When Denkel Ilipi was 10 years old, his grandfather took him to the forest and to the river, teaching him to hunt and fish. Now a father himself, and vice president of the Indigenous community of Wayana, in southern French Guiana, he fears he will not be able to pass that knowledge along to his youngest son.
Loggers and illegal gold miners are devastating the forest and driving away the animals on which his people have traditionally depended for food. And as of 2020, even Indigenous people who hunt only to feed their families will be required to have government-issued permits, which will set a minimum age of 18. Ilipi fears that he will not be able to teach his son the way his grandfather taught him.
Throughout the Amazon basin, wild game provides protein and key micronutrients for thousands of Indigenous people and other rural dwellers. In many places, however, animal populations are dwindling, and hunters must travel farther and farther to put deer, peccary or other meat on the family table. Increasingly, hunters are recognizing the risk to their families’ well-being and are taking steps to manage fishing and hunting to ensure that their communities have food for the future.
At a workshop in Guyana’s southern Rupununi region on 8 and 9 September, community leaders and hunters from Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Colombia and Peru met to discuss key challenges, experiences and opportunities for subsistence hunting and sustainable use of wildlife. The workshop was the first of its kind to successfully support an exchange of information, shared learning and networking on issues related to sustainable wildlife management among local communities across the Amazon and Guiana shield region.
While sharing information about their communities’ experiences, leaders found that they faced similar dramatic challenges, including deforestation from illegal logging and mining on their lands, wildfires, illegal wildlife trade by outsiders coming to hunt in their territories, and sometimes excessive hunting by their own communities.
In response, some communities are drawing up their own management plans for wildlife and fisheries, while others have limited hunting and fishing to certain seasons, prohibited taking certain types of animals or fish species until their numbers recover, designated conservation areas in their own lands or recovering degraded areas with trees that can be used by the animals.
Although many of those efforts are bearing fruit, the results are hampered by a lack of land security, ambiguous legislation and regulations related to hunting, regulatory reforms that do not always align with local efforts, and lack of respect for Indigenous people’s right to be consulted and to provide free, prior and informed consent about regulations or actions that would affect their communal rights.
In a joint message at the end of the workshop, the leaders called on their countries’ governments to ensure that they have legal rights to their lands and to provide local communities with opportunities to participate in decisions and to be partners in the development of policies on hunting and wildlife management.
Land security is key
“In places where they have land security, communities have a vested interest in managing the resources on those lands,” says Nathalie Van Vliet, who heads the Guyana branch of the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme, which is funded by the European Union and works in 12 countries in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean.
“Communities have a great deal to share about wildlife management” and should be able to contribute to the development of policies and regulations related to those efforts, she says.
Communities manage their lands and natural resources with an eye to the future, says Vitalis Alfred, toshao, or chief, of the Wapishana village of Awarewaunau and a member of the South Rupununi Development Council’s new Wapishana Wa Wizzi Wildlife Management Committee.