Elias Machipango Shuverireni picks up his long, palm-wood bow and his arrows tipped with sharpened bamboo. We’re going monkey hunting in Peru’s Manú National Park—a huge swath of protected rain forest and one of the most biodiverse parks in the world.
The hunt is legal. Elias belongs to an indigenous group called the Matsigenka, of whom fewer than a thousand live in the park, mostly along the banks of the Manú River and its tributaries. All the park’s indigenous inhabitants—so-called uncontacted tribes as well as the Matsigenka—have the right to harvest plants and animals for their own use, but they can’t sell park resources without special permission, and they can’t hunt with guns. Elias and his wife—people in Manú go by first names—grow yucca, cotton, and other crops in a small clearing on the Yomibato River. Their children gather fruit and medicinal plants. Elias catches fish and fells trees. And he hunts, especially spider monkeys and woolly monkeys—favorite foods of the Matsigenka. Both are threatened species.
The Matsigenka’s image of Manú, like their image of nature, includes them. Whereas Terborgh and other Western biologists come from a culture that separates humans from nature—both philosophically and as a conservation strategy—the Matsigenka see themselves as part of the natural order. They hunt monkeys, and so do jaguars. Key plants and animals have spirits and agency, just as people do, and there’s no hard boundary between them.
Even if the Matsigenka population were to grow rapidly over the next 50 years, no more than 10 percent of the park would be depleted of spider monkeys—unless the hunters acquired shotguns. With guns they could quickly empty the forest of monkeys within a day or two’s walk of their villages. If the Matsigenka have so far abided by the park’s firearms ban, it may be because they understand that guns might be at best a short-term boon.
article: Emma Marris
photo: Charlie Hamilton James