Hunting in Times of Change: Uncovering Indigenous Strategies in the Colombian Amazon Using a Role-Playing Game

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Despite growing industrialization, the shift to a cash economy and natural resource overexploitation, indigenous people of the Amazon region hunt and trade wildlife in order to meet their livelihood requirements. Individual strategies, shaped by the hunters' values and expectations, are changing in response to the region's economic development, but they still face the contrasting challenges of poverty and overhunting. For conservation initiatives to be implemented effectively, it is crucial to take into account people's strategies with their underlying drivers and their adaptive capabilities within a transforming socio-economic environment. To uncover hunting strategies in the Colombian Amazon and their evolution under the current transition, we co-designed a role-playing game together with the local stakeholders. The game revolves around the tension between ecological sustainability and food security—hunters' current main concern. It simulates the mosaic of activities that indigenous people perform in the wet and dry season, while also allowing for specific hunting strategies. Socio-economic conditions change while the game unfolds, opening up to emerging alternative potential scenarios suggested by the stakeholders themselves. Do hunters give up hunting when given the opportunity of an alternative income and protein source? Do institutional changes affect their livelihoods? We played the game between October and December 2016 with 39 players—all of them hunters—from 9 different communities within the Ticoya reserve. Our results show that providing alternatives would decrease overall hunting effort, but impacts are not spatially homogenous. Legalizing trade could lead to overhunting except when market rules and competition come into place. When it comes to coupled human-nature systems, the best way forward to produce socially just and resilient conservation strategies might be to trigger an adaptive process of experiential learning and scenario exploration. The use of games as “boundary objects” can guide stakeholders through the process, eliciting the plurality of their strategies, their drivers and how outside change affects them.

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