This week marked the beginning of my hunter interviews. I knew it was time when someone in the community killed a huge tapir and brought it back to sell and to use for a minga two days later (I also bought two kilos smoked to try it). My hunter interviews consist of a long series of questions that basically have three parts. The first part is overall details of the hunt: when they left the community, how long they were gone, and drawing the route they took on a map. The second part is all animal sightings. I go through a list of mammals that I know live in the basin (everything from jaguars to tamadua to monkeys) and they tell me whether or not they saw the animal during their hunt. If they saw it, they show me the location on my map as well. For each animal that is indicated, I ask whether or not they shot the animal and if not, why not. The third section of the interview is about the animals that they chose to kill. I ask them biological details of the animal and what they did with the meat; whether they sold it, ate it, gave it to their neighbors, and more details about said transactions. I end up with a lot of data on a lot of animals from every interview.
I was nervous about starting these interviews because hunting is a classically taboo subject. Many times, people perceive scientists as wanting to save all the animals and they’re reluctant to give information on animals that they killed, particularly if the killing of those animals is prohibited. For example, right now in Sucusari, nobody is supposed to be hunting monkeys or tapirs because of the attraction for tourists. Seeing as Jeison walked past my house holding an enormous tapir head this morning and I attended a minga where woolly monkey was served, clearly this rule isn’t followed. I don’t care if they follow the rules or not though – I just want the information. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate that, and I was afraid that I was only going to get part of the truth during my interviews.
After doing many of them, I now know that those fears were 100% unfounded. Not only have hunters been willing to do interviews and telling the whole truth, but they have been enjoying them. They smile and laugh and get really excited when they remember seeing certain animals; they tell me it’s not really like an interview it’s more like a story about animals. I have been finding that quite a few people kill large monkeys and other vulnerable animals to sell (likely still sustainable here) but many other people look at me funny when I ask them why they didn’t shoot monkeys. They tell me things like “I like seeing monkeys in the forest, it makes me happy. I don’t want to kill them!” or “The little monkeys are so cute, I would not kill them.” When I ask about rare or shy animals, like tamandua and giant river otters, I have gotten responses like “They are so cool, I love when I get to see them!” The little decisions like these, the individual animals that hunters enjoy seeing, are partially what I am trying to tease out with the interviews. If everyone liked seeing giant river otters and so they didn’t hunt them, the otters would never be in danger of being overhunted in this river basin!
Each of these interviews, which will be conducted weekly with each hunter, adds to a large spatial data set on mammal sighting and kill locations. When I map this data, I can see each group of animals as a point in space in the Sucusari basin, and the data on the size of the group, whether animals were killed, etc. is associated with that point. Those data can then be used in analyses!