Maria Elena Baragan-Paladines
Fundación Herpetologica Gustavo Orces
New approaches towards the conservation of venomous snakes in Ecuador
By María Elena Barragán-Paladines
The conservation of venomous snakes around the world has always faced enormous disadvantages, in part because of the unattractive nature of these animals for humans.
Some other aspects related to human fears, natural or inherited, which have been inspired from snakes, are death and the side effects associated with snake-bite accidents. Undoubtedly this greatly increases the disadvantages in the implementation of effective strategies for their conservation. In addition to this, the lack of funds for the conservation of venomous animals intensifies the already difficult challenge of their conservation.
This is the case of Ecuador, a country very diverse in terms of snakes, with around 300 species of snakes of which 36 species are potentially venomous (family Viperidae and Elapidae). These are distributed throughout the Amazonian and coastal region, where around 10,000 cases of bites are reported per year, of which 0.1% corresponds to fatal deaths.
In 1993, the Herpetological Foundation Gustavo Orces implemented, as an ambitious effort of its environmental education program, the involvement of indigenous communities in a bidirectional learning processes. Ecuador is a country where snake-bite accidents are associated with poverty, and there is no access to treatments due to the isolation of certain sites in addition to the dissemination of deeply rooted ancestral practices to the local culture that includes erroneous beliefs about snakes.
This new approach consists in establishing mechanisms of analysis and understanding of the ancestral historical vision of indigenous communities about snakes. This allows to establishing criteria of similarity and repetitive patterns on the beliefs related to venomous snakes. The process of demystification has served to provide access and help through the use of effective antidotes for local species in addition to the creation of materials and documents in native languages for children and adults. This has enabled the local population to be trained in order to recognize poisonous and non-poisonous snakes and to establish adequate prevention mechanisms.
One of the most important activities is the participation of local women through training workshops to identify the artistic dimensions that can be considered as a potential asset for their communities. By provoking the discovery of the value of snakes in artistic, linguistic and religious representations, it can encourage the creation of a positive vision about snakes, which can greatly help to encourage and assist in the implementation of economic production based on local capacities. In this way we can encourage and develop the entrepreneurial spirit through activities such as the production of souvenirs that rescue the beauty of snakes.
In many aspects, linguistic and cultural barriers were avoided by listening to the needs of the community through sessions and information gathering workshops, where the community was informed of the project’s objectives. These needs were classified into health needs and search for new livelihood opportunities.
Finally, the establishment of support networks and the provision of antidotes for those isolated areas where these activities associated with the program were also carried out.