Tacana indigenous people benefit from protecting caiman in Bolivia

Tacana indigenous people benefit from protecting caiman in Bolivia


Regular surveys within the Tacana indigenous territory show that caiman numbers are increasing, confirming that the annual harvest quota is sustainable. Sales of caiman skins and meat contributed $52,200 to 29 families and $66,600 to 37 in four Tacana communities in 2014 and 2015 respectively.


Since the 1940s, spectacled caiman (Caiman yacare) were hunted, in the Bolivian amazon, with no limits to the number that could be taken each year. By 1992 the species was in serious danger of becoming extinct in Bolivia and the government placed a ban on commercial hunting. Following a series of surveys the state, in 1997, believed that the caiman population had recovered sufficiently to establish a national harvesting program and set an annual quota of 50,000 males larger than 1.8 m in length. A top-down approach to distributing the quota amongst private landowners and indigenous communities, and weak enforcement encouraged continued unsustainable hunting. In 2001, CIPTA, the Tacana Indigenous People's Council asked WCS to help them to develop and implement a sustainable caiman management plan in their territory. After consultation with community members, 26 hunters from 6 Tacana communities decided to establish a business to sell caiman skins harvested sustainably within the Tacana Indigenous Territory. They named the business Matusha Aid’a which means “large caiman” in the Tacana language.

From experience in Venezuela removing 25% of adult male caiman from the population each year is sustainable. Surveys in 2004 counted at least 3304 male caiman larger than 1.8m in length within Tacana territorial waters. Though 826 individuals could be hunted each year, the Tacana decided on a more conservative quota of 524 which was approved by the National Biodiversity and Protected Areas authority in 2007.

Caiman hunting occurs at night using lights. Determining caiman size and sex is a skill. To reduce killing female and under-sized caiman WCS and CIPTA connected experienced hunters with younger men. As a result, the proportion of appropriate size and sex class caiman killed increased from 89% in 2007 to 99.8% in 2014. Between 2007 and 2013, the annual income from the sale of caiman skins was $9,126 ($US 338 per household). In 2014, Matusha Aid'a with WCS assistance started to export salted caiman skins to Gucci in Italy. This raised annual income to $62,596. WCS also arranged for Matusha Aid’a to sell 265 kg of caiman meat to the world renowned Gustu restaurant, in La Paz.


Saving Species IconSPECIES: Implementation of the Tacana caiman management plan resulted in the caiman population increasing from 22,026 in 2004 to 25,893 in 2010, and adult males greater than 1.8 m long remained at 15% of the population. This strongly confirms that the annual hunting quotas are sustainable and not altering the population structure.

Protecting Habitat IconHABITAT: Matusha Aid’a members actively patrol 1,298 km2 of rivers and lakes to protect their valuable caiman from illegal hunting within their territory.

Strengthening Management IconMANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS: To hunt and market caiman Tacana men and women had to learn with WCS technical assistance how to reliably monitor the caiman population, quickly identify large, male caiman at night, remove and preserve the caiman skins without blemishes, manage the financial accounts and clients of the Matusha Aid’a enterprise, and butcher, package and transport caiman meat that meets food safety and sanitation standards.

Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: Matusha Aid'a has a governance structure that allows membership and benefit distributio to change over time, but maintains accountability. In 2015, the government publicly recognized Matusha Aid’a as a model of best practices governing the use and conservation of wildlife in Bolivia.

Securing Livelihoods IconLIVELIHOODS: In 2014, an increase in the sustainable quota from 524 to 630 caiman per year, and the sale of skins to Gucci in Italy, and meat to Gustu in La Paz, raised household incomes by over 530%, and generated a valuable new source of income for women.



Between 2007 and 2015 conservation and sustainable use of caiman increased Tacana household income by over 530%.

PHOTO: Takana hunters measuring caiman captured in their indigenous territory.


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