Evidence for post-depletion sustainability in a mature bushmeat market.

Published online
23 Nov 2005
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Cowlishaw, G. & Mendelson, S. & Rowcliffe, J. M.
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Publication language
Africa South of Sahara & Ghana & West Africa


The trade in wild animals for meat, or 'bushmeat', is perceived as one of the most important threats to wildlife in the tropics. Unsustainable bushmeat extraction also threatens the loss of livelihoods. However, the long-term persistence of the bushmeat trade, documented in Africa over several centuries, suggests that the trade can be sustainable. In this study, we investigate sustainability in a mature bushmeat market in West Africa (Takoradi, Ghana). Our study, conducted over January and February 2000, combined biological and socio-economic approaches. Offtake data, including information on species identity, capture location and sales price, were collected in a market survey. Species biological data, and the historical price of bushmeat and its substitutes (fish and domestic meat), were taken from the literature. The theoretical sustainable yield for each species was estimated using standard algorithms. We tested the hypothesis that the current trade is unsustainable with four predictions: that (1) the number of animals extracted exceeds a theoretical sustainable yield, (2) larger taxa are depleted more heavily close to the city, (3) the price of bushmeat has outstripped inflation and (4) the price of alternatives, such as domestic meat and fish, has fallen relative to the price of bushmeat. None of these predictions were supported. There was therefore no evidence of unsustainability. Analysis of market profiles and hunter reports suggest that the present pattern of sustainability is the result of a series of non-random extinctions from historical hunting. Vulnerable taxa (slow reproducers) have been depleted heavily in the past, so that only robust taxa (fast reproducers), such as rodents and small antelope, are now traded. These robust taxa are supplied from a predominantly agricultural landscape around the city. The bushmeat trade can have a severe impact on species that are vulnerable to overexploitation. However, once these species have disappeared, the remaining species may be harvested sustainably. Bushmeat management policy might therefore be improved by adopting a two-pronged approach in which vulnerable species are protected from hunting, but robust species are allowed to supply a sustainable trade. The productivity of agricultural landscapes for many bushmeat species indicates that these areas may play an important role in supporting a sustainable bushmeat trade.

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