Forgoing bushmeat hunting has health toll in Madagascar, says study


Conservationists shouldn't overlook the detrimental health impacts of shifting local populations away from subsistence bushmeat hunting, says a new study.

Conservationists shouldn’t overlook the detrimental health impacts of shifting local populations away from subsistence bushmeat hunting, says a new study.

The paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at the nutritional benefits of bushmeat consumption in the Makira Protected Areas in northern Madagascar. It found that wildlife is an important source of iron and therefore helps stave off anemia, especially in malnourished children.

As such, the paper argues that reducing bushmeat consumption could hurt the local human population. A statement from UC Berkeley explains:

    Because bio-available iron is primarily sourced from meat, the researchers hypothesized that increased consumption of wildlife would result in a reduced incidence of clinical anemia. They tested their theory by monitoring the diet and hemoglobin levels of 77 children every month for a year.

    The children, all under 12 years old, lived in the Makira Protected Area of Madagascar, one of the most critical biodiversity hotspots in the world. The Makira region is located in a remote part of eastern Madagascar, and its inhabitants rely heavily upon local wildlife – such as lemurs and bats – for food.

    Children there who ate more bushmeat had higher levels of hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in red blood cells.

But the authors stop short of calling for increased hunting of wildlife. Instead they say that greater availability of domesticated animals would improve nutrition of communities in and around Makira. Thus poultry and goat production could be a conservation strategy for the region.

A man prepares an aye-aye
A man prepares an aye-aye, a rare type of lemur found only on the island of Madagascar, as his younger brother walks by. These primates are a source of food for local inhabitants, despite being critically endangered. (Photo by Christopher Golden).

“In our study area, domesticated meat is actually desirable, but unaffordable, so one possible solution is to support programs that allow the people there to raise chickens or goats,” said lead author Christopher Golden, who did the research while a graduate student at UC Berkeley, in a statement. “But in places like Africa’s Gabon or Equatorial Guinea, bushmeat is a desirable luxury item, so simply offering people there domesticated chicken meat as an alternative may not be successful. The sustainability of any type of conservation project relies upon local buy-in.”

Golden says a more holistic view can increase the chances of success for conservation efforts.

“When thinking of creating protected areas for diversity, policymakers need to take into consideration how that will impact local people, both in livelihoods and from a health perspective,” he added. “We need to find ways to benefit the local population in our conservation policies, not hurt them.”

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