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  Bushmeat Crisis in French Guiana

Update, October, 2007: Two historic conservation measures achieved in French Guiana, protecting tapirs and other wildlife!

December 2006:
Interview with Pierre Forget on mangabay.com, outlining current environmental crisis situation in French Guiana.

October, 2005: We received some disturbing photographs from our TSG colleagues of bushmeat for sale in the supermarket in Cayenne, French Guiana. This South American country is an overseas department of France and operates under France's wildlife laws, the latter which do not actually recognize the tapir or peccary as protected species.

Current situation of the tapir in Northern French Guiana
By Benoit de Thoisy, TSG, French Guiana

Free map of French Guiana courtesy Wikipedia.com/CIA World Fact Book

The Guayana shield has been identified as an area of high priority for conservation. Development and urbanization in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana have been historically restricted to the coastal zones. The forests in the central and southern parts of these countries have remained largely intact, providing one of the last opportunities for the conservation of their biological diversity, natural resources and human cultures through the establishment of protected areas and sustainable development.

Located on the Eastern French Guiana is a French administrative unit, covered by one of the largest remaining blocks of Neotropical Rainforest with one of the lowest recorded rates of deforestation in the world. Indeed, over 90% of the French Guiana territory belongs to the government, which guarantees the protection against large-scale private

deforestation initiatives, and explains the rather good forest status in comparison with neighboring countries. Nevertheless, the country still suffers from lack of political enforcement towards conservation of natural resources. Only a small portion of the forest is under strict legal protection, with less than 3% of the territory classified as nature reserves. Wildlife conservation is restricted to a few decrees of protection of some species; and to date still no legal regulation of hunting is in course. Due to this quasi complete lack of biodiversity management, direct threats on habitats and species are increasingly growing with burgeoning logging activities in the north of the country, as well as commercial and subsistence hunting. In the center and southern regions, gold mining pressure is increasing dramatically, eroding and

polluting watercourses, and creating an increasing pressure on game species.

Horrible proof that tapir poaching occurs frequently in French Guiana: hunters discard a tapir head

Logging is prevalent in a 70-km-wide forest in the north of the country; logging roads and tracks provide uncontrolled accesses for hunters to pristine forests, and significantly fragment the habitats even though logging is still highly selective. The patterns of fragmentation and hunting limit the possibilities for restocking logged areas: the current management of logged forests is unable to efficiently protect wildlife, with no plans for corridors, refuges, source areas, etc.


The tapir is a major source of protein for traditionnal communities. In French Guiana, it is also a marketable species, and represents the largest part of bush meat legally sold in restaurants. This activity is highly lucrative, and together with depletion of fauna, it induces strong interethnic stress by intrusion of commercial hunters in harvest areas of local communities.


We recently quantified hunting pressure in 4 sites in the North of the country, where catchment areas are shared by several communities. The "off-take model" (maximal threshold for tapirs: 3% of the population) was used to assess the sustainability of the harvest, and showed that in three of the four sites, the observed off-takes were beyond maximal thresholds: the harvest of tapir may not be sustainable.

Tapir is still a marketable species in French Guiana ... we are working on [putting a stop to] this. At the same time, this is what I found in the newly opened first hypermarket of Cayenne.--Benoit de Thoisy, French Guiana, October, 2005



Nevertheless, some large and pristine forest areas are remaining in French Guiana, and should provide a unique opportunity to conduct field surveys in remote populations. But the tapir is also more and more vulnerable, and an active conservation plan has to be urgently undertaken. Together with technical studies on the field, important components of our action included educative and lobbying activities. Awareness is developed in schools, with conferences, boards, didactic games. At the legal level, initiatives are in course with politics, habitat managers, local communities, hunters, tourism operators, to remove the species from the list of game and marketable wildlife, old laws and definition of harvest quotas are in the process of revision and should be updated. First modifications of regulations are expected in 2006.

For more information, please read:
Pierre Forget's article in Tropicnet, Jan, 2006 (1.5 Mb PDF)

Pierre Forget's online blog discussing the bushmeat crisis in FG (links off this site).