Wildlife provides people with more than just protein: valuable wildlife products include furs and skins, primates for medical research, potential domestic animals, and special products such as ivory carvings and tortoiseshell ornaments. ("Wildlife" also includes wild plants which are also valuable in providing thatch for shelter, fiber for clothing and weaving, medicines and food. However, in this manual, this type of "wildlife" is discussed under forestry.) These resources benefit a broad range of people. Those who harvest wildlife products can either use or sell them; the "middlemen" who transport, process, and sell these products also benefit, as do the people who purchase them.
But wildlife is valuable even when it is not consumed or sold. The ecological importance of wildlife is incalculable. Among other things, wildlife species pollinate plants (important pollinators include, besides insects, various birds, bats, and even oppossums and monkeys), control pests such as insects and rodents, fertilize and aerate soil, and disperse seeds. Thus humans, by removing too many animals, can seriously disrupt the balance of nature and cause ecological, and frequently economic, havoc. Additionally, many types of wildlife, such as big game mammals, sea turtles, and colorful birds, serve as popular tourist attractions. They are integral in myth, religion, and art and are considered important components of national heritage and tradition. (Prescott-Allen, 1982)
Wildlife Management Problems
The health of a wildlife population is closely tied to that of the environment. Thus when humans mistreat the environment, wildlife suffers. When forests are destroyed, watersheds are clogged with eroded soil, or the environment is contaminated with poisons, fish and wildlife lose the food, clean water and shelter they need. Sound environmental management, therefore, benefits wildlife which depends on a healthY environment to survie
Another threat also confronts wildlife - overexploitation. Paradoxically, despite wildlife's value, developing countries spend little effort in managing it. Rather, the tendency is to harvest as many wild animals as possible, regardless of the effect on the resource. In fact, wildlife, like the forest itself, needs to be managed on a sustained yield basis. That is, only a certain number of animals should be taken, so that enough animals remain to reproduce and maintain the population. Failure to control harvest rates severely threatens the future of wildlife resources.
There are many reasons why intensive and uncontrolled hunting pressure, rather than sound wildlife management, is typical of developing countries. First, there is usually a lack both of ecological information about wildlife and of people trained to obtain it. To be able to harvest the proper number of animals from a wildlife population, it is necessary to know many factors: What are the animal's food, water, and shelter requirements? How many individuals can the environment support? When and how fast does the animal reproduce? Obtaining this information requires trained biologists and the funds and administrative support to back them up. All are typically in short supply in developing countries.
Secondly, people usually feel a great deal of pressure to harvest wildlife at high rates for immediate gain. For some, the issue is as simple as either killing wildlife or going hungry; for others, restricting a harvest can mean substantial income loss. Many people living along rivers, for example, depend entirely upon the sale of fish for income.
This pressure to take as many animals as possible can sometimes lead to harvesting methods that excessively damage wildlife populations. For example, harvesting fish with dynamite is effective, but leaves few fish to reproduce, damages the environment, and needlessly kills other species that may be of indirect benefit. Thus, in the long run, dynamite can reduce fish harvests.
It is, of course, in people's long-term interest to maintain healthy populations of the wildlife they harvest. But, the problem is that wild animals are common property. Thus if one person limits his harvest of animals, there is no guarantee that others will not move in and take the animals themselves. The person restraining himself has suffered, but wildlife numbers remain the same. Controlling everyone's harvest is required, for the sake of the community's long-range interest, but more is needed than people's understanding and cooperation. Also required are data on which to base catch quotas and methods, and effective laws and enforcement. These are often insufficient in developing countries.
Sometimes the commercial value of a wild animal is so great that people go to great lengths to catch it. Such animals include spotted cats like jaguar, leopard, and cheetah that are hunted for their fur; crocodiles for their skins; sea turtles for their shells; primates for medical research; rhinoceri for their horns, and large and colorful parrots to serve as pets. The rarer the animal, the higher the price, and the harder people try to find it. Many of these highly-sought animals are in danger of becoming extinct. This problem is as much a result of the demand in consumer countries as it is of inadequate wildlife management in developing ones.
In short, wildlife in most developing countries is almost invariably managed inadequately, if at all yet, in many situations, the continued health of wildlife populations is critical to people's well-being. For this reason, the development worker can often justify devoting some attention to encouraging sound wildlife management.
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