Ian Redmond, the Year of Gorilla Ambassador Ian Redmond said during the World Forestry Congress, recently held in Buenos Aires, that protecting animals and stopping bush meat trade are not a matter of choice, but are actually an essential part of forest preservation. He stated: “Forests don’t have biodiversity, they ARE biodiversity. If we take out the animals, we are removing a key element of the forest life cycle”.
Animals are crucial for seed dispersal, as many plants can’t germinate without first passing through the digestive tract of species such as gorillas, elephants or birds. According to Redmond, 75% of forest depends on animals to maintain species richness and the natural cycle. More biodiversity, Redmond emphasized, also means a bigger capacity of the forest to overcome with adverse situations, such as changes in rain patterns that can occur as a result of global warming (read a recent press release by the Biodiversity Convention on this topic here).
Hunting for bushmeat contributes strongly to the extinction or significant reduction of some species, among them gorillas. At the same time, in a number of tropical countries bushmeat is also an important source of protein for people. “In at least 62 countries, wild animals and fish constitute a minimum of 20% of the animal protein in rural diets”, says a bushmeat study by the UN Biodiversity Convention. In Central Africa alone, 30% to 80% of the total protein ingested by farmers comes from hunting.
Redmond explained that in places where there is a market for this meat nearby, it stimulates hunting. “The trade in bushmeat is leaving the forests empty. My hope is that some explicit statement about it would be made by countries if they decide to include a payment for the carbon store in the forests in the new climate deal”.
A new agreement to control global warming will be discussed at a United Nations summit this December in Copenhagen. One of the key points being negotiated is a mechanism to reduce deforestation in developing countries through financial incentives for forest protection from developed nations, called REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
Deforestation is highlighted by a global community of scientists as responsible for about 20% of total CO2 emissions, which they say is the main cause of the increase of temperatures. “It’s represents 5.86 billion tons of carbon dioxide, as much as is emitted by the United States or China per year”, says Tina Vahanen, from the UN REDD Secretariat.