It's not just trees being removed from the world's rainforests, but staggering numbers of gorillas, elephants and other wildlife, which are being killed and sold as "bushmeat," according to a report by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), published in the April 23rd issue of the journal Science.
WCS says that increased logging in tropical forests has spiked markets for wild game by providing access into more than 23,000 square miles of formerly inaccessible areas each year through new logging roads. In Congo for example, hunting of wild game was 3-6 times higher in communities adjacent to logging roads than in roadless areas. Even recent policies that seek to protect rain forests through "sustainable forestry," rather than outright protection, have unintentionally added to the bushmeat problem.
In tropical Africa, WCS estimates that the annual harvest of bushmeat exceeds one million metric tons -- much of it the result of increased access to forests being logged. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, in 1996, the wild meat trade was conservatively estimated to be more than one thousand tons per year, with almost all of the meat coming out on logging roads.
"Logging has pulled the plug on tropical forest wildlife," says the study's lead author, Dr. John Robinson, WCS vice president for international programs. "Animals are now being sucked out along the newly constructed roads."
Hunting by the logging companies themselves has also contributed to the slaughter of wild game, according to WCS. In 1996, workers in just one logging camp in Sarawak killed over 1,100 animals totaling 29 metric tons.
This loss of wildlife threatens the very forest itself, says WCS. Removing wildlife such as elephants and tapirs that help regenerate trees through seed dispersal jeopardizes the forest's ability to sustain itself. Other effects include loss of protein sources for local people who have relied on subsistence hunting of wild game for centuries.
According to the report, the ability of the industry to sustain its logging activities will depend on acknowledging that current logging practices are rarely sustainable in terms of trees themselves, let alone in terms of the forest animals, and to change its current practices.
WCS has called on the logging companies -- often the only institutional presence in remote forests -- to provide leadership by reducing their role in the explosion of bushmeat in logged areas, as well as national legislation to limit hunting of wild game. Some laws have already been enacted. Last year, working with WCS, Sarawak passed legislation that involved logging companies by banning the commercial sale of bushmeat.
"The situation is critical, but collaboration between logging companies and conservationists offers a way forward," Robinson said.
Materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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