Conservation and Society

: 2023  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 83--84

Hunting Wildlife in the Tropics and Subtropics

Richard T Corlett 
 Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yunnan, China

Correspondence Address:
Richard T Corlett
Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yunnan

How to cite this article:
Corlett RT. Hunting Wildlife in the Tropics and Subtropics.Conservat Soc 2023;21:83-84

How to cite this URL:
Corlett RT. Hunting Wildlife in the Tropics and Subtropics. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Jun 6 ];21:83-84
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Full Text

Fa, J. E., S. M. Funk, and R. Nasi. Hunting Wildlife in the Tropics and Subtropics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York. 2022. (pp. 410) Paperback (ISBN 9781107540347) £39.99. An online version is available free at under a Creative Commons Open Access license.

This is an excellent book and will be enjoyed, despite the negative associations of the topic, by anyone who has worked on hunting and wild meat in the tropics and subtropics. Other readers, with interests in related aspects of wildlife conservation and human livelihoods in rural areas, will probably use it mostly for reference. Many of these will want a copy on their own shelves, but alternatively, a pdf version is available free online. The book focuses on the hunting of animals for food and the associated trade in meat. The authors call this 'wild meat biology' but give almost equal time to the hunters and consumers, so 'wild meat biology and anthropology' might be a more accurate description of the contents. Apart from brief summaries of the archaeological record and historical accounts of traditional hunting, the focus is on the present.

The foreword is written by John Robinson who co-authored Hunting for Sustainability in Tropical Forests (Columbia University Press 2000) with Elizabeth Bennett, for which this new book is a worthy successor. Research and publications have expanded massively in the last 22 years, and although there have been good reviews on various aspects of hunting and trade, this book is the first recent attempt at a pantropical overview of the entire field.

The authors make clear from the start that the book is not intended to guide policy, but rather to review the information on which sound policy must be based. The message—hammered home for the first 250 pages—is that hunting is hugely important, both for the hunters and for the hunted. The absence of a policy focus in the early chapters is liberating, and the authors' own views on what needs to be done—made clear only towards the end of the book—did not, as far as I could detect, influence either their choice of literature to review or their presentation of the results. Overall, the book achieves the author's intention of producing a state-of-the-art review of existing knowledge. Coverage of the literature is pretty comprehensive up to 2020, selective for 2021, and a section on COVID-19 was added to the zoonotic diseases chapter in 2022, presumably at the proof stage.

Africa and South America dominate the published literature and therefore the book. The Asian literature is not only considerably smaller—only 6% of the publications since 1980—but also contains few quantitative studies. Australia and New Guinea are rarely mentioned, and their fairly substantial wild meat literature is only sparsely cited. This seems like a missed opportunity for an interesting comparison with a region without native ungulates and primates. The importance of feral ungulates to indigenous hunters today suggests that wild meat may have been harder to acquire east of Wallace's Line, at least since the megafaunal extinctions of the Late Pleistocene. Asia, Africa, and South America share ungulates, primates, and rodents, but both qualitative, and where available, quantitative comparisons between the wild meat biology of these regions show striking differences between the Old World and New, both in terms of hunting techniques and in the total meat offtake.

Chapter 1 is a broad introduction to hunters and hunting and ends with a description of the aims of the book. Chapter 2 includes an overview—often rather outdated—of the ecology and biogeography of the tropics and subtropics, and a very useful review of available huntable biomass. Chapter 3 deals with hunting technology, starting with a brief history before moving on to modern hunting techniques, including guns and snares, followed by an account of the hunters themselves.

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with sustainability, from measuring it in a practical way—essential reading for anyone wanting to try this—to the ecological consequences of defaunation. Sustainability is essential for both wildlife conservation and human livelihoods, but there is no comfort offered here. Hunting is now unsustainable almost everywhere as a result of increasing human populations, easier access to harvestable wildlife, improved hunting technology, and growing urban markets. Many areas of the tropics are seeing a boom in wild meat production, but this will be short-lived unless consumers are satisfied with small, fast-breeding rodents. Chapter 7, on the relationship between wild meat and zoonotic diseases, is the most comprehensive and readable account of this topic I have seen. I suspect the authors—like all of us—were caught out by the COVID-19 pandemic, and although the fairly brief account of this in Chapter 7 is good, the hunting and trading of bats, the most likely sources for this and several other zoonoses, receives little attention in the rest of the book so this account exists in isolation.

The last 50 pages—the final section of Chapter 7 and the whole of Chapter 8—deal with potential solutions to the wild meat crisis. This part combines review with opinion, but it is still readable even if you don't always agree with the authors. The review of current governance of hunting and sale of wild meat is useful, but some of the authors' own suggestions read, inevitably, like an attempt to put the toothpaste—or at least some of it—back in the tube, after spending six chapters squeezing it out. Guns, flashlights, snares, roads, and other technical and social innovations described in this book are not going to disappear. As discussed in Chapter 5, fisheries management is decades ahead of wild meat management, but while the theory is relevant, its successful application to fishing has depended on strict enforcement of rules on a limited number of highly visible players. Hunting for wild meat is not like this! I was not convinced, and indeed, was not even convinced that the authors are themselves convinced.

My pessimism reflects, at least partly, my own experience in tropical Asia, where the densities of both human populations and roads leave no non-hunted refugia that would allow the persistence of large, slow-breeding species without strong enforcement. But this book provides no evidence that sustainability has ever been achieved anywhere as a result of proactive management by the hunters themselves. As Chapter 4 shows, humans are optimal foragers, only lightly constrained by culture and tradition, while adjusting rapidly to external changes, including the growth of the cash economy. The authors oppose criminalisation as both unjust and ineffective, and recommend that only subsistence hunting and local trade are allowed, but how this will be agreed and enforced is not made clear. Their 'comprehensive roadmap' for better governance towards sustainable wild meat includes negotiation of rules and quotas with hunters, the development of alternative sources of low-cost protein, improved economic opportunities, environmental education, enhanced ownership of the resource by local people, and better targeted research. All of these are worth doing, but it would take a rare combination of circumstances for these actions to be sufficient by themselves.

In conclusion, this book provides what the authors promise: a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the literature on hunting and wild meat consumption in the tropics and subtropics. It will get you thinking about how (and if) the hunting rights of indigenous and local people can be respected while averting extinctions of huntable species, but it won't give you the answers. It will be useful for academics, students, NGOs, administrators, and policymakers, and the availability of a free pdf online will broaden the potential readership beyond the traditional markets for academic books.