Ecuador road fuels bushmeat trade

Environmentalists say free transportation along a road built by a foreign oil company in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park has fuelled a bushmeat trade that might not have existed otherwise, New Scientist reports. The situation, they say, shows the importance of anticipating indirect impacts of plans -- before they can alter both local communities and the environment.

Built in the early 1990s, the 140-kilometre road allowed Maxus Energy — a US oil and gas company — and Repsol — the Spanish and Argentinian company that later bought its operations — to access oil reserves deep within the park and the Waorani ethnic reserve. In return, the Waorani (or Huaorani) people got free rides along the road. 

While this is not unusual, the Maxus road has had negative effects on culture and wildlife in the Yasuní, according to research published in the journal Animal Conservation. Shortly after the oil road was built, a wild-meat market emerged at the town of Pompeya, where the road enters the reserve. The Waorani supplied nearly half of the meat trade – with such animals as peccaries, paca and woolly monkeys — while another local tribe, the Kichwa, sold both mammals and fish. The sale of wild meat is illegal in Ecuador, but the law is poorly enforced. 

The real problem, according to Esteban Suárez, who led the research for the World Conservation Society (WCS), is that the market transformed local societies. Many of the people have abandoned their semi-nomadic lifestyles and settled in villages along the road. The free bus, the researchers found, meant that the local communities could access wider areas and carry more game. Without the transport, Suárez said, they most likely would have kept to traditional hunting to feed themselves. 

Suárez’s most recent findings show that abundance of the traded species has dropped significantly. “We think that the continuous growth of the market poses a threat for the wildlife of the national park,” he said. 

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