July 29, 2007, 6:54 pm
Across Globe, Hunters Are Conservationists' Greatest Fear
Hunters have replaced dwindling habitats as the main threat to endangered
species as roads provide easier access to the animals and globalization expands
the market for their furs, skin and meat. While poachers always threatened rare
trophy animals such as tigers and gorillas, they weren't the primary threat
until recently, reports Newsweek's Sharon Begley.
The destruction of the animals' habitats posed the greatest danger, whether it was due to locals clearing forests for cattle or multinationals strip-mining a hillside. Conservationists tell Ms. Begley they're now more worried about hunting, which has become easier and more lucrative in the last 10 years.
Logging companies in Southeast Asia and Africa have given hunters an easy link to nearby wildlife thanks to an expanding network of roads. Driven by a global market for exotic animal parts, rather than subsistence needs, the hunters' impact can be swift.
(Newsweek's photo essay on what hunters have done to the Congo's great apes gives a good idea of the scale of the problem <http://www.msnbc.com/modules/interactive.aspx?type=ss&launch=19999335,3032542&pg=1> , but is not for the weak of heart.)
An estimated 13,000 pounds of wild-animal meat--much of it from primates--arrives every month in seven European and North American cities, to be consumed mainly by immigrants from Africa but also big spenders with a taste for the exotic. Three weeks after a logging company opened in one Congo forest, for example, the density of animals fell by 25%.
Hunters get most of the blame for reducing the number of hippopotami world-wide by 20% over the past 10 years.
The old approaches to conservation don't work against the new lucrative hunting market. Hunters aren't swayed by programs like the one set up by conservationists in the Congo, which convinced locals not to kill mountain gorillas by sharing tourist fees with them. National parks don't have the staff to fend off hunters, either. In Thailand's Doi Suthep National Park, elephants and tigers have been hunted to oblivion.
One hopeful sign comes from the collaboration between conservationists and a logging site near a national park in the Congo. The Wildlife Conservation Society and Switzerland-based logging company Societé Congolaise Industrielle des Bois make sure employees hunt only for their own food and that no meat gets stowed on company trucks.
Gorillas, chimps, and elephants are thriving as the logging goes on. ' Robin Moroney