Participatory monitoring and conservation of turtles in the Brazilian Amazon

Participatory monitoring and conservation of turtles in the Brazilian Amazon


Turtles have long been an important source of food for river side communities in the Amazon. Today many turtle populations are declining because of overharvesting. Since 2014, WCS Brazil has been working with eleven riverine communities in the Amazon to protect 23 turtle nesting sites. To date, the program has protected 736 nests and released more than 5,820 hatchlings belonging to three river turtle species: the giant South American, yellow-spotted Amazon, and the red-headed Amazon. Families participating in the program decreased consumption of turtle eggs, and the program has become a model for other similar projects in the region, with a growing number of communities becoming interested in managing turtles in their own protected areas.


The Rio Negro basin in the Brazilian Amazon supports a rich diversity of turtle species and is a hotspot for the giant South American (Podocnemis expansa), the yellow-spotted Amazon (P. unifilis), the red-headed Amazon (P. erythrocephala), and the big-headed sideneck (Peltocephalus dumerilianus) turtles —all of which are threatened by unsustainable consumption of eggs. Although, local consumption is legal, trade is not. Protection of nesting sites to prevent harvest of turtle eggs is important to maintain population size and allow managed hunting for meat. The program has four key strategies: management and monitoring of (i) nesting site protection, (ii) turtle populations status assessment, (iii) sustainable consumption, and (iv) environmental education. Together these enable us to inform management actions supporting the long-term conservation of river turtles in the Lower Rio Negro Mosaic and provide the information and community support needed to put in place a quota system to ensure sustainable consumption of turtles in the region.


Saving Species IconSPECIES: Using trammel nets, WCS-trained community members have caught and released 655 individuals from four different turtle species to help evaluate population structure and conservation status, and provide the foundation for long-term management and the establishment of consumption quotas. Total egg consumption by local communities decreased from 9,236 to 6,690 per year (Table 1). Consumption of turtle meat is still increasing in the study area, indicating that additional strategies to sustainably manage consumption are needed (Table 2).

Protecting Habitat IconHABITAT: Local community members trained by WCS successfully transferred 182 nests to higher ground between 2015 and 2016, decreasing the loss of nests to flooding.

Strengthening Management IconMANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS: During the 2014 to 2016 nesting seasons, we worked with 56 trained community members from three protected areas to monitor, protect, and manage nests. The local monitors protected nests during the entire incubation period, collecting nest data such as species, egg numbers, nest characteristics, and measuring and releasing turtle hatchlings. Nest management consists of transferring nests where hunting pressure is high or where flooding is a threat artificial incubation areas. Another 11 monitors were trained to capture and release turtles with trammel nets for turtle population assessment. In the consumption monitoring we worked with 10 trained community members from Unini river to monitor the household consumption of turtle eggs and meat. This research has provided useful information on which of the four species is most commonly consumed, which are preferred by local people, and their market prices. Together with the population estimates these data will inform conservation management priorities and the development of community acceptable and ecologically sustainable consumption quotas. By 2016, our environmental education plan was implemented in nine communities. As a result local communities are beginning to understand the importance of managing this resource sustainably. We taught three courses about turtle conservation and management of nesting sites for 150 students from riverside communities. Between 2015 and 2016, the demand for these courses and the project as a whole increased by 40%, indicating that local communities see value and want to improve their ability to manage this local resource. A post-course survey showed that 89% of local people now understand the ecological importance of turtle species and are interested in continuing to protect them within the program. They show growing concerns about the need to conserve turtles to maintain the resource for future generations.

Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: The Chelonian Participatory Monitoring and Conservation Program (CPMCP) is a collaborative effort involving local communities from 3 protects areas, the federal protected area agency ICMBio (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação para Biodiversidade), IPÊ (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas), the state environmental secretariat SEMA (Secretaria de Estado do Meio Ambiente), the municipal environmental secretariat SEMMA Novo Airão (Secretaria Municipal de Meio Ambiente), Pé-de-Pincha Project from Universidade Federal do Amazonas and Fundação Vitória Amazônica (FVA), and WCS. It aims to investigate the population structure, conservation status, and consumption of the most threatened Podocnemididae family in the Lower Rio Negro Mosaic. The focus is currently on three protected areas: Rio Unini Extractive Reserve (RESEX Rio Unini), Jaú National Park (PARNA Jaú) and the Rio Negro State Park Northern Sector (PAREST). Establishing the CPMCP, which allows for key stakeholder participation, has improved the governance of these threatened river turtle populations Lower Rio Negro Mosaic. Communities from other protected areas have also indicated their interest in using the methods and activities developed by the CPMCP to conserve and manage turtles, making it a model for other projects in the Brazilian Amazon.

Securing Livelihoods IconLIVELIHOODS: WCS Brazil and all partners responsible for implementing the Chelonian Monitoring Program recognize and respect the importance of turtles for the welfare of local Amazonian communities. Presently, data indicates that turtle consumption is not sustainable over the long term in the study area. The goal of the project is to stop egg, but not turtle consumption entirely. Turtle meat is a highly nutritious food, easily collected and stored, and an important part of local culture. Thus, we are laying the groundwork for successful conservation management and the establishment of a quota system that ensures sustainable turtle consumption by communities.


Figure 1.  Number of individuals and eggs consumed by local people

Figure 2. Number of nests protected and hatchlings release

Figure 3. Number of individuals captured per hour in each year (indicator of population size)

Kids release hatchlings/Thais Morcatty ©WCS

Monitors measuring hatchlings/Thais Morcatty ©WCS

Monitors checking nests/Thais Morcatty ©WCS

P. erythrocephala/Camila Ferrara ©WCS

P. dumerilianus/Camila Ferrara ©WCS

Map of chelonian Program 2017

Copyright 2019-2021 by Wildlife Conservation Society

WCS, the "W" logo, WE STAND FOR WILDLIFE, I STAND FOR WILDLIFE, and STAND FOR WILDLIFE are service marks of Wildlife Conservation Society.

Contact Information
Address: 2300 Southern Boulevard Bronx, New York 10460 | (718) 220-5100