An evaluation of the interactions among household economies, human health, and wildlife hunting in the Lac Alaotra wetland complex of Madagascar
In Madagascar, wildlife conservation and human food security and nutrition are deeply interconnected as many people rely on wild foods for sustenance. The Lac Alaotra wetland complex is an ecoregion which is indispensable to both the future food security of Madagascar’s people and the conservation of its endemic wildlife. The region is Madagascar’s largest rice production area, providing thousands of tons of rice and fish to the residents of one of the world’s least food secure nations. The wetland complex also provides habitat to numerous threatened species, including two Critically Endangered mammals found only in the Lac Alaotra wetland complex. Environmental managers must understand how people affect their local environment and how the environment, in turn, affects these people, their livelihoods, and their motivations for future natural resource use. Without an adequate understanding of the complex interactions of local people and their natural environment, it will be impossible to prevent, mitigate, or adapt to future unwanted changes in this complex social-ecological system. We used health assessments of 1 953 residents and semistructured interviews of members of 485 households in 1 9 communities within the Lac Alaotra wetland complex to investigate human-environmental interactions (including current natural resource use and hunting, and how these behaviors affect local economies and human wellbeing). Our team found that, while rates of wildlife consumption were very low throughout the region, the members of 485 surveyed households ate 975 mammals in 2013, including at least 1 6 Alaotra gentle lemurs. Thirteen percent of households had consumed wildlife in 201 3 and less than 1% of hunted wildlife was sold. Employment rates and annual income were both higher than other regions in Madagascar, and food costs were comparatively low. Nevertheless, 98% of households experienced food insecurity, and coping mechanisms (e.g., reducing portion sizes) appear to disproportionately affect young children and non-working members of households. Half of households did not receive the minimum recommended kilocalories per person per day. We found high rates of child malnutrition consistent with national rural statistics. While wildlife consumption does not appear to have significant economic or health benefits in the communities in the Alaotra wetland complex, high food insecurity significantly increased the number of forest and marshland mammals eaten by households. To improve child nutrition and wildlife conservation, we recommend targeted interventions that improve food security.