The Importance of Nonhuman Primates in Waorani Communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon

  • Margaret Franzen LevinEmail author
Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)


This chapter considers the importance of nonhuman primates in the subsistence and sharing behavior of the Waorani, an indigenous hunter–gatherer–horticulturalist group living in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Primate meat is commonly consumed in Waorani households, and primates are the species most often kept as pets. The large-bodied primates, as well as the peccary species, are shared between households with high frequency and contribute more than other prey species to the maintenance of consistent exchanges within the community. Frequent sharing of meat between households likely signals cooperative intent and reduces the risk of individuals not having meat to consume on a given day. The peccary species seem to be equally important to primates in regard to subsistence and sharing behavior. However, hunts recorded from a community that was recently established in an area of unhunted forest suggest that large-bodied primates might be the most important prey species when primate populations remain intact. The large harvest of spider monkeys from this area, and the conspicuous absence of spider monkeys from the harvests of some longer-established communities, suggests that the relative vulnerability of this species deserves further consideration.


Waorani Ethnoprimatology Ecuadorian Amazon Hunting Food sharing Conservation 


Este capítulo analiza la importancia de los primates no-humanos en la subsistencia y el comportamiento de intercambio de carne entre los Waorani de la Amazonía ecuatoriana. La carne de primates se consume comúnmente en los hogares Waorani, y los primates son las especies más frecuentemente mantenidas como mascotas. Los primates de gran tamaño, así como pecaríes, se comparten con mayor frecuencia entre los hogares a la vez que contribuyen más que otras especies de presa para el mantenimiento de intercambios dentro de la comunidad. El intercambio frecuente de carne entre los hogares probablemente muestra la intención cooperativa y reduce la posibilidad de que las personas no tengan carne para consumir. Las especies de pecaríes parecen ser tan importantes como las de primates en lo que se refiere a la subsistencia y el comportamiento de compartir. Sin embargo, las cacerías de una comunidad que se ha establecido recientemente en un área de bosque no-cazado sugiere que los primates de gran tamaño podrían ser las especies de presa más importantes cuando las poblaciones de estas permanecen intactas. La mayor caza de monos araña de esta zona, y la notoria ausencia de monos araña en las cacerías de algunas comunidades establecidas desde hace más tiempo, indican la vulnerabilidad relativa de esta especie y su mayor consideración.

Palabras Clave

Waorani etnoprimatología Amazonía ecuatoriana cacería intercambio de alimentos conservación 



This research was funded at various stages by a Fulbright Fellowship to Ecuador, a National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Dissertation Improvement Grant (0129826), a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant (6887), and a Gifford Center Grant (Program for Research on Population, Food and the Environment). I also received support from the Ecology Graduate Group at the University of California, Davis, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society, Ecuador. I thank my dissertation advisor, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, and Loukas Barton for his assistance with the map. I also wish to thank Bernardo Urbani, Manuel Lizarralde, and an anonymous reviewer for their thoughtful comments. I am extremely grateful to the Waorani residents of Guiyero, Tiimpuca, and Dicaro who generously shared their time and knowledge with me.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Group in EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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