Amazon: from poachers to volunteers saving freshwater turtles

Chelonians, like turtles and “tracajás”, are victims of poaching and exploitation that endanger the survival of the species and degrade the environment. The “Pé-de-Pincha” project promoted by the Federal University of Amazonas in collaboration with the Brazilian Institute of the Environment, seeks to raise awareness among the “ribeirinhos”, the inhabitants of the rivers of northern Brazil, to protect these creatures. The contribution of the local Church is fundamental in reversing this trend.

By Andressa Collet

The flesh and eggs of Amazonian chelonians, like those of turtles and tracajás (yellow-spotted turtles of the Amazon River), have always been highly valued by humans and are part of the diet of “ribeirinhos” (river dwellers) in as an important source. protein, especially during the dry season of the rivers. The problem is not so much in their consumption for subsistence purposes, but in poaching, illegal trade and sale in the major urban centers of the region, such as Manaus, Santarém, Belém and Tefé. A barbaric and systematic practice developed by Chelonian traffickers, which threatens the species with extinction and causes the destruction of its natural habitat.

An initiative developed in the states of Amazonas and Pará sought to raise awareness of the need to protect and conserve these species, saving them from poachers. The environmental project “Pé-de-Pincha” is a community management program for chelonians, based on the work of volunteers and managed by the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), in collaboration with the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) which, in 22 years of activity, has already released 6 million chelonian babies on the territory through an area divided into 18 municipalities: 15 in the state of Amazonas, 3 in the State of Pará, globally inhabited by 122 different communities.





Lesson at a school in the Lake Mamori community in Amazonas.

Conservation and community management of the species

Chelonians are part of the reptile family to which sea and freshwater turtles belong. These animals are easily recognizable because they have a carapace, a kind of bony shell, which protects them from predators. Currently, there are more than 250 species of chelonians. But the protagonists of our story are the “bichos de casco”, as they are called in the region, commonly called “tracajás”: turtles that can live up to 90 years. They are oviparous animals that lay an average of 15 to 30 eggs at each reproduction. They usually dig holes on the shores of lakes, camouflaging the nest with mud and leaves. And this is where the “ribeirinhos”, volunteers and partners of the “Pé-de-Pincha” project get involved to save the species.

Created in 1999 in the town of Terra Santa, Pará, to protect Lake Piraracá from the invasion of boats and large fishing nets, the “Pé-de-Pincha” project involves communities in all phases of the process, after a training and practical period, offered by the university: trainers and community members together identify holes, monitor and collect eggs in their natural habitat, and transfer nests from endangered areas to protected areas, in a a kind of nursery, an improvised incubator in the sand near the homes of residents of the region – where the chicks manage to grow large enough not to be easy prey. After they hatch, they are released into the lakes amidst the joy and celebration of the entire community.

Collection of take-out nests in protected areas in Barreirinha, Amazonas




Collection of take-out nests in protected areas in Barreirinha, Amazonas

Nilcinha de Jesus Amaral Ferreira is a voluntary environmental agent. She explains that the volunteers go out at 3 a.m., “armed” with polystyrene boxes, to look for eggs. There are about 28,000 others who are part of the “Pé-de-Pincha”, which over the years has become the largest volunteer project in all of the Amazon. What you are witnessing in these places is a true transformation that begins at home and spreads to friends, parishes and schools, until it reaches the ears of poachers. Nilcinha says “That’s what happened with my husband: he was one of the poachers and now he is one of the biggest guardians of this area. As they say here, “he really put his shirt on “, that is to say, he became aware and was able to raise the awareness of so many people! We realized and try to show the community that the same type of conservation and management of chelonians can also be done for fish and plants. And so we have already reduced fires and deforestation, as well as local timber extraction.”

The Church, historical partner of the project

Professor Paulo Cesar Machado Andrade, from the Federal University of Amazonas, coordinator of “Pé-de-Pincha”, explains that in addition to the partnership with the institution which trains new students every year to work in the program, the Church has had and continues to play a fundamental historical role. He has been at the forefront of conservation efforts since the beginning in the 1990s when he managed to reach as many communities as possible by engaging with them and encouraging them to get involved in the protection of hassles.

A university student teaches a resident how to transplant nests in the Igapó Açu




A university student teaches a resident how to transplant nests in the Igapó Açu

“The show, explains the professor, also served to build a bridge, a connection to discuss all the environmental problems from which the region suffers while seeking sustainable alternatives to generate income. This is because “Pé-de-Pincha” works on the conservation of natural resources, but also on the environmental awareness of communities, for sustainable development “not only ecologically correct, but also economically sustainable and socially just. In addition, “Pé-de-Pincha” also trains teachers in the field of environmental education through “a collaborative project of monitoring research and community action“.

It is to this vision of integral ecology that the Pontiff calls: “we believe that there is a deep connection with what Pope Francis expressed in the encyclical Laudato si’. Not only to see the animal, the river, the tree as separate elements within nature, but above all as part of a much larger chain which makes it possible to maintain life on the Planet thanks to this vision. integral.”

A resident of Terra Santa, Pará, tags an adult turtle




A resident of Terra Santa, Pará, tags an adult turtle

The ecology of daily life in the Amazon

“It’s our contribution to the environment,” says Nilcinha, considered a “sower of chelonians.” She expresses her agreement with the Pope’s thoughts regarding the need for urgent efforts “to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life” through the environments in which we live which “influence the way we think, feel and act. ” (Laudato if ‘147). Nilcinha also believes that the pandemic has further shed light on thinking about the need to improve our relationship with the environment.

Finally, adds Professor Paulo, “the project started in a hidden corner of the Amazon and slowly developed and found avenues, partners who could help, members of the community, workers happy to dedicate themselves to this objective, students who joyfully enrich the project even in the face of so many conflicting situations in terms of the environment. “Pé-de-Pincha” has always tried to work with enthusiasm for our Common Home and for the Creator. It’s what drives us It’s what drives us to meet the needs It’s our mission, not only to be a “conservation” program, but to try to help, to give ears and a voice to the communities of “ribeirinhos” who come to us and want to help our land regain its beauty.”

The Igapó Açu Community Celebrates the Release of Chelonian Offspring into the Wild




The Igapó Açu Community Celebrates the Release of Chelonian Offspring into the Wild

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