The ever-increasing human population and high demand for bushmeat has resulted in declines of many species justifying a need to explore opportunities for sustainable management options. This is particularly justified in areas of the planet that are not suitable for crop or domestic livestock production due to their extreme climatic conditions, such as tropical forests, arid regions and arctic areas, where the hunting of wild animals for meat is common practice. Animals can be produced in extensive ranching systems (game ranching), which usually include several wildlife species, in more intensive conditions (game farming and mini-livestock breading) or in sustainably managed hunting areas.
Commercial wildlife ranching is defined as the management of game on a sizable area, with minimal human intervention in the form of provision of water, supplementing food during periods of drought, strategic control of parasites and predators, and provision of health care. It includes all forms of wildlife-based land-use that can be promoted in a game ranch including sport hunting, live animal sales, sales of animal parts, ecotourism and wild meat production. In Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly in southern African countries, a wide range of wild ungulate species are maintained and bred on game ranches. Game ranches have also had significant positive conservation impacts where they have replaced degraded crop/stock lands (e.g., southern Africa). In semi-arid lands, game ranches have also proved to be more profitable than livestock, generating foreign currency incomes, less susceptible to drought and climate change and contributing to food security and income generation. However, game ranches have sometimes been managed to favour the most valuable species, with less tangible benefits (or negative impacts) for other species (such as top predators). Except for Namibia, game ranching has usually been developed on private lands, but would have the potential to be implemented in community owned lands integrating poor rural communities.
Game farming is the term used to define animal production in more intensive conditions, and more generally applied to the production of a single or a limited suite of species, such as ungulates. Despite a large number of economic benefits, the success of ungulate production also comes with certain constraints in terms of intensification, disease emergence and the availability of land and capital investment, which are not accessible to small scale farmers and not feasible in tropical forested environments, where bushmeat trade is more common and the demand for game meat is higher.
Several authors have promoted the production of small-sized species of wildlife that can be reared on a small-scale for animal or human food production. The term “mini livestock” can apply to different invertebrate species, such as the breeding of manure worms or tropical snails for animal and food consumption, as well as for small- or medium-sized species of reptiles, mammals and birds. Among all these options, some species of rodents are undoubtedly those with greatest potential, due to their high rate of reproduction and widespread popularity in tropical areas of Africa, Latin America and Asia. More generally, this kind of wildlife farming is only recommended for species that are not endangered and that are in high demand. One good example is the case of cane rat or grasscutter (Thryonomys swinderianus) production, which has been extensively studied since the mid 1980s in West Africa and represents a successful example of sustainable production of bushmeat. The capybara (Hydrochaerus hydrochaeris), together with the collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) and white lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) are among the most commonly exploited mid-sized mammal species in Latin America for their meat and hides. However, production costs are not negligible and hunting is often more profitable than domestic production systems. Legal bottle-necks for the trade of wild animals (even when coming from farms) are probably the main the reason why farming of capybaras and collared peccaries has never really taken off in South America, despite profitability and technical feasibility.
Sustainable wildlife management
Sustainable wildlife management (SWM) is the careful management of socially or economically important wildlife species, to sustain their populations and habitats over time. If sustainably managed, hunted species can provide continuous nutrition and income and therefore contribute considerably to the alleviation of poverty while safeguarding human and environmental health. Generating benefits from wildlife to private or community landowners through enabling legal sustainable wildlife use can motivate landowners and other constituencies to restore degraded ecosystems, help rebuild wildlife populations, and protect them from illegal use. Sustainable wildlife management is an optimal solution to use wildlife species from their natural habitat to the benefit of local communities at a minimal cost.
A hunting patron (left) instructs a client through a stage in lineage ritual performance over the carcass of the latter's first elephant. Patron's eyes are open as he holds the prescriptive potions in his left hand while kneeling with his client over the trunk of the elephant. Client has his eyes closed, potions in his mouth which will be applied to the lips of the trunk. Some details of this ritual were learned from the Chikunda (Portuguese affiliated elephant hunters) who operated in the Luangwa Valley during the 19th century and incorporated later as status markers legitimizing local elephant hunters among the Valley Bisa. Further details of these rituals in practice are described in Large Mammals and a Brave People. Photo: Stuart Marks.A hunting patron (left) instructs a client through a stage in lineage ritual performance over the carcass of the latter's first elephant. Patron's eyes are open as he holds the prescriptive potions in his left hand while kneeling with his client over the trunk of the elephant. Client has his eyes closed, potions in his mouth which will be applied to the lips of the trunk. Some details of this ritual were learned from the Chikunda (Portuguese affiliated elephant hunters) who operated in the Luangwa Valley during the 19th century and incorporated later as status markers legitimizing local elephant hunters among the Valley Bisa. Further details of these rituals in practice are described in Large Mammals and a Brave People. Photo: Stuart Marks.
Many examples exist in Africa, Latin America and Asia of the sustainable management of different species including ungulates, birds, rodents, macropods and reptiles. Sustainable management programs of various species of crocodiles, marine turtles, tortoises and lizards have been implemented worldwide with different levels of success. In the case of capybara and white-lipped peccaries, natural populations are regularly harvested at sustainable levels in Venezuela and Peru.
There have also been significant efforts to integrate communities into sustainable wildlife management. For example, in Zimbabwe during the early 1990s the implementation of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) was established as a means of extending the benefits of wildlife use on community lands to the people occupying those areas. The main risk often encountered with the hunting of wildlife is overharvesting. This has been observed with the saiga antelopes (Saiga tatarica) in Central Asia or some species of riverine turtles. Therefore, a detailed baseline of population sizes and robust indicators that may detect changes over time are needed to monitor the sustainability of extractive activities. Monitoring tools need to be developed in order to adapt harvesting strategies to unpredicted events or environmental changes.
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