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Hunting has been a strong tradition in the region for thousands of years and continues to be so today. By the mid-19th century posseiros scattered throughout the hills cultivating manioc and banana, rearing pigs and hunting extirpated of the red and green macaw (Ara chloropterus) and lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris). Although the population of posseiros remained low throughout the early 20th century, these men pursued wildlife relentlessly and by the 1920/30s they had extirpated the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) and giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). Hunters killed the last jaguars (Panthera onca) and brown howler monkeys (Alouatta guariba) in the 1950/60s during the large-scale deforestation that accompanied the establishment of large cacao/rubber plantations that occurred during these decades. With the increase in population density that accompanied this intensive agricultural expansion between 1950 and 1970, hunting pressure increased dramatically and by the end of the 1970s, most of the medium and large mammals had become scarce. There was no attempt to control hunting until the mid-1990s when several NGOs were established with the mission of conserving the remaining forests, but these efforts have been largely ineffective (mostly posting no-hunting signs and declaring forests “protected”). Even though there are fewer people hunting today than in the past and evidence indicates that this trend will continue, hunting pressure is still intense and wildlife scarce in most forests.
Before the creation of the reserve, the situation in the REM was similar to the other regional forests and hunting was rampant, with hunters using all parts of the forest. One of the principal objectives of creating the reserve was to protect the forest from all illegal activities, including hunting (Law 9.605/98). Law enforcement is weak in the region however, so Michelin formed a forest guard unit composed of five men selected from the surrounding communities. Today we have a well-trained and dedicated team who have effectively reduced hunting pressure to minimal levels (0-3 registers/month vs. >50/month when the reserve was created). In 2020, the guards walked 635 patrols, detecting 20 hunting registers, and hunting in the reserve has decreased by 83% since 2010. The guards patrol the entire reserve and the Michelin plantation outside of the reserve, with morning, afternoon and night patrols 365 days/year. We have identified the problem areas and know who the recalcitrant hunters are and concentrate our patrols in these areas. We have managed to exclude the hunters from most of the reserve and today hunting is largely restricted to the reserve boundaries (usually <100 m from the forest edge) and we have not registered any hunting activity along the reserve trails away from the forest edge for several years.
We monitor both hunting pressure and wildlife abundances and since the creation of the reserve, we have seen a dramatic decrease in hunting activity accompanied by a rapid expansion of wildlife populations (117% increase in abundances since the creation of the reserve). Endangered species such as the yellow breasted capuchin monkey (Sapajus xanthosternos) and red-billed curassow (Crax blumenbachii) have recovered well and have re-colonized all of the reserve forests, abandoned rubber groves, and in the latter case, active rubber groves 3.5 km from the forest edge. Populations of paca (Cuniculus paca), red brocket deer (Mazama americana), grey brocket deer (Mazama gouazoubira) have increased by 222%. The most remarkable recovery are those of collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) and the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) whose populations have increased by 339% and 547%, respectively.