3.8 Utilization of wildlife

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G.S. CHILD - Senior Officer
Wildlife and Protected Area Management
Forest Resources Division FAO, Rome


Hunter-gatherers have existed in arid zones from pre-historic times. Harvesting, processing and utilization of wildlife products formed the basis of their livelihoods. This way of life persists today in remoter arid areas. Thus, the concept of utilizing wildlife resources in arid zones is not a new one.

For pastoralists and marginal cultivators in these zones wildlife has often represented an emergency food resource in times of drought. In more favourable years wild animal meat may supplement and add variety to staple diets.

It is as source of animal protein that the utilization of wildlife is most significant in arid areas. To a much lesser extent in some localities, hides and other products are traditionally processed for domestic use. In recent times, skins and animal trophies have been processed to meet the demands of tourism through local crafts and rural industries. There may also be export demands for such products.

At the international level, the implications of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) in relation to the export of animal products should not be overlooked.


2.1 Characteristics of Arid Zone Wildlife

Many species of wild animals have distinct physiological and ecological advantages over traditional domesticated livestock species in arid and semi-arid areas. Amongst the most significant are an ability to thrive in the absence of surface water (by movement in time and space), to make optimal use of vegetative resources and their minimal impact on the environment. They also have disease-tolerant, heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant attributes and their reproductive and meat production characteristics are more efficient (Dassman and Mossmann, 1964; King and Heath, 1975; Furley, in press).

Examples of ungulates which can thrive in the harsh environments associated with the deserts and semi-deserts of Africa and Asia are:

2.2 Harvesting methods

Subsistence hunters trap, snare, shoot with bows and firearms, and spear their quarry. Fire is also used to drive animals from cover, and smoke to eject rodents from their holes. Trapping and snaring may enable the animals to be caught alive so that slaughter can be delayed until an opportune moment. These methods, although often regarded as cruel and inhumane, in general cause relatively little disturbance to wildlife populations provided that techniques have remained essentially traditional and undue commercialization has not crept in.

Techniques employed in organized cropping programmes vary greatly with the terrain and the species to be harvested. The slaughter of large numbers of animals at one time should be avoided, since the processing and transport of many heavy carcasses implies the availability of expensive, mechanical equipment and a large labour force.

Shooting from cross-country vehicles is probably the most practical harvesting method for small-scale cropping operations in remote areas. If the number of animals killed is strictly related to the labour and equipment available, wastage can be virtually eliminated. The use of a spotlight for night shooting can be very effective for those which stand still when illuminated. Great shooting accuracy is essential, since it is difficult to follow-up wounded animals in the dark. Processing at night has advantages, since it is cool and flies are inactive, but the provision of adequate light may cause problems (Woodford, 1983).

Evisceration of carcasses after harvesting should be effected as soon as possible and certainly within 20-30 minutes of death. Rapid cooling of the eviscerated carcass is accomplished by hanging in the shade. When transportation to a base camp for processing is required, this is best carried out prior to skinning. If the stomach and intestines are to be retained for local, immediate consumption, these should be evacuated of their contents well away from the carcass and transported separately.

2.3 Processing of Heat

The meat acquired by subsistence hunters is either eaten fresh or preserved by drying and/or smoking for later consumption. When large animals are killed, the reduction in weight of the meat by drying is an important consideration in relation to transport back to the village by head load. After evisceration, small animals are often dried and smoked whole, whereas larger ones must be cut up into strips to facilitate drying.

Under subsistence hunting conditions, when labour is scarce, the meat strips are usually cut too thick, with the result that drying is incomplete and decomposition takes place in the middle of the strip. Thinner strips dry more quickly and completely and although more labour is required, losses are greatly reduced. Care, however, should be taken not to overdry meat strips, since this reduces its food value.

Smoking may be employed as well to reduce wastage due to decomposition. This is usually achieved by cutting the meat into long strips and exposing these on racks in the smoke of a slow fire. The construction of a simple smoke house, using locally made bricks greatly increases the efficiency of the smoking process and allows some control of the temperature. A considerable improvement in the keeping quality of meat is achieved by the addition of salt but unfortunately subsistence hunters can rarely afford to buy salt and if they can, are unable to carry enough into the field (Woodford, 1983).

The methods and simple equipment used for the production of biltong can be adapted for the preparation of lightly salted, sun dried meat on small-scale cropping operations in arid areas. Depending on the ambient temperature and humidity, meat can be either lightly salted and sun dried or air dried in the shade. It should be noted that meat processed in this way is not rendered safe if the carcass of the animal was infected with one of the pathogenic Salmonella species. However, investigations have shown that contamination of biltong with Salmonella spp. may not be a serious hazard, since survival of the pathogen was greatly reduced by processing (van den Heever, 1965).

2.4 Hygiene in the Field

While subsistence hunter is responsible only to himself for the level of this hygiene standards, most governments enforce regulations to control the handling and processing of meat (wild or domestic) for sale or distribution.

It is difficult to see how the standards applied for meat products emanating from commercial slaughterhouses, can be maintained under bush conditions. Probably the best that can be done is to ensure that the operators and staff of small-scale cropping operations are familiar with the diseases and conditions which render meat dangerous to the consumer. Waste can be reduced by utilizing bruised and damaged meat, well-cooked, for immediate consumption. Potable water will inevitably be in short supply and methods of skimming and processing must be developed which reduce water consumption to a bare minimum. The contamination of clothing and equipment with potentially harmful organisms can be minimized by rejecting any carcasses that are emaciated or show signs of infectious or contagious disease (Woodford, 1983).

The object of the postmortem inspection of wildlife meat cropped in the field should be solely for the detection of pathological conditions which might render it unfit for human consumption. Aesthetics which form the basis of some meat inspection judgements, are seldom an important consideration when the product is destined for a protein-hungry people.

2.5 Preparation of Skins and Trophies

To command high prices, skins and trophies must be suitably prepared, free from damage and blemishes and be properly stored before being offered for sale. Subsistence hunters and skinners employed on small-scale cropping schemes would benefit from the extension training offered for the correct handling of domestic animal hides and skins. Trophy horns and skulls are satisfactorily prepared and preserved by boiling to remove all meat and fat. Care, however, must taken to protect horns for infestation with the larvae of Dermestes spp. and other pests (Woodford, 1983).


3.1 Current Management Systems

Subsistence hunting has been the simplest and most economic means of utilizing wildlife for local consumption. However, the uncontrolled introduction of more sophisticated techniques to such traditional systems invariably has an adverse effect on the resource base as will be discussed below.

With the evolution of modern concepts of wildlife management, practical efforts to realize the potential which wild animal species offer have taken the form of cropping schemes, game ranching and game farming activities, some of which were launched as government projects whilst others were undertaken on a commercial basis (Dassman and Mossmann, 1964; King and Heath, 1975). Thus, a whole range of possible approaches of varying intensity of management have been attempted from systematic harvesting of free ranging wild animals, through various degrees of confinement to attempts at "domestication", (the extreme at this end of the spectrum is to be found in some forms of crocodile farming which are comparable with intensive veal or chicken production systems and are essentially irrelevant to arid areas) (Child, 1984).

The cropping of wild mammal populations and wildlife ranching have been attempted in a variety of contexts. However, whilst ecological and economic aspects of such efforts have usually received due attention, sociological considerations have been seriously neglected. Unless these options can be adapted to the rural development scene their future significance must remain in doubt.

Potentially more important wildlife management technologies for the production of food are likely to find a basis in the traditional systems that exist in most parts of the dry areas. These cover harvesting strategies and techniques, the processing and preservation of products and, in some communities, conservation measures. Animal protein derived under such systems can make a significant contribution to the diet of subsistence economies, especially where possibilities for domestic stock production are limited. It should be observed that in many situations, it is often the poorest elements of communities that rely on wildlife for their meat (Child, 1984).

Geerling and Bie (1985) examine approaches to the implementation of Wildlife Utilization programmes in the context of overall landuse.

An account of procedures developed for use in culling operations on ranches and farms in Namibia has been given by Joubert et al (1983). Of particular interest are the design and specifications of the field abattoir with associated facilities and equipment.


Introductions: This covers the establishment of an exotic species in an area in which it is not known to have existed in the past. This option must be treated with great caution and as a general rule it should not be adopted. There are plenty of examples of ecological disasters which have resulted from such actions in the past. Often these have had serious implications for agricultural production.

Many ecologists reject the idea of introductions on principle. However, there may be a case for them in a few exceptional situations where ecological conditions have been severely disturbed (Jungius, 1978; Child, 1978 (a)+(b). Such a course of action would always call for exhaustive study and examination prior to implementation.

Re-introductions: In this case we are dealing with the problem of re-establishing a species which has become extinct during historic times, from a part of its known or presumed former range. This is recognized as an acceptable and indeed desirable, wildlife management option. The ongoing re-introductions of the Arabian oryx to parts of its former range have become a classic example of this (Jungius, 1978; Filter, 1982; Nelson, 1985). If there is to be any reasonable chance of success for such an exercise, it is suggested that the following series of actions be undertaken:

Where the animals to be released are difficult to obtain, perhaps the best procedure is to hold a breeding nucleus in free range conditions in an enclosure of 5 to 10 hectares. Releases can then be made from time to time of social units that form, as the breeding progresses. The actual composition of units to be released must be determined for each individual species, on the basis of the sex and age structure of such units under natural conditions.

Practical points to remember here are that it is best to site holding and breeding enclosures at the centre of an area of ideal habitat for the species. Furthermore, particularly with animals that make seasonal movements, releases should be made at the most adverse time of the year (winter or dry season, as the case may be) into parts of the range that will probably form the future adverse season area of the animals concerned.

Where zoo stock is to be used, a prolonged period of acclimatization in holding pens at the release site will be necessary. It will also be essential to gradually introduce such animals to feeding and fending for themselves in the wild. Hence, relatively large enclosures, as mentioned above will be essential. It should be noted that ruminants will have to build up an appropriate population of micro-organisms in their digestive tracts during this period or have them introduced artificially to enable them to cope with the local diet (Jungius, 1978; Child, 1978 (a)+(b).


There is a little doubt that wildlife can be a valuable resource in arid zones. It is compatible with the fragile environments of such areas and its utilization can be incorporated into agro-sylvo-pastoral systems. Furthermore, its management can be integrated with most conservation and rehabilitation activities associated with the struggle against desert encroachment.

A key factor in the future of wildlife utilization in arid zones is the need to ensure that it is compatible with the socio-economic realities of life in these areas. In common with current trends in other resource disciplines, a re-appraisal of technically and ecologically acceptable approaches to wildlife utilization is required to ascertain their relevance to rural development (Child, 1984).

However, it has been pointed out by Spinage (1983), that in most situations wildlife is already widely and intensively used as a food resource. This often leads to a problem of gross over-use, followed by extermination of the resource.

Arid zone wildlife resources have also been subjected to other serious pressures in recent decades. The main factors involved have been monopolization of water sources by man and his domestic stock, competition for limited vegetative resources particularly at critical seasons and destructive motorized hunting with sophisticated weapons.

Thus, the reality today in many parts of the arid zones of the world is that wildlife resources have been seriously depleted, often to the verge of extinction. In these situations, if wildlife utilization is to play its role in multi-use systems and benefit of local people, long-term programmes for the restoration of wildlife resources would be necessary. These would be associated with habitat restoration activities where necessary. In extreme cases, the starting point for such programmes would be the re-introduction of species.


It should be clear from the foregoing that there are perhaps two main areas where research and development effort should be concentrated if the utilization of wildlife resources is to become a more widely acceptable and adopted option generally, and in arid zones in particular.

The first of these is the need to focus attention on the sociological, cultural and economic dimensions of wildlife utilization. m e second is to develop better management techniques and systems which can tap the biological and ecological advantages that wildlife has to offer. King (1975), for example, has shown that subjecting oryx to the same husbandry routine as is practiced for cattle in the same area adversely effects the advantages of this species. By confining oryx to a Kraal at night they are denied access to dew as a source of water, which is a mechanism for minimizing surface water requirements. Thus, an alternative to this simplistic approach is required which, on the one hand is socially and culturally acceptable and on the other maintains the ability of the oryx to thrive without surface water.

At the level of utilization of wild populations, there may be scope for the transfer of technologies between countries and regions. However, a primary requirement is to evaluate traditional utilization systems in biological and ecological terms, with a view to evolving approaches which are sustainable and where possible more efficient. At the same time, practices which can be integrated into multiple-use systems should be identified and developed (Child, 1984).

With regard to processing, perhaps the most pressing practical research priority for the improvement of wildlife meat utilization in subsistence economies is that of investigating more efficient drying, smoking and salting techniques and better storage arrangements. Locally effective indigenous methods may well provide a basis for the development of low cost techniques which are necessary for small-scale operations under field conditions (Woodford, 1983).


The utilization of wildlife resources can make useful supplementary contribution to integrated programmes for combatting desertification. Adequate techniques for processing wildlife products exist and the need is for more appropriate management systems. The resource has been seriously depleted in many areas and programmes for utilization in such situations will need to be preceeded by measures to restore and build up the resource base.


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Child, G.S. Report on the Establishment of National Parks and 1978(b) Reserves in the Libyan Arab Jamahirya. Mission Report, FAO, Rome. 9 pp.

Child, G.S. Management of Wildlife in the Future of Africa in 1984 Advancing Agricultural Production in Africa. Proceedings of the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau. First Scientific conference, Arusha, Tanzania, 12-18 February -1984. 12 pp.

Dasman, R.F. African Game Ranching. Pergamon Press, New York. 75 pp. and Mossmann, A. 1964

Filter,R. Arabian Oryx Returns to the Wild 1982 Oryx Vol. 16, No. 5. pp. 406-410.

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Geerling, Chris Wildlife Utilization as a Type of Land use: An Approach and de Bie, S. to Implementation. Paper presented at Consultation on 1985 the Role of Forestry in Combatting Desertification, 24-28 June 1985. Saltillo, Mexico. 3 pp.

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Nelson, J.B. Return to Azraq. Oryx, Vol. 19, No. 1. pp. 22-26. 1985

Spinage, C.A. The Potential for Sustained Wildlife Use in Upper Volta. 1983 In-Session Seminar. Wildlife Utilization. Seventh Session of the African Forestry Commission. Working Party on Wildlife Management and National Parks. Document FO:AFC/WL:83/6.1. 19-21 September 1983. Arusha, Tanzania. 5 pp.

Van den Heever, Biltong Hygiene. S. Afr. Med. J. 39. pp. 14-16. L.W. 1965

Woodford, M.F. Wild Animal Meat and Products Utilization at Subsistence Levels in Africa. In-Session Seminar. Wildlife Utilization. Seventh Session of the African Forestry Commission. Working Party on Wildlife Management and National Parks. Document FO:AFC/WL:83/6.5. 19-21 September 1983. Arusha, Tanzania. 6 pp.

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