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Field Museum honors Peruvian organization for its conservation work with indigenous groups

  • The Instituto del Bien Común, a Peruvian organization that works with indigenous communities, has received this year’s Parker/Gentry award for conservation from the Field Museum of Chicago.
  • The organization has mapped more than 7,000 indigenous territories in Peru, which serve as a baseline for the Peruvian government on indigenous land.
  • The group was also involved in the effort to designate Yaguas National Park, the country’s newest protected area, in January this year.

Chicago’s Field Museum presented the 23rd Parker/Gentry Award for conservation biology to the Instituto del Bien Común, an organization that works with indigenous communities in Peru, on May 24.

The award is named for field biologists Theodore Parker and Alwyn Gentry, who were killed in a plane crash while surveying a cloud forest in Ecuador in 1993. It is presented annually to groups or individuals who have made “a significant contribution” to conservation biology and set an example for others to follow. Mongabay founder Rhett Butler received the award in 2014.

A mapping exercise conducted by the Instituto del Bien Común in Peru. Image © Field Museum.

The Instituto del Bien Común was founded in 1998, and its staff have since partnered with indigenous and rural community members in Peru to map more than 7,000 indigenous territories in the Amazon and the Andes Mountains, as well as along Peru’s coastline. The group aims to inform decisions about conservation and the rights of local communities, and their work has led to the protection of both the livelihoods of native groups and the land on which they depend, according to the Field Museum.

Since 2003, scientific staff from the museum have worked with Instituto del Bien Común on “rapid inventories” of potential sites for protection. The collaboration has led to the formation of two conservation areas. In January 2018, Peru designated 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles), an area nearly the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., as Yaguas National Park.

“The results have been spectacular,” Corine Vriesendorp, a conservation ecologist with the Field Museum, said at the award presentation, according to a statement from the Instituto del Bien Común.

A river snakes through the Amazon rainforest. Image © Field Museum.

Vriesendorp, who headed the scientific team that worked to create Yaguas, said the country’s newest national park would play an essential role in the future of Peru’s forest communities.

“Today, Yaguas is an amazing story of cultural resilience — local residents are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who survived the horrors of the rubber boom,” she said in a statement from the Field Museum celebrating the park’s designation.

“Securing this space is critical for the 1,100 Bora, Mürui, Tikuna, Kichwa, Ocaina, and Yagua people who live nearby. The region faces pressure from illegal logging and gold mining — direct threats to people’s well-being and livelihoods,” Vriesendorp added.

Community leaders themselves have echoed those sentiments.

“With the creation of Yaguas National Park, our culture, our forests, and our life proposal are being respected,” Liz Chicaje Churay, the Bora community leader, told Mongabay in January. “Yaguas represents a sacred territory, a source of life that our ancestors defended.”

The Instituto del Bien Común’s comprehensive datasets are the country’s baseline for information on indigenous land in Peru, according to the Field Museum.

A Yagua woman cooking fish. Image by Christof46 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Banner image of the Amazon © Field Museum.

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