Newswise — The rapidly expanding and unsustainable trade in wildlife for meat in many parts of the world—including the United States—represents a threat to both biodiversity and the health and well-being of human, wildlife and livestock communities across the globe. It is a complex problem that demands international collaboration at the highest levels, including the United States of America, according to members of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF) today at the National Press Club.
The United States is one of the largest consumers of wildlife in the world. This increasing demand for wildlife products, including meat for human consumption, and the exploitation of previously inaccessible wildlife populations, endangers numerous wildlife species and ecosystems and creates new dangers to human health, as evidenced by Ebola, monkeypox, SARS, avian flu, and other diseases that have recently crossed the human-wildlife divide.
"The unsustainable wildlife trade has truly become a concern for the entire world, in terms of its scope and its effects on wildlife and people," said Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Wildlife Hunting and Trade program and Steering Committee co-chair of the BCTF. "Many U.S. agencies do an outstanding job of trying to address the flow of live animals and bushmeat into the country with the limited resources they have available, but gaps in information, communication and legal authority between these groups remain; a coordinating panel would enable the possibility of bringing the flood to a trickle."
The amount of illegal meat traveling from developing nations into developed ones is immense; in a recently released report, some 11,875 metric tons of bushmeat from species ranging from elephants, gorillas, monkeys, rats and others were smuggled into the United Kingdom during 2003, revealing a problem much worse than previously suspected. Most of the meat was smuggled into the country inside passenger luggage, passing through largely undetected. No formal reviews of such imports into the US have been conducted but the numbers are likely to be even larger.
On the other side of the issue, experts on the wildlife trade estimate that the amount of meat smuggled from the world's wild lands is well beyond what is sustainable. For instance, between 1 and 5 million metric tons of wild meat are harvested annually in the Central African basin.
Besides being smuggled in for food, wildlife is also smuggled into the United States and other countries for the pet trade (birds, reptiles), traditional medicines (tiger bone and parts of other species), and decorations (skins, ivory, etc.). The movement of wildlife across thousands of miles brings pathogens into regions of the world where people and livestock have no immunities, increasing the chances for diseases to find new hosts in humans and other animals.
"We encourage our elected officials to make the global wildlife trade a priority in terms of legislative initiative, funding, coordinated information management and enforcement inside the US and in other countries," said Heather Eves, director of the BCTF and expert on wildlife trade issues. "The creation of an interagency program on bushmeat and wildlife trade would help stem the tide of wildlife into the country while coordinating the enormous technical expertise available throughout the U.S. Government to support calls from nations in Africa for assistance in addressing this important issue."
To address such gaps in information within the general bushmeat trade issues and for action priority identification, BCTF, in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI), has created a unique information sharing mechanism, the Bushmeat Information Management and Analysis Project (IMAP). This web-based information system which incorporates a geographic information system (GIS) enables field experts to contribute timely information with regard to projects and information from the ground which is then integrated into a massive layered database of information including peer-reviewed articles, project locations, development projects, roads, population data, and species distribution maps. This information is made available to key decision makers, conservation and development professionals, communities, media, and the general public.
Dr. Michael Hutchins, director of Conservation and Science at the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) and former chair of the BCTF Steering Committee stated, "By combining the activities of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of State, and numerous other governmental and non-governmental organizations and agencies into a coordinated effort, the U.S. can make a significant contribution to addressing this important wildlife issue."
Founded in 1999, the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force is a consortium of conservation organizations and scientists dedicated to the conservation of wildlife populations threatened by unsustainable hunting of wildlife for sale as meat.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is dedicated to saving wildlife and wild lands, to assure a future for threatened species like elephants, tigers, sharks, macaws, and lynx. That mission is achieved through a conservation program that protects some 50 living landscapes around the word, and manages more than 300 field projects in 61 countries.