Elias Machipango Shuverireni picks up his long, palm-wood bow and his arrows tipped with sharpened bamboo. We’re going monkey hunting in Peru’s Manú National Park—a huge swath of protected rain forest and one of the most biodiverse parks in the world.
The hunt is legal. Elias belongs to an indigenous group called the Matsigenka, of whom fewer than a thousand live in the park, mostly along the banks of the Manú River and its tributaries. All the park’s indigenous inhabitants—so-called uncontacted tribes as well as the Matsigenka—have the right to harvest plants and animals for their own use, but they can’t sell park resources without special permission, and they can’t hunt with guns. Elias and his wife—people in Manú go by first names—grow yucca, cotton, and other crops in a small clearing on the Yomibato River. Their children gather fruit and medicinal plants. Elias catches fish and fells trees. And he hunts, especially spider monkeys and woolly monkeys—favorite foods of the Matsigenka. Both are threatened species.
Things have been this way for a long time, but the Matsigenka are growing in number, which worries some biologists who love the park. What if their population doubles? What if they start using guns? Could the monkey populations survive? And without those species, which disperse the seeds of fruit trees as they snack through the jungle, how would the forest change?