The COVID-19 pandemic has had diverse effects on the environment and particularly on wildlife, through diverse and sometimes contradicting impact pathways. In this study, based on data collected in indigenous and local communities from South America (Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador), we investigated changes in the use of wildlife resources for food during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our study generates unique ground data collected just after the COVID outbreak collected among 756 households in 60 communities, mostly from indigenous backgrounds. We show that wildlife had a role to play as a safety net during the crisis. However, this role was conditioned by the availability of wildlife, the maintenance of traditional knowledge and skills for hunting and fishing, and by secured access to the resource. Also, while wildlife was considered as a short-term and immediate solution during the first months of the crisis, longer term strategies were prioritised at the household and involved diversifying food sources through domestic meat and crop production. We caution that relying on natural resources as a safety net may constitute a poverty trap in cases where the resource is limited and access to common resources is insecure. Although the trends observed and impact pathways differ according to each local context, our study generates some general patterns at the household level that allow to draw some lessons learnt about the value of wildlife in rural livelihoods in times of crisis. We also draw some important recommendations about the need for health response policies to consider more inclusive processes in decision making for this and other pandemics.
COVID-19; wildlife use; food security; IPLCs; adaptation strategies; South America