Hunting has been a strong tradition in the region for thousands of years and continues to be so today. By the mid-19th century posseiros scattered throughout the hills cultivating manioc and banana, rearing pigs and hunting extirpated of the red and green macaw (Ara chloropterus) and lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris). Although the population of posseiros remained low throughout the early 20th century, these men pursued wildlife relentlessly and by the 1920/30s they had extirpated the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) and giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). The jaguar (Panthera onca) and brown howler monkey (Alouatta guariba) were shot out in the 1950s when large companies moved into the region to log the forests and establish rubber/cacao plantations. With the increase in population density that accompanied this intensive agricultural expansion between 1950 and 1970, hunting pressure increased dramatically and by the end of the 1970s most of the medium and large mammals had become scarce. There was no attempt to control hunting until the mid-1990s when several NGOs were established with the mission of conserving the remaining forests, but these efforts have been largely ineffective (mostly posting no-hunting signs and declaring forests “protected”). Even though there are fewer people hunting today than in the past and evidence indicates that this trend will continue, hunting pressure is still intense and wildlife scarce in most forests.
Before the creation of the reserve, the situation in the REM was similar to the other regional forests and hunting was rampant, with hunters using all parts of the forest. One of the principal objectives of creating the reserve was to protect the forest from all illegal activities, including hunting (Law 9.605/98). Law enforcement is weak in the region however, so Michelin formed a forest guard unit composed of four men selected from the surrounding communities. Today we have a well trained and dedicated team who have effectively reduced hunting pressure to minimal levels (0-11 registers/month vs. >50/month when the reserve was created). In 2015 the forest guards walked 691 patrols, registering 32 hunting incidents. The guards patrol the entire reserve and the Michelin plantation outside of the reserve, with morning, afternoon and night patrols 360 days/year. We have identified the problem areas and know who the recalcitrant hunters are and concentrate our patrols in these areas.
We have managed to exclude the hunters from most of the reserve and today hunting is largely restricted to the reserve boundaries (usually <100 m from the forest edge) and we have not registered any hunting activity along the reserve trails for several years. 60% of the hunting registers are from the Michelin rubber groves outside of the reserve, mostly in the riparian forests near Vila 3 and 4 and along BA-001. Another 17% are from the River Forest below the Vila 5 Forest where it is easy for neighbors to the north to enter the reserve to hunt and to flee quickly at the approach of the guards. The remaining 23% were isolated events along the reserve boundary. We monitor both hunting pressure and wildlife abundances and since the creation of the reserve we have seen a dramatic decrease in hunting activity accompanied by a rapid expansion of wildlife populations (117% increase in abundances since the creation of the reserve). Endangered species such as the yellow breasted capuchin monkey (Sapajus xanthosternos) and red-billed curassow (Crax blumenbachii) have recovered well and have re-colonized all of the reserve forests. Populations of paca (Cuniculus paca), red brocket deer (Mazama americana), grey brocket deer (Mazama gouazoubira) have increased by 222%. The most remarkable recovery are those of collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) and the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) whose populations have increased by 339% and 547%, respectively. Our monitoring indicates that some populations continue to grow but we suspect that within a few more years the reserve will reach its carrying capacity for these animals. Through protection we have created a refuge for wildlife that has not existed since the arrival of the first peoples several thousand years ago. Hunting continues to be a problem in the surrounding properties however and there is little indication that our neighbors have any concern for wildlife conservation. Because of this, we must remain vigilant and the guards must continue their patrols.