Using camera trap data to assess the impact of bushmeat hunting on forest mammals in Tanzania

Bushmeat hunting is a pantropical threat to rainforest mammals. Understanding its effects on species richness, community composition and population abundance is of critical conservation relevance. As data on the pre-hunting state of mammal populations in Africa are not generally available, we evaluated the impacts of illegal bushmeat hunting on the mammal community of two ecologically similar forests in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania. The forests differ only in their protection status: one is a National Park and the other a Forest Reserve. We deployed systematic camera trap surveys in these forests, amounting to ??? and ??? camera days in the Forest Reserve and the National Park, respectively, and investigated differences between the two areas in estimated species-specific occupancies, detectabilities and species richness. We show that the mammal community in the Forest Reserve is degraded in all aspects relative to the National Park. Species richness was almost ??% lower in the Forest Reserve (median ?? vs ?? species, highest posterior density intervals ???? and ????, respectively). Occupancy of most species was also reduced significantly and the functional community appeared significantly altered, with an increase in rodents, and loss of large carnivores and omnivores. Overall, our results show how ineffective reserve management, with almost absent law enforcement, leads to uncontrolled illegal hunting, which in turn has a significant impact on the mammal fauna of globally important sites for conservation.