Wildlife hunting for human consumption and use is a major threat to global biodiversity and, paradoxically, to the very people who depend on it. While fisheries research has a long history of investigating maximum sustainable yields and methods for monitoring fisheries stock population status, research in bushmeat (wild meat) sustainability and management is still relatively nascent. This project will examine wildlife utilization in the Congo Basin of Africa, which has traditionally been approached from a conservation perspective, rather than a utilitarian perspective. Wildlife populations in the Congo Basin are notoriously difficult to monitor due to remoteness and dense tropical forest canopy, precluding aerial surveys. The main objective of this research project is to determine if hunter catch-per-unit-effort indices, commonly used in fisheries management, can be used as indicators of the status of harvested wildlife populations in Central Africa. This project will test whether the harvest system for African bushmeat is influenced by factors such as gear-type, vegetation, season, and hunter experience, and will also investigate whether ancillary data of harvested population structure (e.g. age and sex) can serve as a proxy for wildlife abundance or harvested population status.

This project addresses a major gap in current management of wildlife harvesting in Central Africa, a resource that is currently under threat of unsustainable harvests. Millions of people across Africa rely on wildlife as a primary source of protein, and alternative protein sources are difficult, if not impossible, to access. Hence, it is imperative that cost-effective, technologically feasible, and socially acceptable methods for monitoring harvested wildlife populations are identified. Results from this project will be provided to stakeholders in conservation and government agencies in the Congo Basin to better inform management strategies. This project will support the doctoral dissertation research of a graduate student.

Project Report

Please Note: The proposed project was not carried out due to unforseen circumstances, and the full award amount will be refunded to NSF. In preparation for the project, our systematic review paper "Searching for sustainability: are assessments of wildlife harvests behind the times?" by Weinbaum KZ, Brashares JS, Golden CD, and Getz WM was published in Ecology Letters, in January 2013; 16(1):99-111. Abstract: The unsustainable harvest of wildlife is a major threat to global biodiversity and to the millions of people who depend on wildlife for food and income. Past research has called attention to the fact that commonly used methods to evaluate the sustainability of wildlife hunting perform poorly, yet these methods remain in popular use today. Here, we conduct a systematic review of empirical sustainability assessments to quantify the use of sustainability indicators in the scientific literature and highlight associations between analytical methods and their outcomes. We find that indicator type, continent of study, species body mass, taxonomic group and socio-economic status of study site are important predictors of the probability of reported sustainability. The most common measures of sustainability include population growth models, the Robinson & Redford (1991) model and population trends through time. Indicators relying on population-specific biological data are most often used in North America and Europe, while cruder estimates are more often used in Africa, Latin America and Oceania. Our results highlight both the uncertainty and lack of uniformity in sustainability science. Given our urgent need to conserve both wildlife and the food security of rural peoples around the world, improvements in sustainability indicators are of utmost importance.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
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Alan James Tessier
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University of California Berkeley
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