Hunting and Subsistence Among the Mayangna and Miskito of Nicaragua's Bosawas Biosphere Reserve

Open Access
Koster, Jeremy Michael
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 13, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Stephen Joel Beckerman, Committee Chair
  • Kenneth Gale Hirth, Committee Member
  • Jeffrey Arnold Kurland, Committee Member
  • Katriona Shea, Committee Member
  • sketch mapping
  • sustainability
  • hunting dogs
  • Optimal foraging theory
This dissertation examines livelihoods and subsistence in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua, focusing in particular on hunting but also extending to horticulture, fishing, and time allocation to subsistence labor. It is based on thirteen months of fieldwork in two communities on the Lakus River, a tributary of the Coco River in northern Nicaragua. The communities, Arang Dak and Suma Pipi, are home to the Mayangna and Miskito, two of Nicaragua’s most populous indigenous groups. Field methods employed in this study include focal observations of hunters, instantaneous scan sampling of household members, and considerable work with indigenous research assistants, who helped to monitor the harvest of fish and game, record daily food consumption in households, and map the locations of fields and kill sites. Results of this research indicate that hunting in Bosawas is similar in many respects to hunting elsewhere in Neotropical rain forests. Hunting is primarily a male-oriented activity, kill sites are clustered near the communities, and mammals contribute most of the biomass in the harvest. However, the hunters in Arang Dak and Suma Pipi are unusual in their heavy reliance on hunting dogs, which contribute to 85% of the kills of mammalian prey. From an optimal foraging perspective, hunting with dogs includes costs that cannot be analyzed with the basic diet breadth model, and a modified model is presented that addresses these costs. Overall, hunters generally pursue prey types that conform to predictions derived from optimal foraging theory. However, they regularly bypass a few species that apparently belong in the optimal diet set, and possible explanations for these suboptimal decisions are discussed. In total, the residents of Arang Dak and Suma Pipi caught 1,090 animals during the study period. The composition of the harvest varies seasonally and geographically, and some species are closely associated with certain hunting technologies. Most of the animals are captured in a core hunting zone of 77.6 km2, and many kill sites are close to anthropogenic habitats. Overall, the harvest of many species is lower than it is elsewhere in the Neotropics, but a sustainability assessment indicates that a few species might be hunted unsustainably in the core hunting zone. The continued survival of some species in the Lakus River watershed might depend on the maintenance of lightly-exploited tracts of forest outside the core hunting zone, and the implications of this possibility for wildlife management are discussed. In general, the Mayangna and Miskito are diverse in their economic and subsistence strategies, and this dissertation highlights the role and importance of hunting in household economies. Finally, data on time allocation and fishing are presented in light of recent debates about subsistence activities across the lifespan.