Samoa Implementing Traditional Ecological Knowledge To Study And Protect Samoa’s Threatened Species

Method assesses status of rare and threatened animals of Samoa through interviews carried out with experienced elderly hunters

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, August 20, 2016) – The use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and the expertise of local indigenous people could well be the key to rescuing Samoa’s rare and threatened species such as the Manumea from becoming extinct.

For the first time in Samoa and possibly throughout the Pacific, Traditional Ecological Knowledge has taken a primary role in the carrying out of biodiversity surveys.

This use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge for the surveying of some of Samoa’s key biodiversity areas, was an initiative by ecologist and ornithologist Gianluca Serra who led a series of surveys over eight months, as part of the Strengthening Multi-Sectoral Management of Critical Landscapes of Samoa Project initiatives.

The TEK technique utilizes the traditional knowledge of the experienced elderly hunters that led the surveys at the Uafato-Tiavea Coastal forest, the Apia Catchments, the Central Savaii rain forest and Falealupo Peninsula in Savaii.

The most common approach for fauna surveying work in Samoa has been based on scientists leading and outcomes achieved through the scientific ecological knowledge or SEK.

This TEK method assesses the status of rare and threatened animals of Samoa through interviews carried out with experienced elderly hunters.  It also the local experts who are the best  experts  of their own forests to be the ones that lead the actual survey and fieldwork.

Locally based Serra emphasized that “the amount and quality of TEK available in village of Samoa is stunning. People know all too well the environment where they live.”

The use of traditional knowledge in this SMSMCL Project led survey has confirmed what the SEK work had only been able to suggest in the past regarding the poor conservation of some of Samoa’s significant species like the Manumea bird.

The Manumea (Tooth-billed Pigeon Didunculus strigirostris) is the national bird of Samoa as well as a zoological icon for the whole tropical Pacific.  It was one of the key focuses of the survey, as it is critically endangered and endemic to Samoa.

Through this survey, more than eighty percent of the 40 hunters interviewed using the TEK method confirmed that the population of this bird has declined or crashed during the recent decades in Samoa forests.  The survey further confirmed that the reason for this grim outlook for the Manumea is that it’s often killed by mistake in the hunt by locals for the Lupe (Pacific Pigeon Ducula pacifica).

However, good news has also come about through the use of TEK regarding the current occurrence of the Manumea in the forest areas of Uafato, Malololelei, Aopo and Taga.

According to Serra, “this is the first time that the Manumea has been detected at Malololelei and in the Taga forest.”

Furthermore, a manumea was actually spotted in the Uafato through the 2016 Biodiversity Rapid

Assessment Program that was carried out through the SMSMCL Project two weeks ago.

The SMSMCL Project is a Government of Samoa and United Nations Development Programme project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The primary objective of the Project is to strengthen local capacities, incentives and actions for integrated landscape management in order to reduce land degradation and greenhouse gas emissions as well as promote nature conservation while enhancing sustainable local livelihoods.

In this context, the use of traditional knowledge in this survey has made an important contribution towards the conservation and management of the Upolu and Savaii upland and coastal forests by providing critical biodiversity data that assists in determining and prioritizing specific areas for conservation management and sustainable land management practices.

The prioritising of traditional ecological knowledge has also provided for the engagement of local communities in conservation and built up their pride in their customary resources.

SMSMCL Project Manager Seumaloisalafai Afele Faiilagi confirmed that “an important outcome of this work is the identification of a pool of local indigenous reliable experts from the villages surveyed. These people are a precious and a unique resource for the destiny of Samoa’s endangered natural heritage: they hold the potential to become the guardians of their ancestral forest and the conservation champions of our endemic species.”

The findings and recommendations from this survey which include key management and policy options will be put forward to the stakeholders and the local communities to ensure the protection of the upland and coastal forests of Upolu and Savaii including key species found in these forests.

Talamua
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