For the first time, researchers have uncovered a powerful connection between
loss of access to wildlife and micro-nutrient deficiencies in children, according
to a recently published study by the University of California-Berkeley, Harvard
Center for the Environment and Harvard School of Public Health, the Wildlife
Conservation Society, and others.
Hundreds of millions of people around
the world rely on marine and terrestrial wildlife—both of which have been
declining in terms of diversity and abundance around the world—as a primary
source of food. The new study addresses what has been less understood: how such
reductions in wildlife populations impact the health and livelihoods of
subsistence communities who depend on them.
The study—titled “Benefits of
Wildlife Consumption to Child Nutrition in a Biodiversity Hotspot”—appears this
week in the early online edition of The Proceedings of the National Academy of
. The authors of the study include: Christopher D. Golden of Harvard
University’s Center for the Environment, Lia C. H. Fernald, Justin S. Brashares,
and Claire Kremen of the University of California at Berkeley, and B. J. Rodolph
Rasolofoniaina, a local member of Golden’s research team in Madagascar. Golden,
Brashares, Kremen and Rasolofoniaina have all been long-time research associates
of Wildlife Conservation Society.
It is well-known that in parts of the
world where common foods are not fortified and people do not receive
supplements, animal-source foods not only offer protein, fats and calories but
also provide critical micro-nutrients such as iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and
vitamin B-12 (among others) that cannot be obtained in sufficient quantities
from non-meat sources. This study measures the role of wildlife consumption in
human nutritional outcomes in an impoverished community in the rainforests of
the Makira Protected Area, Madagascar.
Specifically, investigators found
that losing access to wildlife for food induces a 30 percent relative increase
in the prevalence of anemia (from 42 to 54 percent) in pre-adolescent children.
“The consequences of anemia like this are severe,” notes Golden, the lead author
of the study. “Children’s cognitive development, their physical capacity, their
future trajectory in life, can be dramatically affected by anemia and other
diseases related to poor nutrition. Without conservation efforts, it is highly
possible that local people could inadvertently deplete many of the wildlife
populations that they depend on for food- and health.”
alternatives to reliance on bushmeat, Golden and colleague Dr. Graham Crawford
from the San Francisco Zoo are spearheading a project to develop infrastructure
and systems for improving poultry health.
“Seasonally, 60-80 percent of
chicken flocks may die off due to poultry diseases that are easily prevented
through vaccination. Chickens may serve to reduce pressure on wildlife, while
also meeting the micro-nutrient needs of focus in our research,” added
Christopher Holmes, Director of WCS’s Madagascar Program, said:
“We also have to recognize that in such an impoverished area, people will
continue to consume wildlife. In the case of Makira, WCS has led the creation of
a protected area that engages local communities in co-management while at the
same time promoting more sustainable approaches to wildlife management. The
great paradox here is that people in Makira rely critically on wild meat for
their health, but at current hunting rates the wildlife isn't going to be
available for them for much longer. Further, immediately cutting meat
consumption will have dire health consequences. The only way out of this trap is
to find a nutritious substitute for wild meat. That's why we believe a focus on
poultry could be key to both sustainable wildlife conservation and public health
There is surprisingly little research demonstrating causal
relationships between environmental change and human health, and this unique
work fits within a larger framework of research being organized by WCS and a
consortium of 25 public health and conservation institutions under the “Health
& Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages,” or HEAL, program.
Dr. Samuel Myers, Golden’s current advisor at the Harvard School of Public
Health, “This is exactly the kind of research we need to begin to understand the
incremental human health benefits natural systems may be providing to humanity.
We suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that access to both
marine and terrestrial wildlife populations may be a key to nutrition in
subsistence communities around the world. The HEAL initiative will help us
better understand these and other critical conservation-public health
connections and as importantly- help inform both conservation and public health
This work was supported through research grants from the
National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Margot Marsh
Biodiversity Fund, and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. The
Wildlife Conservation Society provided logistical support throughout the
research process.This article was first published at www.newswise.com
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