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Multiple-use forest saves turkey from being hunted to death

Locals charge US$3000 to hunt the Ocellated Turkey.
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El Pavo Ocelado. Foto de Bernard/flickr.
El Pavo Ocelado. Foto de Bernard/flickr.

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The Ocellated Turkey. Photo by Bernard/flickr.

Guatemala - BOGOR, Indonesia (16 March, 2012)_For US$3,000, sport hunters can spend four days hunting the Ocellated Turkey in multiple-use community forest concessions of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. This price tag, set by a conservation and development project, is helping save the species from being hunted to death.

“These turkeys are practically extinct outside of protected and remote areas due to unsustainable, indiscriminate subsistence hunting,” said Erick Baur of Guatemala’s Integrated Environmental and Wildlife Management Services, lead author of Multiple forest use through commercial sport hunting: lessons from a community-based model from the Petén, Guatemala. He has been involved in the turkey conservation project (locally known as Proyecto Pavo) since it was a only a concept in 1999.

The more than 2 million hectares of the Maya Biosphere Reserve are managed by the National Council of Protected Areas and are zoned with differing levels of protection. The ‘multiple use’ zone (around 40% of the reserve) allows regulated economic activities and is the area in which Proyecto Pavo operates. The main source of forest income in this zone is from FSC certified timber, harvested through reduced-impact logging operations.

One of just two living turkey species in the world, the Ocellated Turkey is found only on the Yucatan Peninsula, home to the largest continuous tracts of tropical rainforest in Central America. While the turkey is endemic to this region, subsistence hunting by local communities has severely depleted turkey populations where they are not protected.

“Traditionally locals hunted any animal that crossed their path during the course of daily activities all year round, including females and animals in breeding condition, and most of their dietary protein was derived from game meat. When human densities were low in the region (until the 1960s) this had an effect on populations similar to natural predation,” explained Baur.

“But once human populations began to increase significantly, so did the hunting pressure. In the case of turkeys, when an opportunity presents itself, such as a conveniently located tree in which a flock is roosting at night or a hen on her nest, locals will take them all, regardless of the negative impacts on reproduction. Over time this relentless and unselective harvesting of wildlife has exceeded populations’ ability to sustain themselves, leading to local extinctions.”

The founders of Proyecto Pavo saw the potential to diversify forest income and simultaneously conserve turkey populations by developing a programme of community-operated, selective harvests of the Ocellated Turkey with sport hunter clients.

Proyecto Pavo keeps hunters in a well-controlled situation targeting a limited number of male turkeys. Locals are not prohibited from hunting turkeys, but simply asked not to hunt within designated harvest areas for clients. And the incentives seem to working, with turkey populations improving in the designated hunting areas for most of the project’s history.

“We are the only example in the area of hunting ‘the right way’,” said Baur.

The communities participating in Proyecto Pavo manage local harvest income, field operations, and personnel. At the project’s peak communities were earning over US$30,000 for annual harvests, compared to values of US$250–375 in game meat from subsistence hunting prior to the project. But it is not only financial benefits that local communities receive.

The project employs locals to maintain campsites and trails, conduct surveys of turkey populations, operate the hunts and guide clients out into the forest. This provides local employment alternatives to subsistence hunting, cultivates local skills in financial management and logistics, increases the response readiness of community concession management authorities to forest fire through trail maintenance, and discourages illegal harvesting through project staff simply being present in remote areas.

“Proyecto Pavo proves that sport hunting can be an effective means of diversifying the management of tropical forests and conserving selected wildlife, while still being compatible with timber and other extraction activities”, said CIFOR Principal Scientist Manuel Guariguata, editor of a recent special issue in Forest Ecology and Management that features eleven papers on various aspects of multiple use in tropical production forests including Proyecto Pavo.

“Among other reasons, Proyecto Pavo has succeeded because its activities are highly compatible with the harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products in the Petén region of Guatemala, while bringing economic benefit to the local concessionaires”, Guariguata added.

A similar example of sport hunting’s possibilities for promoting biodiversity conservation and improving rural livelihoods can be found in neighbouring Mexico, where a community-based sport-hunting program has received much praise for its contributions to conserving the Desert Bighorn Sheep.

Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) also generated over US$20 million for participating communities from 1989–2001. Almost 90 percent of this income came from sport hunting, and the programme has been widely emulated in southern and eastern Africa.

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