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Percepcoes e usos de recursos faunisticos por comunidades do entorno de uma unidade de conservacao do nordeste do Brasil.

Perception and use of fauna resources in communities surrounding a conservation unit in northeast Brazil.


Biodiversity conservation is currently an area of much debate. Its varied approaches are also in the spotlight, given that biological communities, which took millions of years to evolve, are being devastated by human activities worldwide (PRIMACK, 2000). Threats to biodiversity are accelerated by the demand of a rapid increase in the human population and the consumption of biological material (CULLEN et al., 2004). This is aggravated by the unequal distribution of these natural resources, especially in many tropical countries such as Brazil, which have high species diversity.

The poor use of Caatinga resources has caused irreversible damage in this biome. Desertification already affects 15% of the area and the consequences of years of predatory extractivism are visible in the irretrievable loss of flora and fauna diversity (SCHOBER, 2002). In recent years rural landowners have become increasingly interested in turning part of their properties into protected areas, mainly to preserve the natural environment. However, the number of Conservation Units (CUs) in the Caatinga is still very low (SILVA et al., 2004).

The Serido Ecological Station (Serido ESEC) is one of the CUs in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. It is near an agricultural property and there are many communities within its buffer zone that use its natural resources, often extensively.

The population around the Conservation Units was established before these areas were created. They have their own way of using and handling native and introduced species and their empirical indigenous knowledge is often unknown to the scientific community (TUAN, 1980). This is useful in their daily lives and generally influences the adequate functioning of these Conservation Units.

Tuan (1980) identifies elements that bring people closer to their environment, such as esthetic appreciation, physical contact, health, topophilia, familiarity and patriotism.

Environmental Perception is a research tool used in Educational, Social and Environmental fields to improve the quality of life of people and nature (MARIN et al., 2003). It is also used with other areas of learning to recover and analyze local knowledge and better understand the people-environment relationship.

The concept of Environmental Perception used in this study is the same as that proposed by MAB/Unesco: "A conscious decision and understanding by man of the environment in a wider sense, involving more than individual sensory perception such as vision or hearing" (WHYTE, 1978).

Environmental Perception and Ethnozoology concepts were used in this study to better understand the relationship of man with animals and its perceptions. According to Rocha-Mendes et al. (2005), ethnozoology is the way different populations perceive, classify and understand animal resources.

The interdependence of humans with other natural biotic elements is explained in the biophilia hypothesis described by Wilson (1984) and cited by Santos-Fita and Costa-Neto (2007). It suggests that 99% of man's evolutionary history is intimately connected to other living beings and that humans have an instinctive bond with other species on the planet. The connection varies between attraction, aversion, admiration and indifference and has evolved into a significant information system on environmental species. This is demonstrated by the knowledge, beliefs and cultural practices related to fauna in each area.

Environmental perception and ethnozoology concepts were used in this study to analyze the use of fauna native to the Rio Grande do Norte Caatinga by communities around the Serido Ecological Station.

Material and methods

Study area

The Serido Ecological Station (Serido ESEC) is located in Serra Negra do Norte, Rio Grande do Norte State, in a Caatinga area of 1,166.38 ha between 6[degrees]35' S and 37[degrees]15' W (Figure 1). It was formed by Decree Law 87222 on May 31st, 1982.

The Serido ESEC is a relevant area for determining proper management and effective biodiversity preservation. It is the object of studies on biodiversity, geographic distribution and characterization of the main plant standards in the Serido Caatinga in Rio Grande do Norte State, Brazil. It is also home to many animal species some of these are newly registered and/or endemic to the region. The area is a reference for studies on the fauna and flora of the Caatinga in semi-arid Rio Grande do Norte, since it is the only completely protected CU in the region and relies on interaction with the surrounding population.

Methodology and data collection

A preliminary exploratory study was carried out of the Serido ESEC and its immediate surroundings. The CU was visited to select communities and people over 18 years old living in the area around the Station for interviews (Figure 1).

A research instrument was then created, based on environmental perception principals proposed by Whyte (1978) and Tuan (1980) and used in studies of Conservation Units (MAROTI et al., 2000; SANTOS et al., 2000; SILVA, 2006). It consisted of a questionnaire with open and closed questions to characterize the interviewees.

Participants were randomly selected and an effort was made to interview at least one person from each household in selected communities to achieve a complete profile of the relationship between the communities and fauna resources.

Data were collected from September 2007 to May 2008 with a mean of one week-long monthly visit to each community. Return visits were made in the following months to houses that were found closed. Subjects were interviewed one at a time, questions were answered individually and the answers were recorded by the same researcher. This method was used to establish intimacy with the interviewees and allow them to talk about their lives, experiences and ideas.


The vernacular terms cited by 92 interviewees were transcribed in their scientific names using Pough et al. (2003) for vertebrates and Rupert et al. (2005) for invertebrates. The identification was supported by consulting a specialist on local fauna.

The information was then simplistically analyzed (percentages) to retrieve the necessary data. Answers were classified into categories for respective uses, number of citations and scientific classification of each animal. The official endangered species lists from the Ministry of the Environment and the World Health Organization (OMS CID-10) were also consulted to classify the diseases treated when animals were cited as having medicinal properties.

Results and discussion

Only one (0.7%) of the 92 participants interviewed had no knowledge of any animal in the Serido ESEC.

The others identified one or more native animals with a total of 514 (five hundred and fourteen) citations and 58 (fifty-eight) of these were different animals. Species not native to the Caatinga were excluded from this study.

The vernacular zoological classification is how humans perceive, identify and use the animals considering the traditions and perceptions of each culture (BEGOSSI, 1993; RAZERA et al., 2006). The animals most noticed and identified by residents were those they felt a utility or emotional affinity with.

Citations by interviewees in this study were classified into seven zoological groups: Birds (32%), Mammals (29%), Reptiles (19%), Insects (12%), Amphibians (3%), Arachnids (3%) and Fish (2%) (Figure 2). These results show that vertebrates are identified more than invertebrates, confirming the findings of Silva (2006) and Razera et al. (2006). The authors report that larger, more useful animals that have more daily contact with communities are more easily perceived.


Mammals were identified in seven different vernacular names, 'reptiles' in 11 and birds in 18. Amphibians were cited 8 times and the two animals identified were: frogs (89%) and Leptodactylus ocellatus (type of toad) (11%). Both of these belong to the Anura taxon (Table 1). Although they are abundant in the area, spotted tree frogs were not reported. This is probably owing to the fact that they are arboreal and not part of the communities' daily lives. Fish were only mentioned by name once and invertebrates, identified here as insects and arachnids, were cited 19 times and classified into 9 vernacular groups (Table 1). Although invertebrates are smaller than fish they are more present in the daily lives of people in areas of natural vegetation such as the Serido ESEC. Studies by Costa-Neto, (2000) and Silva (2006) show that land animals, such as birds and mammals and even invertebrates such as insects, are cited more often than fish.

The rhea was the animal most mentioned by the population, with 58 citations. It is followed by the snake with 57 citations, the sex-banded armadillo with 52, the (true) armadillo with 43, and the fox with 41. These data are confirmed by the fact that the animals are a significant presence in the daily life of the population. They are also large animals and in the case of rheas and foxes, as well as frequently invading residential property, are used as food, medicine or both (Table 1).

Of the 5 (five) mammal taxa, carnivores were the most cited (34%) followed by Didelphimorphia (24%). The mammal most identified was the sex-banded armadillo (Order Xenarthra). This finding corroborates Silva (2006), who found that carnivores were the most cited animals, given that they have more contact with people, and are often used as food (RAZERA et al., 2006) and in the treatment of disease (ALMEIDA; ALBUQUERQUE, 2002).

The most cited vernacular names for birds were from 13 (thirteen) taxa. The most cited were Passeriformes (45%), followed by Falconiformes and Columbiformes with 11% each (Table 1). The rhea (Struthioniformes) was the most identified animal with 58 citations, representing 31% of the birds cited (Table 1). It is the largest bird in and around the Serido ESEC, appears often on properties and is also used as food and medicine. Another important factor in citing the rhea is that is was previously extinct in the region and was re-introduced when the ESEC was established in the area.

Amphibians from the Anura taxon were cited 8 times and the animal most identified was the frog with 87% (7) of citations. It was followed by Leptodactylus ocellatus (type of toad) with 13% (1 citation). Amphibians were not often cited, as interviewees reported feeling aversion for them and did not consider them useful. These animals are also rare during the dry seasons, when most interviews were carried out.

The most frequently identified reptile was the snake with 57 citations (Table 1). A well as being cited as the most useful animal by participants, they were also feared and respected by the interviewees.

In the invertebrate group, spiders were the most mentioned at 33%. Insects (Blattarie, Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Hemiptera and Ortoptera) were the most cited taxon at 63%, followed by Arachnida (Spiders and Scorpions) with 12 citations. The invertebrates identified by interviewees, such as spiders and scorpions, generally appear in homes. These animals are also most cited in ethnozoology studies using the perception of traditional populations (ROCHA-MENDES et al., 2005; SANTOS-FITA; COSTA-NETO, 2007).

Identified uses for fauna resources

There were four use categories identified by interviewed residents (Figure 3). The first category (Table 1) was the most mentioned with 53% of citations and corresponds to nothing and/or to nature (Figure 3).


This occurs because many participants stated that animals not used as food and/or treatment for diseases served no purpose or only nature-related purposes.

The second use category most mentioned by participants was number 2 (Table 1), human food, with 34% of citations (Figure 3). The animals most mentioned such as the sex-banded armadillo, rhea and (true) armadillo are widely used as food by the studied population. This category is also the most identified in other studies where food is included in the uses investigated (SILVA, 2006; RAZERA et al., 2006).

Animals with medicinal properties identified by participants belong to five taxa. Reptiles were the most mentioned and the vernacular name with the highest number of medicinal uses was the snake, with six treatments identified (Table 2). Alves et al. (2007) found similar results that indicate snakes were used to treat muscular pain, rheumatic diseases and others. Although the fox was cited for five treatments in this study, it was not cited for medicinal use in other similar studies (ALMEIDA; ALBUQUERQUE, 2002; COSTA-NETO; RESENDE, 2004; SILVA, 2006).

The diseases cited by residents that were treated with medicinal animals were classified according to WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines. Those most cited were osteomuscular and conjunctive tissue disorders such as back pain and rheumatism, with 28% of citations (Figure 4). Second were lesions, poisoning and other externally caused disorders such as snake bites and general cuts, with 24% of citations. Respiratory disease (colds, flu and sinusitis) received 20% of citations (Figure 4).


Animals such as the pit viper, which are often cited for medicinal use, are endemic to Caatingas (Eliza Maria Xavier Freire). Other animals cited for food, such as the margay and anteater, are listed as endangered species in Brazil by the Ministry for the Environment. The population is largely unaware of the threat to these species. They may change their attitude if the need to protect the survival of these threatened species was explained. Other studies have found that this is especially true in conservation areas (SANTOS, 2000).


The animals most mentioned by the participants were large animals that were more useful to the community (for food and medicine) and more visible during the day. Food and medicinal uses are significant in poor areas, but these communities also maintain cultural and traditional uses. Local knowledge was rich and many native Caatinga species were identified by the population, demonstrating that studies such as this one recover traditions. This may be a starting point for a partnership between the local and scientific communities and directors to properly manage and preserve the Serido ESEC.

These communities demonstrate a tradition of rational use of the medicines identified. These may supplement pharmacological studies for the use of animals in medicine. Alternative animals that are more numerous and not threatened may also be used instead of the endangered animals that are more widely used as medicines, allowing for the sustainable use of animal resources.

DOI: 10.4025/actascibiolsci.v32i4.5668


The authors would like to thank the residents around the Serido ESEC for their contributions and information used in this study. We also thank Professor Adalberto Antonio Varela Freire for assisting with the identification of the species in the study.

Received on October 31, 2008.

Accepted on August 10, 2009.


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Thaise Sousa da Silva * and Eliza Maria Xavier Freire

Programa de Pos-graduacao em Desenvolvimento e Meio Ambiente, Centro de Biociencias, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Cx. Postal 1524, 59072-970, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. *Author for correspondence. Email:
Table 1. List of the vernacular names of animals native of the
Caatinga cited in the interviews, organized by taxon, number of
citations and uses.

group                                               No. of
abrangente       Order          Vernacular Nome    citations  Use (1)

Insects        Blattariae
               Hemiptera        Kissing bedbug        01         4
               Coleoptera           Beetle            03         4
              Lepidoptera          Butterfly          01         4
              Hymenoptera             Ant             01         4
               Orthoptera           Cricket           01         4
                Various             Insects           04         4
Arachnids       Araneae             Spider            06         4
               Scorpiones          Scorpion           01         4
Fish                                 Fish             01         2
Amphibians       Anura           Leptodactylus        01         4
                              ocellatus (type of
                                     Frog             08         4
Reptiles       Testudines        Mediterranean        04      1, 2, 4
                              Red-footed tortoise     04       2, 4
                Squamata        Spix's whiptail       02         4
                                   Chameleon          06      2, 3, 4
                                  Rattlesnake         07        1,4
                                     Snake            57      1, 2, 4
                                Amazon tree boa       09        1,4
                                   Pit viper          02        1,4
                                    Lizard            01         4
                                Black and white       26      1, 2, 4
               Crocodilia          Alligator          08       2, 4
Birds        Passeriformes     Tyrant Flycatcher      01         2
                              Caatinga Cachalote      03         2
                                    Canary            09      2, 3, 4
                                 Orange-backed        04        2,4
                              Red-Cowled cardinal     03       2, 4
                                   Black hen          02         2
                                 Rice grackle         02         2
             Falconiformes     Crested caracara       02         4
                                 Sparrow Hawk         14         4
             Columbiformes     White-winged dove      05         4
                                  Field dove          02         3
              Cuculiformes            Ani             02         4
              Anseriformes         Wild duck          03         2
              Strigiformes            Owl             03         4
            Struthioniformes         Rhea             58      1, 2, 4
               Gruiformes          Water Hen          02       2, 4
            Podicipediformes         Grebe            01         4
                                     Fowl             04        2,4
Mammals        Carnivorea           Ocelot            02        2,4
                                   Feral cat          11       2, 4
                                  Jungle cat          08       2, 4
                                    Margay            02         4
                                      Fox             41        1,4
                                    Jaguar            04         5

group                                               No. of
abrangente       Order          Vernacular Nome    citations   Use1

            Didelphimorphia          Skunk            02         4
                                    Racoon            19       2, 4
                                    Opossum           09      1, 2, 4
                                    Opossum           05       2, 4
                Rodentia       Central American       04       2, 4
                                  abouti Cavy         18         2
                                   Rock cavy          08       2, 4
                Xenartra          Sex-banded          52       2, 4
                              armadillo Anteater      07       2, 4
                               (true) Armadillo       43       2, 4
                Primates            Monkey            04         4
                                  Total = 58        Total =

Key. 1--Medicinal use. 2--Human food. 3--Domestic use.
4--Nothing and/or nature-related.

Table 2. Animals of medicinal use according to residents around
the Serido ESEC, organized by vernacular name, taxon,
treatment, disease classification (WHO ICD-10) and the animal
part used.

Vernacular name/          Treatment            Disease        Animal
taxon                     indicated         classification   part used

Mediterranean             Back pain               V            Meat

Rattlesnake/         Anti-inflammatory/       VII, IV, V        Fat
Squamata              throat/rheumatism

Snake/Squamata       Anti-inflammatory/       II, IV, I,        Fat
                       throat/cancer/        III, V, VII
                        wound healing

Amazon tree boa/           Throat/           IV, II, III,       Fat
Squamata              Anti-inflammatory         V, VII
                       animal diseases

Rhea/                     Bone pain               V             Fat

Pit viper/               Rheumatism               XV            Fat

Fox/                 Anti-inflammatory/      II, VI, IV,        Fat
Carnivore               hemorrhoids/            V, VII
                        cracked feet

Black and white      Anti-inflammatory/         II, IV          Fat
tegu/                      throat

Lizard/                  Rheumatism               V            Meat

Key. I--Neoplasias [tumors]. II--General inflammation. III--
Symptoms, signs and abnormal laboratory and clinical exam
findings not classified elsewhere.  IV--Respiratory diseases.
V--Diseases of the osteomuscular system and conjunctive tissue.
VI--Genitourinary diseases. VII--Lesions, poisoning and other
externally caused disorders. Source: WHO ICD-10.
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Title Annotation:texto en ingles
Author:Sousa da Silva, Thaise; Xavier Freire, Eliza Maria
Publication:Acta Scientiarum Biological Sciences (UEM)
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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