation and enforcement are lacking

  • Wild meat consumption causes zoonotic disease

Zoonotic diseases linked to wild meat

Of 105 species studied, researchers identified 60 zoonotic viral pathogens hosted in their bodies.

Monkeypox, SARS and Ebola are known to have been transferred to humans from animal hosts, and many scientists believe coronavirus followed the same path.

CMS executive secretary Amy Fraenkel said habitat fragmentation and destruction are bringing humans into contact with animals which were previously unreachable.

“With roads… the more access people have to previously pristine or harder to reach places, and that contributes to an increase in the trend of taking animals for meat," she said.

Rescuer says report confirms first-hand experience

Conserv Congo founder Adams Cassinga, who works on the ground rescuing wildlife, said the report's findings verify his first-hand observations about the significant impact of wild meat.

“I’ve been saying the same thing for the last 10 years, and nobody has wanted to listen,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

Mr Cassinga said the trade is not only affecting migratory species, but other endangered animals like the pangolin.

“Nobody has ever killed the pangolin with the idea that I want to sell the scales, nobody,” he said.

“Everybody kills the pangolin with the idea of eating it or selling it as meat, so the scales become just collateral damage.

“People say the demand creates the supply, I think the opposite is true; it is the availability of the product that attracts (overseas) clients who are willing to buy it."

Reducing poverty key to saving wild animals

At the launch of the report last night, CMS ambassador Ian Redmond said the seasonal arrival of migratory species was once viewed by humans as a “gift from god”.

“Traditionally, the water foul came back, or the antelope came back, and that was the time when you hunted and laid in stores for the season when they leave,” he said.

Wild pigs and crocodilians are commonly butchered for their meat. Source: Conserv Congo
Wild pigs and crocodilians are commonly butchered for their meat. Source: Conserv Congo

The challenge now will be to convince people to take less species with declining populations, however many hunters are impacted by poverty or remoteness and don't have viable income alternatives.

Robert Nasi, a contributor to the report, said solving the problem is a "complicated question".

While some hunters eat the meat themselves, others sell the prime cuts to restaurants who cater for wealthy customers, and give the scraps to their own families.

"In many places wild meat… is the only way for people to get some cash needed to buy some products which would not be accessible otherwise… to pay for school fees, to pay for medicine,” he said.

Gorilla numbers plummet over last 30 years

Mr Redmond said for most species on planet, scientists do not know how many there are, where they are located or how severe their declines are.

Gorillas are one species that has been widely studied and their numbers have plummeted by 60 per cent since the 1990s, with researchers identifying the wild meat trade as the key driver.

That's an equivalent to an 82 per cent drop in just two generations.

Gorilla populations have plummeted since the 1990s. Source: Getty
Gorilla populations have plummeted since the 1990s. Source: Getty

Mr Nasi said most hunters don’t wake up in the morning and decide to kill a gorilla, they walk into the forest deciding to “kill something” for its meat.

“If the something is a wild boar or an endangered species they will shoot it, if the something is a gorilla they will shoot it also,” he said.

He believes by bringing an economic value to the species like gorillas beyond their body parts, and focusing on ventures like tourism, hunters could be convinced to discriminate in their kills.

“When you pay $700 to spend one hour close to the gorillas, then the value of the gorilla is much more alive than dead,” he said.

How do animals get listed by CMS?

Countries or sets of countries can propose listing a species for reasons including migratory nature and conservation status.

Endangered animals are given the strictest protections, while others with a healthier outlook are given additional help through additional cooperation.

CMS works to protect migratory species which cross national borders, but also create legislation regarding sustainable use of animals.

What's next for stopping the trade?

The report was launched ahead of a UN summit on food security, and CMS will work with other agencies to address issues that intersect with wildlife including poverty.

Ms Fraenkel confirmed that in 2023, delegates will meet again and consider a more comprehensive report on threats to a wider variety of migratory species, including those not listed by the CMS.

"So there's a lot... more attention looking at what's happening on the ground and what we can do to solve it," she said.

"This kind of report is absolutely vital for us to be able to know what are the right steps to take to turn this around."

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