Much has been made about the implications of a wildlife trade ban from a socio-economic perspective, however what is often overlooked in these discussions is its potential impact on wildlife species and habitats.
This new paper, entitled Investigating the risks of removing wild meat from global food systems, has helped to highlight the scale of the risk involved from a biodiversity perspective. In the study, the authors model the potential fallout that would occur if wild meat were to be removed from global food systems.
Unsurprisingly, they suggest that the loss of wild meat would lead to food insecurity in a number of countries, with developing nations particularly at risk. This echoes the thoughts of many prominent voices on this topic, most notably the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW) and their recent joint statement on COVID-19 related wildlife management challenges – a campaign which the CIC helped bring to fruition as a CPW member. In particular, the first principle laid out in the joint statement emphasises the importance of wildlife and wild meat for many indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).
What this new paper did achieve, in addition to the above, is bring people’s attention to the potentially disastrous impacts to biodiversity that would result from any restrictions to wild meat consumption and harvesting.
With many countries and people reliant on wild meat as a source of protein, restrictions to its harvesting and consumption would create a significant gap in food systems that would ultimately need to be replaced.
As the paper points out, finding alternatives to replace wild meat protein with alternative sources would require a significant conversion of wild areas for agricultural use.
It is estimated that 123,980 km2 of new agricultural land will be required to offset the loss of wild meat with domestic livestock and poultry alternatives. To give some perspective, this is roughly equal to the total land area of Nicaragua or Greece.
This enormous shift in land usage, and the associated destruction of natural or semi-natural habitats and wild spaces, would have an enormous impact on biodiversity. It is suggested that up to 267 different species could be driven towards global extinction as a result of this land use conversion.
While this statistic may seem shocking, it is unsurprising given the circumstances at hand. WWF states that habitat loss is the main threat to 85% of all species on the IUCN Red List. With this in mind, the aforementioned destruction of habitats and subsequent extinction threat do not seem so unrealistic.
This also feeds into a larger issue relevant to wildlife management, namely our need to look at issues from a broad biodiversity perspective. All too often, we fail to recognise that it is our impacts on the earth, as humans, that are the root cause of many of the problems we are currently facing.
In fact, many issues that arise in the sphere of wildlife management stem from anthropogenic activities such habitat loss, destruction and fragmentation. By understanding the origins and root causes of these issues, we can start to address them more effectively. At the same time, looking to introduce reactionary policies without understanding their wide-spread impacts and knock-on effects can be equally problematic.
We have seen many instances where the spotlight has been placed on peripheral issues, such as wildlife trade or sustainable hunting, when the focus should be on the wider ecosystem issues, with a view to maintaining or improving biodiversity and human well-being.
The CIC would like to congratulate the authors of this paper for bringing attention to the wider issues related to the harvesting and consumption of wild meat, and would encourage others to employ a similar holistic approach when looking at wildlife management issues.