Recovery of the population of the Amazon River Turtles
About the Implementing organization
Name: Fundacion para la Sobrevivencia del Pueblo Cofan
Year of establishment: 1999
Type of organization: Community-based association or organization, Legally recognized non-profit status, Indigenous group or organization
This project was designed, implemented, and continues to be supported in the absence of outside funding by the Cofan indigenous community of Zabalo in concert with Zabalo's successful non-government organization, Fundacion para la Sobrevivencia Cofan. Over the past twenty five years of the program, Zabalo and FSC have been able to rebuild the Amazon River Turtle population to the point that limited harvesting and commercialization of eggs and meat is once again possible. Government recognition, while slow, has included licensing of the community to engage in controlled commercialization both within the country and on an international scale. The project represents a true grass-roots solution to a problem faced throughout Amazonia, and has not only affected the local turtle population but has also set the standard for exceptional community based management of other wildlife and plant resources within Zabalo's territories. While other, more typical, projects rely heavily on outside scientists, huge investments in infrastructure, and relatively small numbers of local people involved, this project is entirely run by the community, with everyone- men, women, children, senior citizens- everyone! involved....
Forests / Wetlands / Rivers / Wildlife
Type of Action
Protection / Restoration / Sustainable use / Access and benefit sharing / Awareness and education
Sustainable Development Element
Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Health
The Amazon River Turtles were major actors in the wetland and riverine ecosystems of northeast Ecuador during past centuries. Serving both as food and feeders, the ecological impact of thousands of turtles in the waterways was of major importance to the health of the environment. Destruction of the population during the mid and late 20th century affected not only the turtles themselves but the entire fluvial ecosystem. The return of these species has restored these habitats to a far more productive and healthy state. Meanwhile, human use of this resource- long part of the cultural and nutritional fabric of the Cofan- is once again an option. Most importantly for the environment, Zabalo's successful management of the turtles paved the way for widespread application of management strategies for all of Zabalo's wildlife and forest resources, resulting in arguably the best managed indigenous territory in Ecuador.
Sustainable Development Impacts
Zabalo's commitment to the Amazon River Turtles began in 1989, and continues to the present, in spite of multiple ups and downs in outside interest and funding. In the process, management skills were applied to not only the turtles, but to other significant wildlife and forest resources, resulting in a deep commitment to a sustainable use of available resources to maintain both cultural and nutritional integrity. If we are able to access adequate funding to effectively commercialize the baby turtles through "sales" to a receptive tourism for release in the wild, we will have created a secondary but tremendously important benefit for the community, as it not only manages wildlife for its own use but also for an active long term economic benefit. (See annex for detailed info on the "sale" of the baby turtles to local tourism.)
This project is totally within the reach of other Amazonian indigenous communities. All that is lacking is the will. If we are successful in creating a "market" for the well-managed baby turtles, other communities will clamor to become involved. The basic techniques of management are simple. However, lack of a long term perspective increasingly afflicts indigenous communities as they come in contact with the very short term and exploitive goals of the Western culture, where there is little or no true understanding of concepts such as sustainability. Without a positive economic incentive, it is doubtful whether the turtle program, in spite of its simplicity, low cost, and cultural friendliness, will be expanded within a national context increasingly marked by short term goals. However, if Zabalo's attempts at commercialization are successful, expansion will be relatively simple and rapid during the next decade.
Attempts by NGOs to replicate Zabalo's success in other regions and countries have met with limited acceptance; however, Cofan methodology for care of the eggs and neonates has been disseminated widely, and where it has been applied, has helped local turtle populations on an at least short term basis. Problems faced by NGOs include lack of necessary time and training, attempts to take a "top-down" approach with the local population, and failure to accept indigenous community control of the project. In the words of a young Kichwa from the Yasuni, where WWF was seeking to implement a similar program, "its their project, not ours". This highlights the tremendous difference between the Zabalo project and others. Can we reproduce the results in Amazon waterways on a wide scale basis? The answer is a resounding yes, but to do so, the project needs to be spread from indigenous culture to indigenous culture, and at least short term benefits need to be available.
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