Hunting, Logging & Living: the impacts of logging and indigenous hunting on large mammals

Wildlife conservation and management programmes are dependent on crucial information on animal populations, including their numbers, movements, habitat use, and how they respond to land-use and land cover changes. Such information is essential if conservation objectives related to species protection, sustainable management, and reduction of human-wildlife conflicts are to be achieved. However, quantifying the impacts of human activities on wildlife is complex. For instance, activities such as logging opens up roads and provides access to remote forested areas, which can lead to hunting and poaching of wildlife.

Image1 Logging in the tropics, Suriname © Dr. Anand Roopsind

As researchers and conservationists, we need to resolve these questions as protected areas alone are not sufficient to maintain viable populations of certain animals, especially for large-bodied mammals such as jaguars, that require extensive areas to survive and hunt for food. These large-bodies mammals are often the preferred species of most human hunters. The populations of these species are also the first to decline because of their low reproduction rates. A decrease in the populations of these large mammals may directly affect the survival and recruitment of many tree species through the loss of their dispersal services. For instance, tapirs (Tapirus spp.), the largest mammal native to the neotropics, and an often over- hunted herbivore, are essential seed dispersers for many large-seeded tree species such as Manilkara zapota, a canopy tree species commercially important for both its timber and latex.

Protected areas are and will remain critical for conservation, but many are not large enough to maintain viable populations of large-bodied mammals with large home ranges. As selective logging leaves most of the forest intact, extensive production forests adjacent to protected areas will allow continued animal movements and thereby reduce fragmentation. Conservation strategies that include managed forests may be able to contribute to the survival of these species.

Still, we lack the knowledge of specific forest management practices that are compatible with conservation. Resolving this gap is especially important in tropical forests, where the area allocated for industrial logging, and community-owned forests account for over 50% of all remaining tropical forests. The specific forest management practices needed to ensure these productive forests can maintain their biodiversity are especially difficult to quantify because of the synergies between logging and hunting. Untangling the effects of logging from those associated with hunting is more complicated as subsistence hunting by indigenous people in countries like Guyana is legally sanctioned and managed forests abut or overlap with their traditional lands. Additionally, the response of large animals to the impact of logging alone is poorly understood due to their cryptic behavior and low densities.

Image2Species captured on remotely triggered cameras in a logged forest located in Guyana. (A) Panthera onca (jaguar), an apex predator; (B) Tapirus terrestris (low-land tapir), the largest neotropical frugivore; (C) Mazama Americana (red-brocket deer); (D) Priodontes maximus (giant armadillo), a rare and cryptic insectivore; (E) Leopardus weidii (ocelot), a mesopredator; (F) Pecari tajacu (collared peccary). Humans hunt Tapirs, deer, armadillos, and peccaries. © Dr. Anand Roopsind

In the last ten (10) years, however, camera-traps, which take a flash photo when an animal triggers an infrared sensor, have revolutionized wildlife research and conservation. Camera traps have enabled researchers to collect the necessary data on animal abundance and behavior to begin answering these questions. Further, collaborative research that includes forest managers and indigenous communities that occupy and utilize these forests has added the necessary human component associated with such studies. Here, several colleagues and I leveraged relationships with forest managers and the Makushi tribes in southern Guyana, specifically the Iwokrama Forest, to assess the effects of logging and hunting on large animals in a multiple-use forest.

We utilized camera traps to survey the presence and absence of wildlife in both logged and unlogged forests, and long-term data on hunting collected by the indigenous communities. We coupled these datasets into statistical methods known as occupancy models. The probability of different animal species being found in logged versus unlogged forests was quantified, allowing us to separate the impact of hunting from logging. Our study showed that logging did not negatively impact biodiversity, with species such as jaguars and pumas regularly using logging roads to move around the forests. Hunting did have a weak effect, reducing the probability of detecting species. Our models also predicted higher species richness in the logged forest compared to the unlogged forest, with density estimates (i.e., the number of animals) for jaguars and ocelots being similar to estimates reported for protected areas.

Image3Many indigenous peoples in the Rupununi region of Guyana rely on hunting for food and nutrients. © FAO/David Mansell-Moullin

Further, our study showed that management in the Iwokrama Forest was able to achieve positive biodiversity benefits under logging and indigenous hunting because these forests are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), with indigenous communities actively involved in forest management. Additionally, the ability to control forest access and nesting production forests in a landscape that includes fully protected areas seemed important for these biodiversity outcomes. In summary, our research highlights the conditions necessary to protect biodiversity in logged forests, which includes adhering to sustainable forest management practices, control of access, and inclusion of indigenous communities in forest management.

About the author: Dr. Anand Roopsind is a quantitative ecologist from Guyana, South America, who works with satellite imagery, field data, and statistical models. His research informs the management of forest ecosystems for people, biodiversity, and climate benefits. Anand did a Ph.D. at the University of Florida in the US as a WWF Education for Nature Fellow, and previously worked at the Iwokrama International Centre in Guyana. Currently, Anand focuses on quantifying the impact of carbon payments as a conservation strategy, especially in the Guiana Shield ecoregion. You can reach Dr. Roopsind at aroopsind@gmail.com.

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