Keeping wild meat on the table

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“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.