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Mzima Springs in Tsavo West
National Park, Africa
Efforts to save animals from extinction will fail unless human poverty is tackled as a part of conservation strategies, one of Britain’s leading environmental scientists said today (10 April).

“Effective conservation of the earth’s biological riches will not happen without sustainable development and greater equity in the distribution of wealth and resources across all nations,” John Lawton, head of the UK National Environment Research Council told a group of industrialists and environmentalists at the Gerald Durrell Lecture 2002 in London.

His words coincide with the announcement that a new research project in West and Central Africa is turning traditional animal conservation strategies on their head by focusing on human needs in a bid to save wild animals such as monkeys, apes, reptiles and birds from being hunted to extinction.

Unlike previous studies, which have focused on the impact on biodiversity of hunting primates, the new programme — set up by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit — aims to start by assessing the social and nutritional importance of bushmeat to people in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Primates and other animals are frequently hunted for food in these areas, where inadequate diets and a lack of purchasing power lead people to turn towards the ‘natural larder’ on their doorstep.

But if the situation is not addressed, conservationists warn that areas of the forest will be emptied of wildlife within 30 years, threatening the survival of some animal species, and leaving little or no bushmeat protein for the people.

The new programme brings together human nutritionists, geographers, data analysts, sociologists, economists, financial analysts and conservationists in an attempt to pin down the amount of bushmeat extracted from forest areas and ultimately come up with alternative sources of protein.

“Our conservation approach is novel, but quite simple,” says John Fa, a researcher with Durrell Wildlife. “We have turned the usual species-led technique on its head by looking at how we can save the human population in order to ultimately save the wild species in the region.”

The two-year programme — which is funded by the British government’s Darwin Initiative — is right to consider human needs together with conservation strategies, says John Nchami of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s Cameroon office.

“You have to include local people,” he says. “That is the only way you can get cooperation in the management of protected areas.”

As Lawton said today: “Sustainable solutions to environmental problems are not a bunny-hugging luxury. They are essential and they demand action now.”

© SciDev.Net 2002

Photo credit: David J. Moorhead, The University of Georgia, Image 0005090. April 10 2002