Child malnutrition – the hidden cost of wildlife conservation
Child malnutrition – the hidden cost of wildlife conservation

Child malnutrition – the hidden cost of wildlife conservation


Bush meat is an essential food for many children.

Poaching and the bush-meat trade are getting much higher profiles in wildlife conservation campaigning and fundraising. Bushmeat is certainly putting a strain on some wild animal populations but are some groups forgetting that people need to eat?

Lack of bushmeat could increase child anaemia by 29%.

A new study that looked at the importance of wild meat to children’s diets has just been published. It was undertaken by researchers from the UC Berkeley, the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. They discovered that draconian wildlife conservation measures without any mitigating food replacement projects could lead to an increase in child malnutrition and anaemia of 28% and in the poorest households child anaemia would almost triple. Over-reliance on wild game meat is also a problem with dwindling wildlife to support population levels. [pullquote]Children’s cognitive development, their physical capacity, their future trajectory in life, can be dramatically affected by anemia and other diseases related to poor nutrition.[/pullquote]

Anaemia in small children can lead to major health problems as the child grows older. It can particularly lead to cognitive, motor, and physical defects.

The consequences of anemia like this are severe,” notes Christopher D. Golden of Harvard University, the lead author of the study. “Children’s cognitive development, their physical capacity, their future trajectory in life, can be dramatically affected by anemia and other diseases related to poor nutrition. Without conservation efforts, it is highly possible that local people could inadvertently deplete many of the wildlife populations that they depend on for food- and health.

Bush meat provides essential micro nutrients for children.

The scientists looked at children under 12 years of age in rural Madagascar. The scientists concluded that if the children were denied access to meat from wildlife without any mitigating measures then the children will fail to get sufficient micro-nutrients to ensure healthy growth. 

Iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12 were just some of the essential nutrients that children would be denied.

Poultry project to help reduce reliance on bush meat.

Golden is working with colleagues from San Francisco Zoo on a project to boost poultry health to increase the source of more sustainable animal protein. They aim to reduce the high levels of mortality amongst chickens by improving infrastructure and husbandry methods.

Golden highlighted that, “Seasonally, 60-80 percent of chicken flocks may die off due to poultry diseases that are easily prevented through vaccination. Chickens may serve to reduce pressure on wildlife, while also meeting the micronutrient needs of focus in our research.” 

Christopher Holmes, Director of Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Madagascar Program, said: “We also have to recognize that in such an impoverished area, people will continue to consume wildlife. In the case of Makira, WCS has led the creation of a protected area that engages local communities in co-management while at the same time promoting more sustainable approaches to wildlife management. The great paradox here is that people in Makira rely critically on wild meat for their health, but at current hunting rates the wildlife isn’t going to be available for them for much longer. Further, immediately cutting meat consumption will have dire health consequences. The only way out of this trap is to find a nutritious substitute for wild meat. That’s why we believe a focus on poultry could be key to both sustainable wildlife conservation and public health outcomes.

Wild meat is essential for many subsistence communities.

In many areas of the world people rely on wild caught meat as an important part of their diet. A greater understanding of the role that wild meat plays in subsistence communities is needed if effective conservation programmes are to be put into place that have the support of the community. 

The WCS are working with a range of other organisations in trying to determine the impacts of ecosystems on health of local people. The initiative between public health and conservation organisations is called “Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages,” or HEAL.

According to Dr. Samuel Myers, Golden’s current advisor at the Harvard School of Public Health, “This is exactly the kind of research we need to begin to understand the incremental human health benefits natural systems may be providing to humanity. We suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that access to both marine and terrestrial wildlife populations may be a key to nutrition in subsistence communities around the world. The HEAL initiative will help us better understand these and other critical conservation-public health connections and as importantly- help inform both conservation and public health policy.

Tackling bushmeat trade is not straightforward.

Tackling the bush meat trade and poaching really is not straightforward and as simple as banning people from hunting wild animals. Any parent wants to do what’s best for the health of their children.

While over reliance on wild meat will lead to problems in the long term of lack of nutrition and food a simple ban of the bush meat trade will lead to child mal-nourishment problems taking effect almost immediately.

Tackling bushmeat trade will require investment in local food production.

The most successful projects to tackle poaching and bushmeat will almost certainly be those involve local communities and provide help to allow them to produce their own good quality food for their families. Next time you get a fundraising appeal letter or email highlighting the impact of bush meat trade on wildlife ask the group what they’re doing to help families feed their children.


External links:

National Academy of Sciences: Benefits of wildlife consumption to child nutrition in a biodiversity hotspot. 
Wildlife Conservation Society: Wildlife Access Critical to Childrens Health.

Posted in Animal, Human Impacts and tagged .
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