Published 22 February 2011

Women hold key to solving wildlife trade issues in Amazon

Quito, Ecuador, 22nd February 2011—TRAFFIC is applying new approaches to reducing illegal and commercial hunting in Yasuní Biosphere Reserve in Amazonian Ecuador. 

A Huaorani woman preparing wild meat. © Nicolás Kingman, IUCN/TRAFFIC

Instead of a traditional approach targeting male hunters, TRAFFIC and project partners are instead working through existing womens’ groups in indigenous communities, such as the Huaorani, to reduce the illicit trade in wild meat that is threatening many of the region’s wildlife species. 

The Yasuní Biophere Reserve (YBR) in Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The Yasuní National Park, which lies at the core of the reserve, is one of Ecuador’s largest protected areas (approximately 982,000 ha.). It contains the Napo Tropical Moist Forest, and is the headwaters of many rivers of the upper Amazon basin. 

“It was clear that the women in local communities already understood the issues caused by unsustainable wildlife trade, making them natural allies in efforts to change attitudes towards over-exploitation of the rainforest’ resources,” said Ana Puyol, Programme Officer with TRAFFIC. 

Many of the women were concerned about the sale of wild meat to outside markets, and the effects of over-exploitation both on their own food security and on their local environment. 

“Women have a strategic role to play on the sustainable use of Amazonian biodiversity and in indigenous land management, and have a wealth of traditional knowledge and practices, which are key to addressing this issue.” 

“By working with local women, we are helping to empower them and strengthen opportunities for reflection and decision-making.” 

“From the outset, men among the community have been consulted as part of the process too—widespread community buy-in for any solution to over-exploitation is essential for it to be successful in the long-term.” 

Ecuadorian legislation prohibits the sale of wildlife while recognizing the rights of rural dwellers to engage in subsistence hunting. 

However, wildlife from YBR is massively illegally exploited for commercial purposes, mainly for consumption by Amazonian urban populations.

The excessive hunting of large mammals has caused their populations to decline or be threatened with extinction both outside and on the edges of conservation and sustainable use areas. 

Patricia Peñaherrera, an expert in the development of participatory community governance processes, facilitates a workshop in Gareno. © Nicolás Kingman, IUCN/TRAFFIC, 2010

This is progressively degrading the quality and integrity of these areas, with unpredictable consequences for the social and ecological future of such reserves, reducing the quality of their natural environments. 

Another serious consequence of the unsustainable wild meat trade is its effect on the food sovereignty of local and indigenous peoples and their opportunities to maintain long-term sustainable livelihoods strategies, as rodents and wild pigs are their main sources of protein. 

Led by AMWAE, a local womens group, with support from TRAFFIC and two programme partners, selected communities have been involved in dialogue both to recognize the extent of the problem and to establish commitments to reduce the scale of the external wildlife trade while securing sufficient meat for local needs. 

An agreement has been signed between AMWAE and Fundación Natura (one of the programme partners) committing communities not to trade wildlife, but rather to work to ensure their families are adequately fed and their lands are sustainably protected and managed. 

A commitment was also made not to hunt tapirs (highly endangered mammals in the Amazon), even for subsistence purposes.

The dialogues have also examined alternative sources of income for local communities. These include cultivation of fine aroma cocoa, a native species with high export value, promoted under a scheme to ensure indigenous communities are treated equitably in the trading process, as well as production of fruit from citrus and avocado trees and traditional foods such as cassava and plantain. 

There are also plans to support hunters in producing handicrafts for sale at AMWAE-run stores to generate income to compete with the illegal sale of wild meat.

Members of the Huaorani community preparing to plant fine aroma cocoa, an alternative income source, in Tepapade. © Manuel Zabala, 2010

Currently the project is working with nine strategically selected communities in two areas of the YBR, with more than 70 Huaorani families and an impact on approximately 200,000 ha of tropical forests. 

“The project has demonstrated how strengthening womens’ political leadership on illegal hunting issues substantially improves governance at the organizational and community levels,” said Puyol. 

“These have laid the foundation for participatory work with a vision for change.”

TRAFFIC’s work in YBR is carried out through a project on “Diminishing Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve (YBR)” funded by the Spanish Development Cooperation Agency, AECID, led by IUCN/TRAFFIC, and implemented jointly by two strategic members of IUCN: Fundación Natura and the Randi Randi Group Corporation.