Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Struggle for the Amazon

Hunters and nature conservationists always have conflicting perspectives. However, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon conservationists are trying to change more than perspective: they are attempting to alter the local peoples' innate behaviour and teach them that their traditional ways of living are extremely unsustainable in the modern climate. Tensions between the two groups run consistently high.

"The local people hate me," says Murillo Reis, owner of Tapiche Reserve, one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the Peruvian Amazon. "I know that they do."

Tapiche Reserve

"They think that I'm always telling them what to do, how to behave," the forty-two-year-old said. "They don't like to change their old ways".

Murillo, known commonly by his indigenous name 'Katoo', understands the attitudes of the local people but needs them to change in order to protect his sanctuary from hunters.

"They have every reason to hate me," he said. "I want to hate them too, but I can't."

"These people don't understand that what they are doing is wrong," he said. "They are a simple people who are satisfied with living an easy life... just getting by."

"They don't want to work hard. They don't share your European ambitions."

Katoo, front right, guiding us to his Amazon reserve

Katoo, who grew up in the jungle of Brazil, came to Peru four years ago to start his own sanctuary. Ever since, he has been trying to change the attitudes of the local people.

"I have done many things to try to teach the local people that what they are doing is unsustainable for the environment," he said. "Many initiatives with the community and many educational initiatives."

Three years ago Katoo published brochures and delivered them to the the local town, Raquena. The idea was to educate hunters and gatherers about the impact of taking fertilised turtle eggs.

"A turtle lays about 35 eggs and only about 12 of them are fertilised," he said. "In the brochure it said how to recognise the fertilised eggs."

"I said that if they bring me these eggs then I would buy them for triple the price they would receive for selling them in the market in Raquena," he said.

"They didn't do it. They don't want to be associated with me. I have a bad reputation in Raquena because I am trying to change the way they do things," he said.

The mighty Amazon
When educational initiatives failed, Tapiche Reserve's owner tried to work with the local people. He would allow them to come on to his property to pick Aguahin which they can sell in the markets. In exchange, they would have to plant one seed along the river in order to reforest a once thriving area of Aguahin trees. This would mean more food for monkeys and birds who eat the fruit.

"Of course they didn't do it," Katoo said. "It is an attitudinal problem with these people. They do not think about the future, only [the] now."

This issue is reflected in the mindsets of the reserve's employees, according to its owner.

"I only employ local people. They know the jungle better than anyone and I want to help the community by providing them with jobs," Katoo said. "There are 18 families who come to work for me at various times."

"These people do not understand hard work though," he said. "I pay them a huge wage by Peruvian standards and they do the bare minimum."

"It has always been like this. They have no integrity, no commitment. They are happy with just getting by."

The frustration for Katoo stems from his view that many Peruvian workers are short sighted in their goals.

"They can only work for me for a month because they can not commit to longer," he said. "They need to get back to their simple lives of weaving for an hour, taking a break, having a bath, cuddling the baby."

"They say to me 'Katoo we are coming to help you at the reserve next month'. They don't see it as a job, they think they are helping me," he said.

The Brazillian national blames this short sightedness on a history of indigenous oppression in Peru.

"The local people are used to having things taken away from them," he said. "First it was the Incan oppression and then the Spanish."

"For this reason they take everything as soon as they can."

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