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Wildside Secoya Tigrillo Reserve

This is a Wildside article submitted in our early days. In this section you can read about different animals and grassroots efforts to help them. This article discusses feline conservation in the Amazon.

The World's First Reserve for Neotropical Small Felids

Copyright © By Rosa Jordan

Editor's Note: About six years ago, motivated to establish a reserve for the smaller species of neotropical felids, Rosa Jordan and her daughter Dr. Jon Jordan used their own resources to visit several Latin American countries in an effort to locate a suitable site.

In 1995 the site was identified in Ecuador and was affectionately named, "touch the Jungle." the native people thought up the idea, and with help, can make it a reality. Projects working with local people, involving habitat conservation and education, are critical to the long-term survival of any species; the unique aspects of this project include those two efforts and the conservation of some of the smaller and less familiar (or less popular) felines.

"The little tigers used to be our enemies. Today they have become our friends." Thus spoke the Secoya chief, Colon Piaguaje, as he signed an agreement with a representative from Earth Trust Foundation to initiate a project known as Touch the Jungle. The project designates the Secoya's 100,000 acre territory a protected area for the Western Hemisphere's smallest tropical felids.

The Secoya, a tribe indigenous to the Amazonian region of Ecuador, once roamed a seemingly infinite rainforest. Now they are confined to a single area on the Rio Aguarico. Protecting it is no easy matter; surrounding forests are already damaged by oil and timber extraction and slash-and-burn agriculture.

Earth Trust*-- with its belief that the environment can't be protected without social justice, and social justice cannot be sustained without environmental protection-- offered an alternative: to establish a rainforest reserve managed by indigenous people in such a way that they would be both its protectors and its beneficiaries.

The reserve's "flagship species" would be the small spotted jungle cat called the margay (Leopardus wiedii). Locally all the small cats are known collectively as "tigrillos" and which include three species: the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), margay (Leopardus wiedii), and the tigrina or oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus). Other species of neotropical felids that are found in the area include the jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi) , the jaguar (Panthera onca), and the puma, commonly known as mountain lion or cougar (Puma concolor).

When the concept was explained to Secoya leader Elias Piaguaje, he replied, "There are only 350 Secoyas left. Alone we cannot protect our forests or our culture. If we make the Secoya territory a reserve, it will help save both the endangered tigrillos and the endangered Secoyas."

The Secoyas have agreed that half their land, or 50,000 acres of virgin rainforest, will be left in its natural state, with no hunting, timbering, or farming permitted and all its flora and fauna protected. The other half, where the three Secoya villages are located, will of necessity be utilized for farming, timbering (for domestic use), and hunting; However, should a tigrillo wander out of the forest and into a farmer's field, it will not be killed, for even the domestic portion of Secoya territory has been declared a "safe haven" for ocelots, margays, and oncillas. The Secoya did ask help in solving one problem. The "little tigers" regularly raid their chicken coops, thus tigrillo-proof coops were needed. A private donor has funded a Columbian architect whose expertise is building with bamboo and thatch to design and help the Secoya build coops to protect their chickens from the tigrillos the Secoya have promised to protect.

This phase of the project is now underway. Additional projects related to the Secoya Tigrillo Reserve are planned for 1997 as funds become available. These projects include: the marking of the reserve (already surveyed) boundaries, upgrading their small visitors' lodge so it can earn the community a few eco-tourist dollars, and most importantly, construction of a conservation center to attract researchers interested in learning more about these little-studied, smaller species of neotropical felids.

For more information contact Rosa Jordan Director of International Social Justice Projects, Earth Trust Foundation at: [email protected]

*Earth Trust is a private non-profit foundation which provides organizational assistance and some financial support to a variety of environmental and social justice projects worldwide. The foundation has agreed to sponsor Touch the Jungle as an Earth Ways project, thus donations to Touch the Jungle are tax-deductible. (It should be noted that no part of these donations go to Earth Trust for administrative costs; 100% of the money donated goes to support the project.)

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