Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is hunting the biggest threat to tropical biodiversity?

Tropical ecologist Rhett Harrison wrote in his latest study that the hunting can today be considered as the biggest threat to tropical biodiversity. He argues that hunting and poaching are the two main reasons behind big decline in species that have their habitats in tropic area of the Amazon, Congo, Southeast Asia, and Oceana.

Excessive hunting and poaching leaves tropical forests "largely devoid of any mammal, bird, or reptile over a few pounds" and has general negative impact on entire ecosystems because it also make plants lose seed dispersers which disrupts entire food chain and leads to decline and extinction of many species.

Conservations like to mention the fact that 18 percent of the world's tropical forests are under some level of protection so that we could conclude that current conservation efforts have been quite successful. But Harrison believes conservation efforts are still inadequate because of excessive poaching and hunting in tropics.

This is especially the case with small protected areas that are not "equipped" with famous species such as jaguars and elephants, and are therefore very much neglected by conservationists as a low conservation priority areas despite being legally protected.

Poaching of big animals such as elephants and tigers always makes headlines while on the other hand smaller animals don't seem to get necessary media attention despite being equally important for the health of ecosystems just like the big animals.

Political support for conservation of tropical forests is often very limited, especially when it comes to adequate funding. There are also problems of poverty and corruption that make things much easier for poachers.

In the last couple of years bushmeat trade has expanded to many urban areas and once indigenous hunting has become anything but sustainable. And since the new roads are constantly being built for different industrial activities this will no doubt lead to even more hunting.

What can be done to protect tropical biodiversity? Harrison says that conservationists first must start thinking outside the box and realize that the success cannot be measured by the amount of land set aside as protected. Instead, the success of conservation should be "determined by effective enforcement in parks, intact wildlife communities, and the changes in abundance of high-target species."

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