‘Game: cracking down on Ecuador’s illegal meat trade’

Posted on May 3, 2012

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Today (3rd May), a long item was posted on The Yale GLOBALIST web-site titled ‘Game: cracking down on Ecuador’s illegal meat trade’.

‘… In the morning of June 11, 2011, the Ecuadorian navy publicly burned a heap of confiscated wild animal meat in front of their offices in Coca, a jungle town in the country’s northeast -

The smoke from the bonfire and the smell of the meat were carried away by the wind, enveloping a small mob outside the building’s gates.

“Give me a leg!” one man heckled the naval officers standing by the fire.

He, like the other onlookers, had been a potential buyer of the contraband material and now watched his goods turning to ash before him. Earlier that morning, the buyers had arrived at the weekly open air market in Pompeya and looked out at the indigenous hunters arriving in motorized canoes on the Napo River, hoping to spot white sacks concealing smoked haunches of wild pig or even monkey. The meat came from Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most biodiverse forests in the world.

The illegal meat trade used to function with ease; local police officers were known to take bribes to look the other way. But that day the Ministry of the Environment, an autonomous governmental body in charge of policing the wild meat trade, had sent a boat of naval officers to shut it down. More than 1,500 pounds of animal meat were confiscated and burned, according to Javier Vargas, a provincial director of the Ministry. It was the most drastic governmental action taken against the indigenous hunters and meat suppliers since the market opened almost two decades ago.

Yet since that day, illegal trade has increased, underpinned by the development of an underground meat market that has proven hard to regulate. If the hunting continues at its current rate, scientists predict animal life may soon disappear altogether in Yasuní. Overhunting depletes natural resources and is changing the shape of the forest. It is now difficult to find large monkeys in the forest, and hunters resort to selling large rodents and wild pigs

The trade entered Yasuní a year after oil company Maxus Ecuador Inc. did in 1993. The company built the Pompeya Sur-Iro road, which cuts through more than 87 miles of national park. A year later the indigenous Waorani and Quichua people living along the road started selling wild meat in Pompeya, a small town located three miles outside of the park.

Spain-based Repsol is currently the only oil company allowed in the park, bound by contract with the Ecuadorian government to strictly control access to the Pompeya Sur-Iro road. Ecuador’s economy is dependent on business from companies like this. But Repsol also offers free bus transportation to the indigenous communities living along the road, which allows hunters to travel farther and hunt greater quantities of meat.

The Waorani, responsible for the bulk of the meat at the markets, used to be nomads but now mostly live in established communities. Repsol has brought the Waorani access to otherwise unaffordable benefits like shotguns, gasoline, Western medicine, and even indoor soccer fields. The company gives them these gifts as “compensation” for drilling on their land, said Remigio Rivera, Repsol’s director of community outreach. Some Waorani even have jobs doing manual labor for the oil company in the forest.

Rivera said Repsol is helping the Waorani learn how to become productive citizens of Ecuador, instead of isolated peoples, something he said is necessary in an age of increased globalization.

But Waorani culture is rapidly disappearing with the forest, said Gloria Irumenga, a Waorani woman who lives in Guiyero, a community along the road that supplies much of the meat at the markets. With a soft voice and a baby nestled in her arms, she describes her life in simple terms.

Irumenga and her family live in a house made of a palm tree native to the region. But a few of the 15 houses in Guiyero are made of concrete—those are the ones the oil company built for them, she said.

Most Waorani are bilingual, Irumenga said, speaking Spanish in addition to their native language in order to communicate with the oil workers and scientists sharing the road. They wear modern clothing, instead of the clothes of their ancestors, and they eat less wild meat, instead traveling outside of the forest weekly to buy groceries.

It is more difficult to find game these days than in the days of her mother and grandmother. “The animals are disappearing. [Hunters] now have to travel three hours to hunt,” she said.

These indigenous groups rely on subsistence hunting, Vargas said, and they are allowed to under law. Commercial hunting is illegal, but the Waorani and Quichua have been selling meat ever since they first made contact with the outside world in the 1960s. Foreign natural resource development companies have facilitated the trade, and the permanence of the weekly market and the accessibility of the road have only amplified it. Today there are wild meat markets in at least seven cities or towns, near the rainforest in northeastern Ecuador. The market at Pompeya is the largest.

Among the biggest group of consumers  of the meat are locals, including those whose ancestors within one or two generations used to live in indigenous communities but have since moved outside of park  boundaries, according to Esteban Suarez, a professor of ecology at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and former scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“It is what helps them to keep some sort of attachment of the forest that they might have had when they were kids and don’t have now because they live in Tena or Puyo or Coca,” he said. “They consider it to be a really healthy meat.” For special events, like weddings, one buyer could order hundreds of pounds of wild meat.

Businessmen also buy meat at the market to sell to restaurants at higher prices.

While at WCS in 2008, Suarez produced a comprehensive scientific article that found that almost half of the meat brought to the Pompeya market over a period of three years ended up resold at restaurants in Tena, a town 145 miles away. Demand from restaurant-goers is high; the restaurant owners make five times more money from the trade than the hunters.

“This means that if they can’t get meat from Pompeya, they will go elsewhere,” Suarez said.

The vendors seem to be aware of this dynamic. Sources say the trade, active as ever, has continued underground since the June raid, faced with constant authority presence at the market. Vendors are making special arrangements to sell before governmental officials arrive at Pompeya, said Juan Carlos Armijos, professor at La Universidad Catolica, who has been working in Waorani communities for eleven years.

He said the Waorani use the money they make selling meat to buy groceries and large quantities of alcohol. Canoes departing from towns like Pompeya are often weighed down with more beer than groceries.

The Waorani are not likely to stop selling anytime soon.

“The young people see [the wild meat trade] as a business. If they want something, they tell their parents and their parents have to hunt to get it for them,” Armijos said …’

Read the item in full, view images and add your comment online at http://tyglobalist.org/front-page/theme/game-cracking-down-on-ecuador%E2%80%99s-illegal-meat-trade/

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