Protecting peccaries, preserving a people’s knowledge

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Chaco Seco is the largest subtropical dry forest in South America. It has many trees, such as Prosopis alba, which bears a nutritious fruit, and Aspidosperma quebracho blanco, which produces a hard wood. The forest has cactus species and Bromelia plants, which are traditionally used to make a textile fibre for clothes and crafts.

Project Quimilero is a non-profit group, created in 2015, that aims to protect Chacoan peccaries (Catagonus wagneri), a pig-like animal endemic to Chaco. We work with Indigenous and creole communities to preserve the region’s culture and biodiversity. We meet with the Indigenous Wichí people to record places, animals and plants that are important to them.

In this picture from last April, I’m standing near the village of Nueva Población, Argentina, holding a map of the area that was drawn with the help of elder Wichí members. This exchange of knowledge was invaluable for our work. We now understand that the Western concept of ‘territory’, with its rigid boundaries, doesn’t make sense to these communities. Changes in seasons, soil-saturation levels and animal movements force these peoples to go beyond those boundaries to hunt and collect water.

When I moved to Chaco in 2010, I realized that deforestation is a major threat to the biodiversity of plants and animals, and to the Indigenous communities. Chacoan peccaries cannot tolerate habitat loss. Our research has predicted they could become extinct in less than 30 years (M. Camino et al. Biodivers. Conserv. 31, 413–432; 2022). Deforestation is due to industrial agriculture and logging. Europe now forbids the import of deforestation products, a policy that could decrease this kind of destruction.

More such initiatives are needed. I co-authored a study (M. Camino et al. Glob. Environ. Change 81, 102678; 2023) showing that there is less deforestation in the parts of Chaco Seco that Indigenous communities have the rights to than in other areas.

Source: Ecology -

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