Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 751–780 | Cite as

Animals for the Gods: Magical and Religious Faunal Use and Trade in Brazil

  • Rômulo R. N. Alves
  • Ierecê L. Rosa
  • Nivaldo A. Léo Neto
  • Robert Voeks


Religious beliefs and practices have long influenced human perceptions and uses of nature. Animals in particular play a prominent role in magico-religious practices and given the historical and cultural depth of these relationships, understanding human-faunal relations is often fundamental to the cause of meaningful wildlife conservation. This study investigates the domestic and wild harvested species used for spiritual and religious purposes by adherents of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. Introduced by enslaved Africans, this belief system combines animal and plant traditions derived from Africa with many others assimilated from Amerindians. We identified a total of 129 species of animals (or animal derived products) used and/or sold for magico-religious purposes; of these, 34. 8 % (n = 45) are included in some list of threatened species. Most animals reported were mammals (n = 29), followed by mollusks (20), fishes (19), birds (18) and reptiles (16); the majority (78 %) of reported species were wild-caught from terrestrial habitats (62 %), followed by marine and estuarine (24 %), and freshwater (14 %). We identified an extensive commercial network of collectors, middlemen/distributors, shop owners, and consumers. Rarity of a given species was often positively associated with economic value. Considering the ubiquity and underground nature of these practices, future conservation strategists are encouraged to work with Candomblé practitioners.


Animal conservation Candomblé Ethnozoology Wildlife trade 



We thank PROBIO/MMA/IBRD/GEF/CNPq and PADI Foundation for financial support and CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico) for providing a research fellowship to the first and second authors. Special thanks are due to all interviewees who kindly shared their knowledge with us.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rômulo R. N. Alves
    • 1
  • Ierecê L. Rosa
    • 2
  • Nivaldo A. Léo Neto
    • 2
  • Robert Voeks
    • 3
  1. 1.Departamento de BiologiaUniversidade Estadual da ParaíbaCampina GrandeBrasil
  2. 2.Departamento de Sistemática e EcologiaUniversidade Federal da ParaíbaJoão PessoaBrasil
  3. 3.Department of GeographyCalifornia State UniversityFullertonUSA

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