A new global review has stated that big animals such as primates, elephants and rhinos are at the highest risk of extinction in nature reserves and national parks of the world's poorest countries. The review said that the threat faced by species in poorer countries could be due to a lack of resources for conservation and surge bushmeat trade.

Illegal hunting was highlighted as one of the key reasons for this trend. Dr. Alfan Rija, lead author of the study, said. "The threat from illegal hunting is particularly dangerous to large mammals because they have slow growth rates and so over-hunting is likely to cause population decline."

Elephant
Elephant Pexels/Harvey Sapir

Several Key Reasons

The review, which looked at 81 studies carried out between 1980 and 2020, found that illegal hunting was causing worrying declines in the big mammal populations of protected areas across the globe, and particularly in poorer countries.

In the four continents included in the study, 294 different mammal species were discovered to have been illegally hunted in the national parks created to protect them. In order to protect species, governments and policymakers need to focus on tackling human poverty, the researchers urge.

Dr. Rija said: "We have known for several years that illegal hunting reduces mammal populations, but our review reveals that this is happening even inside protected areas and particularly affects larger mammals (those with a body mass of over 100kg) in the poorest countries. In poorer countries such as my home of Tanzania, bushmeat is a valuable source of income and protein in some areas and there is also less resources available to invest in the security and policing of national parks."

Eastern Lowland Gorilla
Eastern Lowland Gorilla YouTube grab

"Aside from concerns about the future of many of these species being in peril, the loss of mammals due to illegal hunting pressure has been related to substantial loss of important functional characteristics in an ecosystem. They support many ecological interactions - such as seed dispersal and regeneration - and their decline threatens wider biodiversity," appended Rija.

Asia At A Larger Risk

The study found that in general across the globe, stricter protected areas showed lower rates of large mammal population decline. However, this was not the case in Asia, where stricter national parks had higher rates of illegal hunting and species decline.

Senior author of the study, Dr. Colin Beale, said, "Our research adds to a growing number of studies that suggest Asia is currently a particular focus for the illegal trade of wildlife body parts. Despite strict laws, illegal hunters may be forced to enter protected areas where most sought-after species such as snow leopard, tiger, pangolin, orangutans and sun bears still remain.

"Improving the effectiveness of Asian protected areas will be important to strengthen biodiversity conservation across continental Asia, and is likely to need a range of measures including ensuing effective law enforcement as well as work with communities in and around valuable wildlife areas," added Beale.

(With inputs from agencies)