In one of the biologically richest places on earth, IUCN Members are helping to provide people with alternatives to income from the illegal wild meat trade that is threatening local wildlife.
The Yasuní Biosphere Reserve (YBR) in Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Yasuní National Park, at the core of the Reserve is one of Ecuador’s largest protected areas, containing the Napo Tropical Moist Forest and many rivers in the upper Amazon basin. Just one hectare of this forest contains more than 655 tree species, more than are found in the whole of North America.
A land under pressure
This area is also culturally rich thanks to the many indigenous peoples who live in Yasuní. But various factors are putting pressure on the Reserve’s outstanding features—oil extraction, ecosystem destruction, population growth, urban expansion and weak institutions.
The sale of ‘wild meat’—meat from wild animals—is another threat to local species such as peccaries, small wild pig-like animals. Ecuadorian legislation prohibits the sale of wildlife while recognizing the rights of rural dwellers to carry out subsistence hunting. Yet wildlife from Yasuní National Park is massively exploited for commercial purposes. Wild meat makes its way into the growing markets of Amazonian cities through the main hub of Pompeya where up to 10 tonnes of wild meat are traded annually.
Threat to food security
The sale of large mammals has led to declines in their populations both outside and at the edges of conservation and ‘sustainable use’ areas and is limiting the ability of local people to manage their natural resources sustainably. The sale of their main source of protein is also affecting local food security.
To address this, a project aimed at reducing illegal wildlife trade in Yasuní is underway, funded by the Spanish International Cooperation Agency for Development and led by IUCN/TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. It is being implemented by two IUCN Members Fundación Natura and the Randi Randi Group Corporation. They stress the need for the involvement of women as key to success in managing natural resources sustainably.
Research found that large mammal hunting in this area is mainly carried out by the Huaorani indigenous people. After an initial phase of building trust and creating a shared vision, the Association of Huaorani Women of the Ecuadorian Amazon (AMWAE) is now leading the project in the Huaorani territory. The project work with nine communities in two areas of the Reserve involving more than 70 families and covering 200,000 hectares of forest.
AMWAE has carried out consultations and community training on land management and the groundwork needed to establish hunting regulations.
Sustainable production activities have been established such as growing fine aroma cocoa, a native species that is one of Ecuador’s ‘star’ export products. This initiative is part of wider efforts aimed at both strengthening Amazonian agrobiodiversity—the growing and rearing of native plant and animal species for food, and promoting fair trade to ensure that indigenous communities are treated equally.
There are plans to create a fund to support hunters in producing hunting tools such as spears and blowpipes for sale as handicrafts at stores run by AMWAE. This will generate income on a level that can compete with that gained from the illegal sale of wild meat.
There is still a long way to go, but the use of new policy approaches have laid the foundation for more inclusive work and roadmap for change.
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