Published in the Eye Magazine, June 2017. By Tabitha Stokes, Volunteer Manager, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust
Habitat loss, climate change and pollution each play their deadly hand but the illegal trade in wildlife is the unsung villain, contributing to the silence enveloping the world’s wild spaces. It’s worth an estimated 15 billion dollars globally the trade is rife, purported to be affecting at least 50% of the world’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Although the illicit trade in ivory and other wildlife products may have garnered more recognition internationally of late, and deservedly so, the overhunting of wild animals for bushmeat accounts for the greater loss of biodiversity. A recent study* revealed an 83% decline in mammal species in poached areas compared to places left undisturbed. The same research indicated that commercial hunting is causing greater damage than subsistence hunting.
As it transpires the syndicates responsible for pockmarking reserves with cable snares can make a tidy profit selling bushmeat in city markets. The consumers come from all levels of income looking for a low cost meal and have a penchant for wild animal meat. So far, urban patrons have been getting off scot-free – risking only zoonotic disease contraction – but Malawi’s government is starting to crack down.
In May this year, two convicted poachers were sentenced with 30 months in prison with hard labour for killing two monkeys in Nyika National Park, and black-market traders are also on borrowed time. Law enforcement may be the last bastion in efforts to stem the tide of such widespread ‘defaunation’. Malawi’s newly strengthend legislation prohibiting the sale and consumption of bushmeat is a key weapon in the fight to save species from extinction, safeguarding the nations wildlife for the benefit of the environment and tourism.
We can all play our part by reporting cases of wildlife crime, avoiding restaurants offering exotic meats and refusing to buy any items made from wildlife products. Find out more at www.lilongwewildlife.org.
*Benítez-López et al. 2017. The impact of hunting on tropical mammal and bird populations. Science.