Community-based conservation program of Amazon river turtles with indigenous and communities of Colombia and Peru
Podocnemis sextuberculata. Photo: Andrés Felipe Aponte
Despite the amazing biodiversity of Amazonian fauna, many native populations have been critically reduced towards their extinction over the last decades; this is the case of the three species of Amazon River turtles: the giant South American turtle or arrau turtle (Podocnemis expansa), the yellow spotted river turtle (P. unifilis) and the six tuberculed river turtle (P. sextuberculata). One of the main causes for such reduction has been high utilization levels by indigenous communities for commercialisation and local consumption. These turtles have reproductive periods and nesting beaches well known to the local inhabitants, who profit to extract eggs and nesting females (which can be more than 100 years old). Systematic nests predation and nesting females consumption are perhaps the greatest threats to these species in Amazonia, causing them to be included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources)
- Threat status
At a global level, P. sextuberculata is listed as Vulnerable (VU; IUCN, ver 2.3, 1996). P. expansa was updated from Lower Risk (LR/CD) to Critically Endangered (CR) and P. unifilis from as Vulnerable (VU) to Endangered (EN) in the 2011 draft by the Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles Specialist Group (Turtle Taxonomy Working Group, 2014). Regionally, P. unifilis and P. expansa are Endangered (EN) in the Colombian Amazonia (Castaño-Mora, 2002), while P. sextuberculata is Data Deficient (DD), but also probably threatened (Castaño-Mora & Medem, 2002). Based on key informants and personal observations in the project area, local populations of the three species have been strongly reduced over the last decades and are reaching critical levels, in particular of P. expansa and P. sextuberculata, due to excessive commercialization of eggs and females in the major ports (Leticia, Tabatinga and Santa Rosa).
- IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. . Downloaded on 20 may 2015.
- Castaño-Mora, O.V. (Ed.). 2002. Libro rojo de reptiles de Colombia. Serie Libros Rojos de Especies Amenazadas de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales-Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Ministerio del Medio Ambiente, Conservación Internacional-Colombia. Bogotá, Colombia, pp 92-94.
- Castaño-Mora, O.V., and Medem, F. 2002. Podocnemis sextuberculata. In: Castaño-Mora OV (Ed.). Libro rojo de reptiles de Colombia. Serie Libros Rojos de Especies Amenazadas de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales-Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Ministerio del Medio Ambiente, Conservación Internacional-Colombia. Bogotá, Colombia, pp 92-94.
- Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B., and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7):000.329–479, doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014.
A fundamental aspect of this situation are the socio-economic conditions of indigenous communities in the area, who live in their majority in abandonment and poverty, lacking of alternatives different to direct exploitation of natural resources; many fishermen and their families must rely on selling turtles and eggs in the major ports during the nesting season in order to subsist. Therefore, it is necessary to look for ideas and possible standard solutions from a multidisciplinary base, where external organisations can support initiatives and local social and economic needs and vice-versa. These ideas and possible standard solutions have to fulfil sustainability of natural resources as a requirement, based on identification and use of traditional knowledge and seeking a greater cultural, political, economical and ecological recognition of the local communities.
This program was formulated by initiative of the Curuinsi Huasi indigenous association of the Santa Sofia Indigenous Reserve, Colombia. Since 2008, it aims to generate appropriation of river turtle conservation by Colombian and Peruvian indigenous communities that inhabit the area, through empowerment and capacity-building of local conservation groups, specific conservation actions, environmental education and support to conservation-based economic initiatives.
Fernando Arbeláez MSc: Project coordinator
Andrés Felipe Aponte: Researcher in biology and conservation
Nabil Carihuasari: Field coordinator
Diana Gutiérrez: Researcher in environmental education
Mario Vargas Ramírez: Project advisor
Natalia Gallego: Project advisor
Local Conservation Groups:
- Curuinsi Huasi, El Progreso and Nuevo Jardín, Colombia
- Yahuma I and Barranco, Peru