We Like Turtles

Slowly but surely, over the years, the Taricaya population was becoming decimated.

Also known as the yellow Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), these turtles were on the verge of extinction due to the illegal poaching of their eggs. Had that happened, several local Amazon communities would have lost their primary source of revenue.

In 2000, things changed. In that year, SERNANP, the Peruvian Parks Service, started the management of the Taricaya in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. The Peruvian government agency’s first step was to conduct a study and assess the severity of the situation. Once that was completed, they banded together with leaders of the local communities.

Working together, they developed a plan that would allow the Taricaya to recover, and generate additional income for the local communities. Natural protected areas often are found in the poorest areas of any country, and the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is no exception. For many families, the Taricaya, which are unique to South America, represented their livelihood. Their protection was critical.

The plan for bringing back the Taricaya in Pacaya Simiria was relatively simple. SERNANP and the communities build artificial beaches for the turtles to lay their eggs during reproductive season. The eggs are guarded by community members to prevent poaching. Once the hatchlings emerge—about 55 to 70 days later—50% are released into the wild, while the other 50% goes to the communities for commercial purposes.

The plan has been working. In 2016, the Taricaya laid 1.4 million eggs, 1.2 million of which hatched, bringing over $1.3 million to 463 families in one of the poorest regions of the country. Not only that, the Taricaya population has been growing annually.

Today this program is being run completely by the local communities, who have discovered an additional way to use the Taricaya to boost their economies without endangering the turtles—tourism. Many tour operators now offer their guests the opportunity to witness—and sometimes participate in—turtle conservation.

The Taricaya conservation program in Pacaya Simiria provides a shining model of how government and communities can work together to ensure natural resources can provide economic opportunity for people, while continuing to thrive.