Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Ensuring the rights of the uncontacted

3 June, 2009 - 12:12 -- John Burton

One of the WLT's priorities has always been to ensure that the rights of local people are fully respected, and if at all possible they are included in the management and conservation activities. In some cases this is relatively easy and straightforward -- creating employment is often the most practical way of benefiting local people in areas where there is high levels of unemployment -- such as rural Ecuador or Brazil. Providing employment for hunters (often referred to as poachers), can often be a first class way of getting expert guides, while solving another problem.

However, in a few places, the local people don't want contact with the outside world. Last week we had staying with us in Halesworth a colleague from Paraguay who is working with the indigenous peoples in the north of the Gran Chaco of Paraguay. And the Gran Chaco is one of those few places left in the world where there are still isolated, uncontacted, groups of people. Living in the Dry Chaco are an estimated 100-150 indigenes, who shun contact and have ways of clearly indicating that they wish to continue to live in isolation. In 1998 some intruders did get too close, and were greeted with a warning shower of arrows. The WLT and its partners in Paraguay believe it is critically important to respect these wishes, and protect the isolated groups as far as is possible from unwanted intrusion. The problem is that rampant deforestation, missionary activities, oil exploration and other activities all put these groups under pressure.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the indigenous groups need huge areas over which to hunt, and most of these lands are either designated as National Parks or are privately owned. The land purchases funded by the World Land Trust and the Netherlands IUCN were made on the understanding that the rights of indigenous peoples would be fully respected. But in order for indigenous groups to maintain any semblance of their traditional lifestyles, we need also to ensure that large areas are protected from destruction. By working with all the agencies involved we believe it is possible for wildlife and even the isolated groups, to continue to live undisturbed for many more years. But only if we can fully protect the integrity of the National Parks, and also acquire additional lands to create corridors between them, and also to ensure large areas are set aside [and recognize the fact that the indigenous groups have legally recognized claims to much of this land].

All this costs money. But to be fair remarkably little money. Some of our more wealthy donors have realised that a donation of £50,000 or £100,000 can have a massive impact in this region. It can buy a huge chunk of forest ,and put in place real protection. The relevant government agencies and others are fully behind these initiatives, but simply do not have the financial resources themselves -- there is far too much pressure from other interest groups. But a few strategically located corridors will enable not only the wildlife, but also the indigenous human hunters and gatherers to move freely between the existing protected areas. So if you know anyone who would like to help both wildlife and indigenous groups please pass on the news - it's a rare opportunity, which we must try not to miss.

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