The natural place to begin: the ethnoprimatology of the Waorani

Sarah Papworth, E J Milner-Gulland, Katie Slocombe

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Ethnoprimatology is an important and growing discipline, studying the diverse relationships between humans and primates. However there is a danger that too great a focus on primates as important to humans may obscure the importance of other animal groups to local people. The Waorani of Amazonian Ecuador were described by Sponsel [Sponsel (1997) New World Primates: Ecology, evolution and behavior. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. p 143-165] as the "natural place" for ethnoprimatology, because of their close relationship to primates, including primates forming a substantial part of their diet. Therefore they are an ideal group in which to examine contemporary perceptions of primates in comparison to other types of animal. We examine how Waorani living in Yasuní National Park name and categorize primates and other common mammals. Although there is some evidence that the Waorani consider primates a unique group, the non-primate kinkajou and olingo are also included as part of the group "monkeys," and no evidence was found that primates were more important than other mammals to Waorani culture. Instead, a small number of key species, in particular the woolly monkey (Lagothrix poeppigii) and white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), were found to be both important in the diet and highly culturally salient. These results have implications for both ethnoprimatologists and those working with local communities towards broader conservation goals. Firstly, researchers should ensure that they and local communities are referring to the same animals when they use broad terms such as "monkey," and secondly the results caution ethnoprimatologists against imposing western taxonomic groups on indigenous peoples, rather than allowing them to define themselves which species are important.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1117-1128
Issue number11
Early online date1 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013

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© 2013 The Authors. American Journal of Primatology Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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