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Awareness Magazine
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Huaorani Ecolodge Invests in EcoTourism

as Tool to Preserve Indigenous Cultures

By Sara Widness

 

Huaorani Ecolodge is pioneering indigenous community tourism with the Huaorani people of the Amazon of Ecuador, providing a viable business model that has evolved from a commitment to and an investment in ecotourism as a tool for conservation of both the environment and communities.

This indigenous peoples’ thousands-year-old culture, made aware to the so-called civilized world in the mid-20th century, is today threatened by oil interests that in their quest to remove oil would create an infrastructure that could ultimately force the Huaorani from the region.

This David and Goliath narrative is about preserving a people in nature by keeping oil in the ground. Roads, settlers, deforestation, the introduction of cattle and non-native plant species, pipelines, leaks and spills are just the beginning. But perhaps most important is that indigenous groups with their own conservation efforts should be a source of national pride.

Since 1994 Tropic Journeys in Nature has partnered with and promoted tourism initiatives targeting the survival of threatened, indigenous cultures. These include the Siecoya, Cofan, Siona, Achuar and Quichua. Its operation is dedicated to tourism based on respectful cultural exchange designed to strengthen local cultures.

To avoid cultural contamination of any kind, visitor groups are kept purposefully small and facilities are built to an intimate scale. The goal is to provide visitors with an intimate experience and to inspire them through educational experiences to become active conservationists and supporters of indigenous communities.

Essential to Tropic’s tourism policy is ensuring that any community and community representative with whom it engages will receive fair economic benefits from the tourism operation. A major portion of the benefits from operations remains within the communities. Care is taken that income is distributed equitably to the various families and service providers involved in the project.

An innovative partnership with the Huaorani people led to the promotion of a new form of ecologically-friendly development sensitive to Huaorani traditions in the form of Huaorani Ecolodge.

This ecotourism project is co-managed by Tropic and the Huaorani themselves. The permanent structure was opened in January 2008 after a tourism association was formed by the five indigenous communities involved in the project. In order to consolidate the project, community members were trained and plans made to produce and sell crafts. After consultations a site was chosen and a lodge planned and built. Community members work in the Ecolodge and participate in its management. They also provide the associated services such as laundry, carpentry and supplying local produce for meals.

Another level of community engagement was a Huaorani commitment to give part of their territory as an intangible reserve zone to conservation and tourism, and to participate in mapping the sites. Today a 55,000-hectare Forest Reserve is linked to Huaorani Ecolodge and located in the territory of five Huaorani communities involved in operating the Ecolodge. The Reserve and Ecolodge are in the buffer zone of Yasuni National Park, recognized as one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas and is presently under threat from illegal logging and oil production.

The project, designed in conjunction with Tropic Journeys in Nature and the Conservation in Action Foundation, is supported by a number of national and international organizations, such as the United Nations Development program (through its small donations fund), the Wildlife Conservation Society and the IUCN.

An environmental management plan for the Reserve has been developed and is the subject of a number of community workshops. In addition to introducing local tribes to 21st-century mapping techniques, a camera trap project analyzed and catalogued the region’s wildlife.

The Huaorani now have a reason to protect their own local environment as distinguished by the Reserve and the Lodge. Their standard of living has risen due to employment provided by the Lodge and opportunities to sell handicrafts to guests. Other micro businesses are being implemented and will further assist the five communities involved.

Another positive impact is the experience gained by the members of the community in the planning and operation of the lodge and its related activities. The positive feedback they receive from guests helps to build their confidence. They are also shored up by the attention and support the initiative has received from the wider public).

An interesting and often overlooked aspect of this venture is that in the contact between visitors and the local community, the community members are more than equal members of the exchange. Their culture is valued and appreciated. They witness first- hand the excitement of guests viewing the beauty of wildlife across their conservation area.

Established in 1994, Tropic Journeys is an award–winning ecotourism company specializing in responsible, community-based tourism in Ecuador. Programs combine life-changing, active-but-cultural eco-tourism experiences focusing on nature, conservation, diversity and sustainability in three distinct areas:

• Huaorani Ecolodge at the headwaters of the Amazon in Yasuni National Park.

• Floreana Lava Lodge a beachside accommodation in the Galapagos Islands, on Floreana Island.

• Journeys in Nature – Sustainable guided nature and culture-focused tours throughout Ecuador in collaboration with conservationists groups and local communities.


For information and reservations contact: Tropic Ecological Adventures LLC. Phone: (888) 207-8615 or visit: www.destinationecuador.com/