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Keeping wild meat on the table

With traditional knowledge and scientific data, Indigenous hunters aim for healthy game animal and fish populations
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While sharing information about their communities’ experiences at a workshop in Guyana’s southern Rupununi region, leaders learned they faced similar challenges. CIFOR/Barbara Fraser

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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.

   While sharing information about their communities’ experiences at a workshop in Guyana’s southern Rupununi region, leaders learned they faced similar challenges. CIFOR/Barbara Fraser

“Otherwise our children and grandchildren will not know what a deer looks like. They will not know what a giant anteater looks like,” he says. “They will not know what an arapaima looks like,” he adds, referring to a giant, air-breathing fish that inhabits Amazonian rivers and lakes.

Community management reaps rewards

The benefits of community management go beyond wildlife conservation, Van Vliet says. As part of their management plans, communities establish rules governing farming, fishing and hunting areas. They also keep a close eye on outsiders who enter their lands to engage in unauthorized activities. As a result, she says, when communities use their own resources sustainably and are recognized as the guardians of their lands, they help combat illicit activities like poaching for the illegal wildlife trade.

The Wapishana Wai Wizzi Wildlife Management Committee, recently established by the district community board in South Rupununi, helps communities establish hunting guidelines and wildlife management practices based on traditional knowledge. The Wapishana Wai Wizzi committee’s monitoring activities will cover hunting, but will also provide information that will help communities preserve the territory as whole, by reporting on activities such as illegal mining, unauthorized hunting and the illegal wildlife trade. The ability to control their own territory is rooted in the communities’ cohesion and efficient sharing of information when suspicious activities occur, Van Viet says.

Members of local communities are familiar with the animals, plants and fish that inhabit their forests and rivers. To establish a management plan, however, they need more detailed information about the numbers of animals and fish, their breeding grounds and their habits. Experiences shared during the workshop show that success in generating useful information for management is based on a combination of local and scientific knowledge.

Because of years of uncontrolled fishing, a decade ago there were fewer than 300 arapaima fish in lakes in the Paumari Indigenous Lands in Brazil’s Amazonas region. After the community members set some lakes aside for strict conservation, set limits on fishing in others and began keeping careful track of fish stocks, the population grew. There are now more than 8,000 arapaima in the lakes they manage, says Eneias Cassiano da Silva, a Paumari leader.

Many communities now use technology like camera traps, mobile apps and GPS devices to monitor and map the wildlife and fish in their territories. In the district of Sao Gabriel de Cachoeira, on the Negro River, members of Indigenous communities have noticed that rainfall and droughts are more extreme and the natural signals that used to mark the beginning and end of the rainy season are no longer reliable, says Juvencio da Silva Cardoso, a Baniwa Indigenous leader.

   Indigenous elder leads a procession of community members and SWM workshop participants to open a heritage festival in Aishalton, Guyana. Such processions are a traditional way of bringing meat home after a communal hunting expedition. CIFOR/Barbara Fraser.

More and more communities are developing management plans and agreeing on rules that will enable them to hunt and fish sustainably. In most countries, national regulations only allow them to hunt for their families, while prohibiting the sale of wild meat. The workshop participants pointed out that they need a cash income to buy necessities, and said they should be allowed to sell surplus meat from sustainably managed lands.

In Peru, communities along the Ampiyacu and Apayacu rivers are doing just that. After a long process of studying and mapping their lands, designating areas for conservation and for sustainable use, and drawing up management plans, they have obtained certification from the Peruvian Ministry of Health that allows them to sell wild meat to restaurants in Iquitos, a major Amazonian tourist destination.

Principles of successful management

In their joint statement, the community leaders identified key principles of sustainable wildlife management, based on their own experience. Land security is crucial, so communities can make decisions about wildlife management in their territories, they said. Communities must also maintain unity, organize themselves and gain legal recognition for their activities. Networking with other communities, as well as with non-governmental organizations, government agencies and researchers, allows communities to learn from one another and gain technical expertise. And information and monitoring allow communities to make well-considered decisions.

Hunting remains important as a way of providing food and for cultural reasons, workshop participants said. Nevertheless, they share Denkel Ilipi’s concern that young people may not learn the skills that have enabled their parents and grandparents to support their families or other traditional knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. They also worry about new illnesses that are appearing in their communities because processed foods are replacing traditional fare.

The leaders urged governments to guarantee the right of Indigenous and traditional peoples to use wildlife and regulate hunting. They also called for support for local management and monitoring of wildlife, and they called for governments to implement the policies and legislation necessary to ensure that Indigenous people can continue to inhabit their lands in peace.

“Management does not mean prohibiting hunting,” said Sandro Soplín, who lives in the

Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area in Peru’s Loreto region. “Management means we’re going to conserve our resources and use them sustainably. If a management initiative is rooted in the needs of the community, it will succeed.”

The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme is an African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) initiative, funded by the European Union. It is being implemented by a dynamic consortium of partners that includes the CIFOR, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Wildlife Conservation Society and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD). In Guyana, the activities are being carried out by the Guyana Wildlife Conservation and Management Commission in coordination with CIFOR.
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