In the context of contemporary rural realities, characterized by economic and environmental changes, a new kind of knowledge, use patterns and management strategies of natural resources have emerged as a way of coping with change and uncertainty [1–3]. Studying how conservation and management practices have evolved, and how knowledge is created, changed and used, are important research topics for management and natural resources policies . Likewise, through this approach the mechanisms of learning involved in the development of economic activities, which ultimately refer to the adaptation of groups to new scenarios, can be studied.
The construction of ecological knowledge in non-Western societies with oral tradition, involves a lengthy process of observation and feedback with the environment . Learning about ecological dynamics and skills for survival, as in other domains has been in large part incremental and cumulative . Learning is shaped by two processes, cultural transmission on the one hand and acquisition of knowledge in practice or “learning by doing” on the other [7, 8]. Although cultural transmission, especially among family members is considered one of the most conservative mechanisms of knowledge , different cultures have developed their own interpretations of the learning process. In turn, these have been useful to reinterpret the results of other related processes such as the emergence of knowledge and management practices. For example, for the Anishinaabe of Canada learning involves journeying along the land where the places have memories that are constantly transmitted and where new ones are created .
Traditional or local ecological knowledge is one mayor force involved in natural resource management in consumptive activities like hunting, fishing or gathering. Knowledge about distribution, abundance and behavior concerning resources and characteristics of landscape are the principal source of information for decision-making about where, when and how to harvest animal or plants [5, 10–12]. The extent of knowledge enables individuals to maximize harvest success, for example, through spatial and temporal segregation of the exploitation spot (“rest” concept), communication (exchange of information), competition (secrecy and deceptions) and development of social norms [5, 10, 13].
Communication and collaboration among users is a valuable mechanism to interchange relevant information and knowledge regarding resources, both in traditional groups of hunter-gatherer [11, 12] and in high-technology fisheries [13, 14]. Exchange of information is the common way of learning from others in most of these cases. Also, it has been observed that the interconnection between rules and decision-making process promotes knowledge generation .
In the development of new productive activities knowledge and practices may take time to develop. However, some study cases suggest that preexisting social structures or social networks may accelerate the learning process see . Knowledge developed in this process can be based on knowledge and skills acquired a priori by enculturation models  but local ecological knowledge is often gained more recently over the lifetime of individuals .
This paper addresses the question of how new knowledge and practices have emerged from lagartos (Crocodylus moreletii) commercial hunting practiced in the past (between 1960–1980) by Mayan peoples from a communal land (ejido) in Quintana Roo state.
International and national demand of crocodile skin enhanced hunting of these reptiles in all the Mexican territory, and in large part of the crocodilians distribution around the world . Reptiles are food and medicinal resources widely used among local people in both commercial and subsistence activities, while indiscriminate use endangers species conservation [17–20]. Given the economic and cultural importance of reptiles for various human groups is necessary to pay more attention to the development of sustainable management plans for species use . An important step in this direction is to understand the cultural, social and traditional roles of the fauna in each local context .
The case study analyzed meets a set of characteristics which are different from other Maya’s traditional activities. Mayan lagarto hunting was; a) a purely economic activity, as its flesh is considered unfit for consumption; b), traditionally lagartos were not subject to hunting because of the latter; c) the activity was performed by the Mayan for a period of less than 10 years (boom-bust activity) as a result of the influence of markets and then prohibited after the total ban on hunting proclaimed by the Mexican state; d) it was developed over a common resource and under open access regime (State lands) [23, 24]. Ecological knowledge generated by hunters during the activity is considered complementary to a lagartos population sampling conducted in communal lands. It provides information on the habitat and behavior of lagartos little explored by scientists .
Two questions guided our work: how did the Mayan learn to hunt lagartos? And how did, and in what context, knowledge and management practices emerge? To answer these questions we analyzed the sources of information and routes of learning as well as mechanisms involved in the acquisition of knowledge. We hypothesize that preexisting social structures, knowledge and skills facilitate the hunting learning process but lagarto ecological knowledge and organizational practice were developed in a “learning by doing” process.
Also, we investigated the role of previous knowledge and forms of social organization used by the Mayan in the development of this new activity. Finally, to analyze the context in which a management system has appeared, we discussed the emergence of hunting in relation to the characteristic of natural resource and the tenure system in the framework of the literature referred to common resources.