Madagascar is world famous for its incredible wildlife with 84% of its terrestrial vertebrates found nowhere else on earth. Unfortunately, as most readers will know, Madagascar has experienced rapid deforestation and many Malagasy species are threatened with extinction. Hunting of wild animals for food, ‘bushmeat hunting’, has historically not received much attention in Madagascar, but this is changing as evidence mounts that hunting is an important and increasing threat for many Malagasy species, including its world famous lemurs.

Most threatened species (including all of the lemurs) are strictly protected under Malagasy law (Rakotoarivelo et al. 2011). Some threatened species (e.g. the vulnerable Malagasy flying fox) and many non-threatened endemic species (e.g. the common tenrec) are considered ‘game’ and hunting is permitted with restrictions. For the last three years the Malagasy NGO, Madagasikara Voakajy, with partners in research institutions in Madagascar and Bangor University in the UK, have carried out extensive research to improve our understanding of hunting of protected species in Madagascar (who does it, why, to what extent and what could be done to reduce it).

In 2008 and 2009 we conducted 1,154 interviews with villagers in 13 communes about their diet and dietary preferences. Many lemur species are traditionally considered taboo (fady) by local people as they are thought to be the spirits of ancestors lost in the forest. There has been a common narrative among those interested in Malagasy conservation that these taboos offer protection, suggesting that hunting is a relatively low threat (compared to habitat loss). Unfortunately, our research has uncovered that these traditional taboos are very rapidly eroding. For example the indri, the largest remaining lemur was, until recently, taboo for the majority of the people living around its forests, but illegal gold miners and others moving into the area tend not to share these taboos and enjoy eating lemur. The power of the taboo is declining under twin pressures of globalization and human mobility. For example, we employed local monitors in 13 villages over a 10 month period and recorded 233 hunted indri, and well as 250 other lemurs (Jenkins et al. 2011). This is a shockingly high hunting intensity and, given known population densities, cannot be sustainable.

Understanding the reasons for, as well as the extent of, the hunting pressure is vital for developing appropriate measures to protect lemurs and other legally protected species. In our research (Jenkins et al. 2011) we demonstrated that people prefer to eat domestic meats such as chicken and pork rather than almost any bushmeat species and that lemur meat is very far down people’s preferences. People eat protected wildlife mostly because of the high cost of domestic alternatives in many remote areas.

In June 2012, the Malagasy NGO, Madagasikara Voakajy organised a workshop in collaboration with the Malagasy government’s Ministry of the Environment to discuss how the issue of illegal bushmeat hunting should be tackled nationally. It was attended by senior representatives of the ministry, NGOs, researchers and journalists. The result is a draft national bushmeat strategy, still in the process of approval, which categorises and prioritises strategies for addressing bushmeat hunting, including:

  1. Improving the supply of domestic protein in rainforest areas. Given that bushmeat, especially lemurs, is not preferred meat, improving access to alternatives should help reduce demand for bushmeat. If domestic meats could be farmed more reliably and were therefore cheaper, the pressure on wild species might be reduced. The strategy calls for support from development agencies in improving domestic animal husbandry methods and disease control in rainforest areas.
  2. Improving awareness of and interest in Malagasy wildlife among the general population (especially in areas where bushmeat hunting is an issue).
  3. Improving understanding and enforcement of wildlife laws. Madagascar has a clear system of wildlife laws but understanding of these laws is poor and enforcement is weak in many areas, due to lack of resources.

The workshop was a very positive step and we are delighted that the government and so many other partners working on conservation in Madagascar participated in it. Having a strategy is of course only a first step: all interested parties now need to work together to ensure it is implemented. Not all bushmeat hunting in Madagascar should be viewed as a conservation problem. Some species can be legally hunted and such hunting may be sustainable if managed properly. Parallel efforts to enable people to continue to hunt sustainably managed game species for subsistence purposes are therefore needed alongside the measures to address unsustainable hunting of protected species.

This work was funded by the UK-government Darwin Initiative, which assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity Conventions.

Julia P G Jones, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University
Julie H. Razafimanahaka, Madagasikara Voakajy, Antananarivo, Madagascar

References

Jenkins, R.K.B., Keane, A., Rakotoarivelo, A.R., Rakotomboavonjy, V., Randrianandrianina, F.H., Razafimanahaka, H.J., Ralaiarimalala, S.R. and Jones, J.P.G. (2011) Analysis of patterns of bushmeat consumption reveals extensive exploitation of protected species in eastern Madagascar. PLoS ONE 6: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0027570 .
Rakotoarivelo, A.R., Razafimanahaka, J.H., Rabesihanaka, S., Jones, J.P.G. and Jenkins, R.K.B. (2011) Lois et règlements sur la faune sauvage à Madagascar: Progrès accomplis et besoins du futur. Madagascar Conservation and Development 6: 37-44.

Photo: The Malagasy NGO, Madagasikara Voakajy has been carrying out education activities using their popular dancing lemur mascot, 'Lenary' in the areas where lemur hunting is a major issue. Credit: Madagasikara Voakajy.