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Yellow-spotted river turtles as a flagship of conservation and education for native communities in Alto Purús

Alto Purús NP strictly conserves the whole of its territory, including tropical forests and riverine beaches in which these turtles nest.

(Puerto Maldonado, August 23, 2017). Southeast Peru is home to one of the largest and most important conservation corridors for their cultural and biological diversity. A total of seven areas with varying protection categories form this great forest: the Manu and Alto Purús National Parks (NP), the Purús Communal Reserve, the Indigenous Reserves of Mashco Piro and Murunahua and the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve.

These areas converge and protect not only indigenous populations, but also important basins and therefore, in effect, protect the entire reservoir of natural resources, vital for those living inside and outside of them.

Being the largest national park in the country, the Alto Purus NP is the top of the list. Currently it is one of the best conserved areas. As the entire national park is a strict protection zone, it beomes imperative to work with the native communities of the buffer zone around the park.

FZS environmental education team around Alto Purus National Park
The environmental education sessions focused mainly on the recognition of the Yellow-spotted river turtles as an important and vulnerable species that should be protected.

One of the main work with the communities is environmental education. As a part of the “Paisaje Purús Manu” Project, educational activities are currently being implemented in the Las Piedras river basin in order to develop a stronger focus on the environment.

Primary level students of two schools located in the communities of La Victoria and Santa Teresita respectively, participated in learning sessions mid-August. The sessions stimulate students and teachers alike to put value to and have a friendlier approach with their immediate surroundings. Science and technology topics were discussed with 30 primary students, taking case studies of Alto Purús NP flagship species as examples.

In accordance with intercultural pedagogical processes, one species representative of the area was identified and chosen to act as the connector and ambassador of conservation and education: the yellow-spotted river turtle, or taricaya (Podocnemis unifilis).

Sand box representing a beach where turtle use to nest
An artificial beach was installed to make known the habitat and the ecology of this specie of turtle.

The articulated work, not just with the student population, is key. For La Victoria community, the active involvement of parents and community members was made possible thanks to a call from the leader of the community, Pablo Inuma, and the school principal, Clever Urquia. The result was an agreement to carry out the initiative titled “Let´s save the river turtles”, which consists in installing a semi-natural beach for the reproduction of these reptiles with the involvement of the entire community.

In the native community of Santa Teresita, communication and text comprehension sessions were carried out under the theme “we conserve the river turtles less every time”. Likewise, the community was involved in the installation of an artificial beach for the species’ reproduction under the leadership of the community leader, Jeremías Saavedra, and the school principal, Felipe Leguía.

These activities were made possible thanks to the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation through the “Paisaje Purús Manu” project, with the leadership of the Frankfurt Zoological Society Peru.