When we think of conservation areas, many of us think of iconic National Parks overseen by uniformed government employees or wilderness areas purchased and run from afar by big-donor organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, or Conservation International. But what happens to ecosystems and wildlife in areas where there's a total lack of government presence and no money coming in for its protection?
This is the story of one rural Peruvian community that took conservation matters into their own hands, with a little help from a dedicated pair of primate researchers, in order to protect a high biodiversity cloud forest.
On the 22nd of November, 2012, the Peruvian Andes village of Líbano celebrated the launch of the Hocicón Reserve, formed under an innovative conservation model in accordance with federal law which allows for local administration of lands by community organizations (in this case the Rondas Campesinas). The new reserve protects an area of tropical Andean cloud forest in one of the most diverse biomes on earth, home to many endangered and unique species including the endemic Andean night monkey (Aotus miconax), the Endangered white-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth), jaguars, tapirs and many more. Hocicón, a 505.9 hectare protected area, is on the border of the Amazonas and San Martin regions—two of the most densely populated rural regions in Peru with some of the highest deforestation rates in the country. The rural population in these regions—Campesinos or 'peasant farmers'—are predominantly of mixed indigenous and European origin and, like the native wildlife, are also endangered, by land insecurity and degraded natural resources.
Noga Shanee and her husband Sam, of the organization Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC), work primarily in Peru to support the connection between communities and conservation. They live most of each year not far from the Hocicón reserve they helped to create. "We created NPC as a result of our experience as conservation practitioners and the need we felt to finding efficient solutions to the grave situation in which we found the yellow tailed woolly monkey and its habitat," Noga told mongabay.com.
The Shanees' work in primate conservation brought them in close contact with local residents, where it became clear that protection of nature might best be achieved by supporting grassroots community efforts. In the last few years, they have administratively assisted in registering seven conservation areas with the local and national governments before helping to establish the Hocicón reserve under the Ronda Campesina group in Libano. Through NPC they offer Libano residents technical support (GPS equipment, GIS mapping, basic biological assessment and the writing of a basic report), advice on quantifying the ecological importance of the area, and help with legal matters.
Such assistance is necessary because according to governmental demands for conservation projects "local initiators have to execute plans of economic activities and reserve maintenance involving factors which many rural campesinos don't have the capacity and/or resources to undertake," writes Noga Shanee in a forthcoming article, which details their fieldwork and the many obstacles that prohibit local community groups from establishing official protected areas. "The main restrictions found to Campesino conservation initiatives was a lack of access to support from governmental and non-governmental institutions and a lack of access to economic resources for the extended bureaucratic processes of registering these protected areas."
Images: 1. The Andean night monkey (Aotus miconax) is endemic to Peruvian forests which are being protected not by the government or big NGOs, but local communities. Photo by: Andrew Walmsley/NPC.
2. Noga and Sam Shanee have helped provide technical assistance to the creation of the Hocicón reserve. Ronda leader, Marcos Díaz Delgado, was instrumental in the reserve's creation. Photo courtesy of NPC.