Managing hunting under uncertainty: from one-off ecological indicators to resilience approaches in assessing the sustainability of bushmeat hunting

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Despite the fact that sustainability of bushmeat hunting in tropical areas is of major concern for conservation and development practitioners, we still know very little about how to measure sustainability and how to put in place sustainable bushmeat hunting systems. We review the current limits of traditional methods used to investigate sustainability of bushmeat hunting, discuss the need to incorporate the characteristics of complex systems into sustainability assessments, and suggest how resilience theories could assist in understanding bushmeat sustainability and more effective conservation of wildlife in tropical areas. Traditional methods used to assess the sustainability of bushmeat hunting include demographic models of population growth, one-off biological indicators, population trend methods, harvest-based indicators, and comparisons of demographic parameters between sites. These traditional biological sustainability indices have proved inadequate for measuring the impact of bushmeat hunting because sustainability is treated as a static, binary (yes or no) question, thus ignoring stochastic processes, the inherent variability of natural systems, and the complexity of hunting systems. We suggest that bushmeat hunting systems in tropical areas should be regarded as social-ecological systems in which the impacts of hunting on prey populations are not the only focus. Instead, the analysis of resilience aims at understanding the complex and dynamic relationships between the hunting ground, its resources, the stakeholders, and the different exogenous drivers of change that affect the components of the system at different scales. The main implication of using the resilience theory in the context of bushmeat hunting is the shift from the need to assess stocks with imprecise measures to the incorporation of the uncertainty and stochasticity inherent to complex systems in participatory and adaptive management processes. As such, the resilience analysis provides an unprecedented opportunity for the sustainable use of bushmeat and allows the identification of strategies to strengthen resilience when the system is found to be close to a given threshold, instead of reinforcing fortress conservation.

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