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Trophy turkeys encourage forest conservation in Guatemala
WCS support to two communities in the Maya Biosphere Reserve has reduced deforestation and the incidence of forest fires, increased wildlife populations and generated over $300,000 for families in Uaxactun and Carmelita from sustainable trophy hunting of wild turkeys on their lands.
In the late 1990s the government of Guatemala began to allocate lands within the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) to local and indigenous communities. These community concessions were established to devolve authority for management of forest resources to local people. To create tangible economic incentives for local communities to protect their forests within the MBR, WCS has been supporting the operation of several natural resource-based enterprises including sustainable logging, and the sustainable harvest of Xate palm fronds which are used for flower arrangements in the US and Europe. In 2001, WCS started working with the communities of Uaxactun and Carmelita to establish an ocellated turkey trophy hunting operation as an alternative to the unsustainable harvest of wild turkeys sold as food.Demand from U.S. sport hunters is strong, and they have been willing to pay $1,000 to $1,500 to hunt a single male. Importantly, harvesting “excess” males after breeding season has had no adverse impact on the health of the turkey population. U.S. turkey hunters were keen to come to Guatemala rather than Mexico to hunt because they knew that the trophy fees and other payments would go primarily to local communities. The communities were equally keen to engage because revenue from trophy hunters far exceeds the $5 per turkey they would earn by selling the birds in local food markets. Prior to the launch of the trophy hunting operation, the communities of Uaxactun and Carmelita agreed to set aside at least 25,000 hectares (3 times the area of Manhattan) of their total concessions, which are 83,558 hectares and 53,797 hectares respectively, as exclusive turkey management zones. The communities provide hunters with four days of paid-for hunt services (transport, accommodation, foods, guides, trophy skinning and taxidermy preparation) and the right to harvest one adult-male turkey for a standard fee of $1450.
Between 2000 and 2007 surveys of the populations of wild turkeys in Uaxactun and Carmelita demonstrated that their numbers had increased by 58% and 70% respectively
Deforestation rates have declined by 22% in Uaxactun and 45% in Carmelita since WCS began conservation and human livelihood activities in these communities. Forest fires within the Uaxactun concession declined by 75% (from 4 to 1 per year), and by 70% (from 3 to 1 per year) in the Carmelita concession. These results affirm our expectation that when the value of standing forest rises as a result of turkey trophy hunting and the sale of Xate palm, communities will choose to conserve the forest rather than clear it for agriculture.
Between 2001 and 2008, 122 US-based sport hunters, harvested 200 wild turkeys, earning the community of 770 people in Uaxactun a total of $237,575 from fees and services. Sixty-five hunters, harvested 96 turkeys in the concession of Carmelita providing the community of 344 people with $112,600 in net-income.
As the number of trophy turkey hunters increased over time so did income generated for the community of Uaxactun in Guatemala.
WCS work in the Maya Biosphere Reserve has protected the forest from fires, increased wildlife populations, and generated over $300,000 for local people.