Although conservation has good intentions, it can give rise to conflicts when the interests of conservationists put local peoples’ livelihoods at stake. A study published in mongabay.com’s open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science uncovered an unhappy symbiosis between Mayan subsistence hunters and authorities in the Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve (LPBR) in Yucatán, Mexico. A lack of understanding and communication about hunting regulations are forcing Mayan hunter societies to alter their traditional ways of living.
The reserve, established in 1999, consists of sub-deciduous forest and mangroves called petenes. Nineteen local communities are situated in the vicinity of the reserve.
A peasant-hunter during an individual hunting trip, approaching a peten in a typical hunting landscape of the region. Photo credit: Oliva et al
“Maya people of these communities maintain a close socio-environmental interaction with the reserve, engaging in seasonal agriculture, subsistence hunting, apiculture, charcoal production, horticulture and fishing,” the authors write.
Subsistence hunting is not prohibited by law in Mexico with a few exceptions, for instance, in the core area of LPBR. Interviews by the researchers revealed an ironic reality, however; even though hunting is technically permitted outside of the core area of LPBR, the reserve authorities have imposed a virtual ban on any sort of hunting inside and outside the reserve since they assume without empirical evidence, according to the study, that subsistence hunting makes wildlife populations plummet.
The authors write that Mayan hunters are generally enthusiastic about hunting, especially for white-tailed deer. Many of them, however, are ignorant of the fact that subsistence hunting is technically permitted. In perceiving that hunting is illegal both inside and outside LPBR, their hunting manners have become evasive. For instance, they may cut their prey into smaller pieces and wrap it up in plastic sheets to avoid being caught by the reserve authorities. Still, many continue to hunt to survive, and plan to continue doing so.
“To be honest, we know very well that it is against the law, but… there are times when I think that the authorities don’t understand. They’re right, they have a right to conserve the animals, but sometimes they don’t understand that it’s what our family lives off, do you understand? And even though you know that it’s against the law, you have to go out and look for something for your children to eat,” explained a hunter’s wife during an interview with the researchers.
Despite the conviction to continue hunting, Mayan communities do acknowledge the benefits of wildlife management as the recovery of animal populations could bring more food to their tables. They are willing to accept management, but also stressed the need for an alternative way of life if this were to happen.
“The Government truly wants to look after wildlife resources…but then what are we supposed to live on?” said another interviewee. “If they give us an option for people to work…people will gradually stop going hunting. But there has to be something in exchange. The Government has to do something to change that, because people can’t give up something just for the sake of it.”
According to the authors, reserve authorities had little choice but to impose the “ban” because they lacked essential resources – economic, technical, and human – to implement a functional wildlife monitoring system. They believe a healthy dialogue between stakeholders could buffer this deficiency.
“The conflict arises from deficiencies in communication and liaison mechanisms between the two parties, rather than a strict contradiction of their interests,” the authors write. “The study and management of the conservation conflict associated with subsistence hunting in LPBR should primarily focus on the social context of the activity and take the perceptions, interests and needs of stakeholders into account.”
- Oliva, M., Montiel, S., García, A. & Vidal, L. (2014). Local perceptions of wildlife use in Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve, Mexico: Maya subsistence hunting in a conservation conflict context. Tropical Conservation Science, 7(4):781-795.
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