By Sharon Atieno

With 285 mammal species worldwide threatened with extinction due to hunting for wildlife meat and increased emergence of zoonotic diseases (disease transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa), sustainable management of wildlife is critical for survival of both human and wildlife species.

Research shows that in total, people eat an estimated five million tonnes of wild meat per year in Africa’s Congo basin and around 1.3 million tonnes in the Amazon basin alone.

“We must manage the use of wild species for food looking at the whole range of possible options from pure conservation to sustainable use to domestication. We can’t simply tell people depending on wildmeat as their main source of protein simply to stop eating meat without giving them affordable and healthy alternatives,” said Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Director-General Robert Nasi, during the launch of a new digital tour of the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme projects which formed part of the Global Landscapes Forum Africa 2022 digital conference.

The SWM Programme is developing new approaches to conserve wild animals and protect ecosystems – whilst improving local livelihoods in 13 countries across the African, Carribean and Pacific countries. It is from the work being done by the Programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that the digital tour including 3D virtual photo and video exhibition “Walk on the wild side” was launched.

In the DRC, the programme has focused on gaining knowledge about sustainable hunting and engaging with its pilot communities on sustainable wildlife management through games, as well as using camera traps to learn more about current wildlife populations-reveal if animal populations are stable or declining.

Stella Asaha, the site coordinator of the SWM Programme in DRC noted that the rich natural resources including underground resources, of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve where the project area is based, is a great challenge as it attracts a lot of people. Thus, the team is also supporting communities to develop alternative livelihoods and protein sources, such as palm larvae production, bean cultivation, and poultry keeping.

“One of our main achievements is engaging communities in sustainable businesses,” she said. “And within the cities, we are establishing contacts with enterprises to increase the production of chicken.”

“Food security is all about educating people for a level of coexistence ,”Brent Stirton, National Geographic photographer and contributor to the SWM virtual exhibition space said.

The communities where we find people who are very reliant on this trade, they need to understand that this is not a movement against them; this is a movement that is considering their future as well as the future of nature. So trying to find that core balance is a very important thing here, and it’s not easy. But the more we talk about it, the more we can suggest alternatives, and the more trust there could be between all these different groups. That’s key to finding a solution for a really viable future.”