Shared Spaces and Local Perceptions

Understanding Conflict and Coexistence through the Human-Primate Interface in the Pacoche Wildlife Refuge, Manabí Ecuador (2018)

Primate species inhabiting the coastal forests of Ecuador are at an increased risk of extinction due to the accelerating rate of anthropogenic pressures. Developing conservation strategies to reduce these pressures relies on understanding the livelihoods and perceptions of local people. The purpose of this study is to create a baseline of qualitative data to identify areas of conflict and coexistence between the Threatened mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), the Critically Endangered white-fronted capuchin (Cebus aequatorialis) and the farmers that share space within the Pacoche Wildlife Refuge. This study uses an ethnoprimatological approach to investigate perceptions of primates by performing structured, open-ended interviews with twenty-one farmers from the rural community of Pacoche, between July and August 2018. Results indicate that despite the reduction of hunting and pet ownership of primates since the creation of the protected area, interactions with capuchins were identified as conflictual. Capuchins were associated with aggressive and dangerous encounters, and as the culprits of crop damage. Interactions with mantled howlers, however, reflected a coexistent response. Rooted in folkloric beliefs, howlers were referred to as “rain prophets” during times of drought, and as providing warning calls of an oncoming natural disaster. Howlers were also described as valuable to the community because of their ability to draw tourists to the area. These perceptions can be associated with the frequency of primate sightings, where farmers claim howler numbers have increased, and capuchin’s have decreased over the past 20 years. Thus, how local people view primate species, be it conflictual or coexistent, can have direct impacts on their conservation status. This study suggests the future need for community-engaged conservation awareness on the socio-ecological importance of primates, focusing on the white-fronted capuchin. Only by finding sustainable solutions to conflictual encounters alongside local people can we work towards the conservation of these endangered species.

** This study was made possible thanks to the funding support from The University of Western Ontario Anthropology Department, The Regna Darnell Award for Sociocultural Anthropology and the Graduate Student Research Award. 2018

Tamara L. Britton, MA. PhD Student, Department of Anthropology . Centre for Environment and Sustainability . The University of Western Ontario. Canadá.