ABIDJAN (Reuters) - It isn't often that conservation groups urge hunting game as a way to save wildlife, but according to one such group, Namibia could conserve its nature better by doing exactly that.
A report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, proposed on Wednesday expanding the practice on farmlands in the vast, sparsely populated southern African country, saying it could help both fill stomachs and conserve nature.
Trade in bush meat all over Africa has been seen as a major threat to wildlife, but in Namibia, the report says, a vibrant bush meat trade could be sustainable.
"On privately owned farmlands in Namibia, large quantities-between 16-26 million kilogrammes-of game meat are produced annually, most of which is used domestically," the report said, giving recommendations like reintroducing buffaloes on farms.
"Making supplies of affordable game meat available to residents of communal land ... in farming areas may help reduce wildlife poaching," researcher Peter Lindsey said.
Namibia abounds with antelope species like springboks that can make tasty meals -- not just for lions but for humans too.
In the jungles of west and central Africa, poaching has decimated populations of chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants. The savannah of east and southern Africa has also been affected.
A U.N. study last year found Africa's game parks have lost well over half of their big mammals, such as the lions and buffalos, that draw millions of tourists each year, to rampant hunting and farming since 1970.
African leaders are increasingly aware of the economic value of the animals in their parks that are favorite tourist attractions, but providing economic incentives to mostly poor people to better conserve nature can prove a challenge.
"Wildlife-based land uses are potentially less risky than livestock production because ... not so dependent on rainfall ... and because wild animals are better adapted to Namibia's harsh environment," Lindsey said.
(Editing by Maria Golovnina)
(Reporting by Tim Cocks)