‘Conservation is never anything but social and never anything but political’ – Bill Adams, University of Cambridge.
It is well known that unsustainable hunting can be a threat to the conservation of biodiversity, particularly when the victims already have a high likelihood of extinction. Interventions that aim to curb the practice of hunting threatened species require an understanding of why people hunt such species, and indeed how hunters perceive the proposed alternatives. It is of course challenging to elicit such information as the success of illegal hunters depends partly on their ability to maintain the secrecy of their activities.
In Madagascar most of the large vertebrates have gone extinct since the arrival of humans, this is largely attributed to over-hunting. Lemurs are hunted for bushmeat on the island, as they provide a valuable source of animal protein for the rural population which is otherwise lacking from their diet.
Madagascar is a hotspot for biodiversity. The island, situated off the east coast of Africa, is home to more than 100 species of lemur, of which 94% are threatened by extinction. National law in Madagascar offers stringent protection for lemurs, it has been illegal to kill a lemur since 1960. Nonetheless, the hunting of endangered lemurs remains frequent and widespread on the island.
Conservation policies proposed to deter lemur hunting in Madagascar include educating hunters about hunting laws, increasing local involvement in ecotourism, poverty alleviation, improving domestic animal husbandry, and reducing the dependence on forests for rural populations. Conservationists have not previously been able to determine which of the options listed above would alter the decision of whether or not to hunt lemurs. Indeed these proposals have largely gone untested, and may not even be effective. A hunter, for instance, could be fully aware of national hunting laws, yet may feel the benefits outweigh the consequences of defying the law rendering increased hunting law education useless. The root of the problem has remained elusive.
Through a process of interviews in rural Madagascar, at both the household and the individual level, a new study has uncovered why some people are still hunting endangered lemurs for bushmeat. The research states that the predictors of illegal lemur hunting are: poverty, poor health, and child malnutrition. The welfare of both the rural community and lemurs in Madagascar are therefore intimately linked. The rural poor are forced to hunt such animals in order to ensure their own survival.
Wildlife provides crucial non-market economic benefits and acts as key direct source of nutrition to rural Madagascan communities. Even if wild mammals such as lemurs offered little nutritional benefit they would likely still be eaten, as hunting methods such as passive trapping are far less expensive than domesticated meat consumption. The lemurs therefore provide both a source of food and income for the rural Madagascan communities.
The Endangered lemurs unfortunately exist at the nexus of two crises facing Madagascar: rapid rates of biodiversity loss and poor public health. Those individuals who hunt lemurs cannot be condemned, as for them it is a case of attempting to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. To save the Endangered lemurs of Madagascar from extinction, the solution lies in improving human health and welfare of the rural communities.
Lemur conservation policy in Madagascar therefore needs to be generated in concordance with public health goals. Policies that fail to recognise the interdependence of biodiversity and public health will likely remain ineffective.
For further information:
Borgerson, C. (2015). The effects of illegal hunting and habitat on two sympatric endangered primates. International Journal of Primatology, 36(1), 74-93.
Borgerson, C., McKean, M. A., Sutherland, M. R., & Godfrey, L. R. (2016). Who hunts lemurs and why they hunt them. Biological Conservation, 197, 124-130.
Andriaholinirina, N. et al. 2014. Eulemur albifrons. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T8204A16116806. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-1.RLTS.T8204A16116806.en. Downloaded on 22 March 2016.
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