By Sarah Griffiths
Alarming evidence has revealed that Brazilian city dwellers are regularly dining on endangered animals.
Scientists warn the taste for bushmeat in urban environments poses a particular threat to Amazonian wildlife.
They say that the voracious appetite for jungle-dwelling creatures is two-fold: The high level of poverty makes the animals attractive because they are free, while at the other end of society creatures, such as the yellow-spotted river turtle, are treated as delicacies.
Experts from Lancaster University and Brazil interviewed households in two Brazilian ‘prefrontier’ cities – those that are surrounded by more than 90 per cent of their original forest cover.
They found that virtually all urban households in the cities of Borba and Novo Aripuanã consumed jungle wildlife for food.
Almost all of the 153 households – 99 per cent – eat fish found in the forests at least once a month, while 79 per cent eat bushmeat made up of both mammals and birds.
Nearly half of the households surveyed – 48 per cent - said they eat turtles and tortoises, with 28 per cent feasting on crocodile-like caimans.
Some of the species being eaten are classed as endangered, vulnerable and threatened.
These include the white-lipped peccary – a type of forest pig – which despite being ‘near threatened’,was eaten by 19 per cent of those surveyed.
Some 15 per cent of people living in the Amazonian cities have eaten ‘vulnerable’ lowland tapir and 22 per cent of households have feasted on equally vulnerable yellow-spotted river turtles.
‘The high percentage of families that had recently eaten the yellow-spotted river turtle was probably the most surprising,’ study leader Dr Luke Parry, told MailOnline.
‘I was very surprised to find that such a high proportion of urban households consume bushmeat.’
Rare fish including arapaima, tambaqui, dourada and filhote have also ended up on between 15 and 29 per cent of dinner plates, with the vulnerable peacock bass proving a catch for 59 per cent of households.
It was previously assumed that there is low urban demand for bushmeat, but the study, published in the journal Conservation Letters, claims this is incorrect.
Dr Parry said: ‘The rapid urbanisation of forested wilderness in the Amazon could threaten biodiversity if expanding cities drive demand for wildlife as food.
‘There are around 73 cities such as those we studied, occupying around 1.86 million square km2 of forest.
‘Previously it was thought that city dwellers did not consume much wildlife but we found that was not the case. In fact, nearly every household did.
‘People were hunting, fishing and consuming wildlife for a number of different reasons, for some bushmeat was the most affordable protein source they could access, for others it was a question of preference for eating particular “prestige” species.’
He explained that large turtles can cost £100 each, and that tambaqui fish can fetch a similar amount among Brazil’s growing upper class.
‘Both these species are eaten because they are traditional regional delicacies,’ he said.
He believes that programmes to start a long-term trend away from bushmeat as a means to protein to luxury food, could help the situation, but not solve it completely.
‘We need to find ways of alleviating poverty and supplying poor city-dwellers with affordable alternatives to eating wildlife so that in the long term wildlife ceases to be an economical source of protein for the poor,’ Dr Parry said.
‘Innovative environmental governance could limit wildlife consumption to only harvest-tolerant species.’ Graphics.