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Tacana People Provide Leadership in Sustainable Caiman Hunting, in Bolivia
Regular population surveys and hunting monitoring within the Tacana indigenous territory show that hunting effort and population structure are stable and caiman numbers are increasing, confirming that the annual harvest quota is sustainable. Sales of caiman skins and meat contributed $52,200 to 29 families in 2015 and $66,600 to 37 families in 2015.
Since the 1940s, spectacled caiman (Caiman yacare) were hunted, in the Bolivian amazon, with no limits to the number that could be taken each year. By 1992 the species was in serious danger of becoming extinct in Bolivia, and the government placed a ban on commercial hunting. Following a series of surveys the government, in 1997, believed that the caiman population had recovered sufficiently to establish a national harvesting program, and set an annual quota of 50,000 males larger than 1.8 m in length per year. However, a top-down approach to distributing the quota among private landowners and indigenous communities, and weak enforcement encouraged continued unsustainable hunting.
In 2001, CIPTA, the Tacana Indigenous People's Council asked WCS to help them to develop and implement a sustainable caiman management plan in their territory as an alternative to illegal harvest by third parties. After consultation with community members, 26 hunters from 6 Tacana communities decided to establish an indigenous association to harvest caiman sustainably within the Tacana Indigenous Territory and sell the hides. They named the business Matusha Aid'a which means "large caiman" in the Tacana language.
From experience in Venezuela removing 25% of adult male caiman from the population each year is sustainable. Surveys in 2004 counted at least 3304 male caiman larger than 1.8m in length within Tacana territorial waters. Though 826 individuals could be hunted each year, the Tacana decided on a more conservative quota of 524 which was approved by the National Biodiversity and Protected Areas authority in 2007.
Caiman hunting occurs at night using lights, and determining caiman size and sex while hunting them from a boat requires skill and experience. To reduce killing female and under-sized caiman WCS and CIPTA paired experienced hunters with younger men. As a result, the proportion of appropriate size and sex class caiman killed increased from 89% in 2007 to 99.8% in 2014.
Between 2007 and 2013, the average annual income from the sale of caiman skins was $9,126 ($US 338 per household). In 2014, Matusha Aid'a with CIPTA and WCS assistance started to export salted caiman skins to the luxury Kering tannery in Italy. This raised annual income to $62,596. WCS also arranged for Matusha Aid'a to sell 265 kg of caiman meat to the world renowned Gustu restaurant, in La Paz. This meat processing is an activity which involves women from the communities.
Matusha Aid'a has a governance structure that allows membership and benefit distribution to change over time, but maintains accountability. In 2015, the government publicly recognized Matusha Aid'a as a model of best practices governing the use and conservation of wildlife in Bolivia.
Matusha Aid'a members actively patrol 1,298 km2 of rivers and lakes to protect their valuable caiman from illegal hunting within their territory.
In 2014, an increase in the sustainable quota from 524 to 630 caiman per year, and the sale of skins to Kering in Italy, and meat to Gustu in La Paz, raised household incomes by over 530%, and generated a valuable new source of income for women.
Map1. TCO Tacana I - General map
Weighing caiman/Eleanor Briggs ©WCS