- Open Access
Common opossum (Didelphis marsupialisLinnaeus, 1758): food and medicine for people in the Amazon
© Barros and de Aguiar Azevedo; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
- Received: 2 June 2014
- Accepted: 22 July 2014
- Published: 10 September 2014
In the Amazon rainforest, biodiversity is a significant resource for traditional communities, as it can be used as a relevant source of protein and it has a promising zootherapeutic potential. Studies on knowledge and ways how local peoples use the fauna are still incipient. This paper presents both the knowledge on and food and medicinal uses of common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) by riverine communities in an Amazon floodplain region.
The study was conducted with riverine communities in the municipality of Abaetetuba, Pará, Brazil. The main methods used were structured and semi-structured interviews, the “snowball” technique, and participant observation.
The study showed that D. marsupialis has an undeniable cultural significance for the local community, both in terms of food and medicine. Its meat is prized by inhabitants as it is classified as tasty, soft and, in some cases, it is designated as the best bushmeat in the region. The interviewees have demonstrated a thorough knowledge on various aspects of the animal’s biology, such as its diet, behavior, and places of occurrence. The hunting activity is practiced by men, but the preparation of meat and medicinal oil are tasks mainly performed by women. In medical terms, common opossum is used in the treatment of various diseases, such as rheumatism, asthma, sore throat, and inflammation. Given the importance of this species, its meat or live individuals are often sold in the city fair at prices that can reach R$ 40.00 (U$D 18,00) per individual.
D. marsupialis is an important source of protein for riverine communities in the region studied. Its fat is used as a traditional medicine and it is indicated for many types of diseases. Although the species concerned is treated with hostility in various Brazilian regions, in the case of Abaetetuba this animal is strongly prized due to the good quality of its meat. However, despite the value assigned to the species, its consumption should be the subject of further studies, as this marsupial species has been described as a reservoir for parasites that cause severe diseases.
- Didelphis marsupialis
- Traditional Medicine
- Amazon rainforest
The Amazon rainforest, which is among the largest biodiversity reserves in the world, plays an important role in the life of traditional communities, providing food, housing, transportation, household items, furniture, income, remedies, as well as other environmental services. Accordingly, the hunted fauna is crucial both as a protein and remedy source. Several studies conducted around the world have documented, through Ethnozoology, knowledge and ways how human populations use animal species [1–7]. Despite the biological and cultural richness of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, studies addressing this subject of the Ethnozoology [8–18] are scarce, considering the variety of uses of fauna adopted by human communities in the region. Indeed, in Brazil, studies on Ethnozoology are more advanced in the Northeast region [5, 19, 20].
This article presents the results of a survey carried out with riverine populations of the Amazon floodplain in the municipality of Abaetetuba, Pará, Brazil. Populations inhabiting islands in this town often use the marsupial species Didelphis marsupialis Linnaeus, 1758 (Mammalia: Didelphidae), a mammal with a wide geographical distribution in the Americas  that occurs from Mexico to Argentina; it is culturally significant in the region concerned. This marsupial species is among the most adapted and widespread Neotropical mammals, occurring both in forest areas and in urban environments, with great plasticity in its diet, consuming fruits, small animals, and, when occurring in urban environments, it can feed on garbage [21, 22].
Our interest in conducting studies on this species is mainly due to the fact that, in other Brazilian regions, including the Amazon rainforest, this animal is treated with hostility by people, often being killed. According to registered accounts, its strong odor (in Brazil, it is named “catinga” [nauseating odor] or “pitiú” [fish-like odor]) and the habit of preying upon eggs and poultry are the main factors that contribute to this kind of reaction. Some of the previous studies reported food and medicinal uses of this species [12, 13, 17, 23–28], and it is also present in myths and beliefs of some indigenous and traditional peoples [28–30]. Another important element of this species is that it is a reservoir for various parasites, which can cause health problems for human beings [31, 32]. This paper aims to present ethnoecological knowledge and the main uses of common opossum by riverine communities in Abaetetuba, Pará, Brazil, and think through the risks of eating this species posed to human health.
Study area and local community
The region is also characterized by several myths, such as the “boto myth”, a cetacean species that inhabits the Amazon rivers. In this town, inhabitants tell that the aquatic animal usually charm girls and carry them to the bottom of rivers. Another version says that it comes in the form of a handsome young man dressed in white to charm girls during the night, usually at parties, and impregnates them, disappearing soon after. For details about stories involving the “boto”, see Slater . Another important story in the region is the myth of “Great Snake”. According to the local population, this supernatural being inhabits the bottom of Maratauíra River and a part of the town. Residents say that its head is in the Church of Our Lady of Conception, located downtown, its body stretches by the river (Maratauíra River, which bathes the town), and the tail is underneath Pacoca island, one of less inhabited islands in the region; certainly, because of “Great Snake”, which sometimes moves under the river and, when angry, it even breaks sidewalks in the town pier.
We conducted expeditions to the town at different times, covering the winter and summer seasons. This dynamics allowed us to observe the way how riverine people interact with the environment at different seasons by using various natural resources found in the region. Relying on contact with a local leadership, who is also a member of the Association of Rural Workers in the town, we had access to the other respondents participating in the survey. This procedure led to greater commitment and trust between us and the community. In a meeting with the community, research objectives were duly introduced and all participants signed the free and informed consent term.
The survey was conducted by means of methods from Anthropology and Ethnoecology, such as participant observation [39, 40], which consists in interaction between the researcher and inhabitants, through participation in everyday life activities. This method allowed us to know, at a deeper level, key elements of lifestyles in the local community. All information obtained through observation was registered in a field diary.
Information about respondents (age, gender and locality) and ethnoecological information about common opossum/respondent (weight, breeding season, number of young/pregnancy, food diet and habitat)
Breeding season (number of times/year)
Number of young/pregnancy
2 - 5
February to May (3)
Canopy “cofó” of miriti palm
Canopy “cofó” of miriti palm
June to August (-)
Miriti palm and hollow tree
Miriti palm and river edge
November to January (1)
Canopy “cofó” of miriti palm
February to May (1)
Ground, canopy of miriti palm, river edge
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
August to January (1)
Insects, hen, eggs,
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
Fruits and insects
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
June to December (-)
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
August to September (2)
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
All year (muny)
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
January to March (3)
Fruits and crustaceans
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
December to March (1)
Fruits and hen
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
All year (many)
Canopy of miriti palm and hollow tree
As the survey focused on analyzing ethnoecological knowledge and ways how riverine people use common opossum, there was a need to identify which species was regarded as the most important in the contexts concerned, since, through respondents’ reports and field observations, we registered various marsupial ethnospecies, which are popularly known in the region as “mucura” [opossum]. As we did not collect any zoological material, we used the literature currently available on the subject, such as Guide to Mammals from the Neotropical Forest , as well as the assistance provided by experts on the zoological group concerned, in order to make sure that the main species for the community was the common opossum (D. marsupialis). In the field, we used photos contained in Guide to Mammals…, so that riverine people could identify which ethnospecies occurred in the community and how they were named, because, locally, people usually add a second word to the term “mucura” opossum [black opossum], often an adjective that characterizes the animal. For each ethnospecies cited, we asked respondents to speak about morphological features, habits, and places of occurrence. For this procedure, we followed the recommendations made by Berlin . Data were analyzed from an ethnographic perspective.
Ethnotaxonomy and features of common opossum
Through the local ethnotaxonomy, respondents pointed out various types of opossum, which were distinguished considering their morphological features (body size, fur color, tail shape, eye shape, etc.), habits, and places of occurrence. We registered 5 ethnospecies of opossum, classified by respondents this way: “mucura preta” [common opossum], “mucura branca” [white opossum], “mucura morganha” [“morganha” opossum], “mucura xixica” [“xixica” opossum], and “mucura do fundo” [bottom opossum]. The occurrence of these ethnospecies in the region was supported by the taxonomy provided in the literature , geographical distribution data available on the website “Red List”, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , and reports by specialized researchers. The species were: D. marsupialis, which corresponds to common opossum, Caluromys philander Linnaeus, 1758, Chironectes minimus (Zimmermann, 1780), Metachirus nudicaudatus (E. Geoffroy, 1803), and Philander opossum (Linnaeus, 1758); however, we do not know if cited species correspond to ethnospecies informed by respondents, as we did not collect animals for identification. In fact, we do not mean that there are only such ethnospecies, but we do claim that they are those best known by riverine people, and common opossum (D. marsupialis) is the most important due to its food and medicinal value. Therefore, our study is exclusively devoted to this species.
Common opossum is a marsupial species from the Didelphidae family, known by different common names in the various Brazilian regions (“gambá” [opossum], “timbu” [white-eared opossum], “cassaco”, “sariguê”, “micurê”, “tacaca”, etc.). Female individuals from this group have a pouch named marsupium, used to carry offspring until they complete their development. Marsupials have nocturnal habits, they are usually solitary and provided with a defense mechanism that consists in expelling a fluid with a strong odor produced by a pair of perianal glands, which serves to ward off potential predators . This feature ends up providing it with the bad reputation of a very dirty animal, besides being known as predator of poultry; thus, it is killed due to such behaviors. Even so, at certain locations in the Amazon rainforest, as in the case of Abaetetuba, Pará, the relationship between the animal and communities is relatively harmonious.
Ethnoecological knowledge on common opossum
Common opossum, according to local actors, can be found with a weight variation between 1 and 5 kg (see Table 1), depending on the age group. This information is consistent with that present in the available literature [47, 48]. According to respondents, the species feeds primarily on fruits that occur in the region, such as “miriti” (Mauritia flexuosa), mango (Mangifera indica L.), Malay rose apple (Syzygium malaccense L.), açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), genip (Genipa americana L.), besides insects, eggs of wild and domestic birds, including chicken. This omnivorous habit was observed in other studies, such as those carried out by Charles-Dominique  and Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz . Waste-eating is a habit also documented in this species .
Regarding reproduction, the vast majority of respondents commented that common opossum is reproduced at different times of the year, but it is from June to August that the activity occurs with greater intensity. According to inhabitants, these periods are known as “vagrancy times - vadiação”. This information is consistent with results of studies on population density and reproductive activity of this species conducted in Venezuela  and Colombia , where authors indicated that D. marsupialis reproduces throughout the year.
However, some residents said that reproduction occurs every 6 months. Due to the high reproductive capacity and large number of young, riverine people often say that common opossum is a “mineral animal”, a local term that means good restoration capacity of the hunting resource in nature. Indeed, actors informed us that the animal reproduces from 1 to 3 times a year, usually within full moon periods, when residents observe individuals more frequently in “vagrancy – vadiação”. An interesting factor that was present in more than one report was that in August the opossums become ill, they face “liver problems”, and there are constant fights at this time of the year between individuals, as they are seeking for partners to reproduce. According to respondents, the amount of young can range from 2 to 13 individuals, which remain under mother’s care for a time that can vary from 2 to 4 months after birth. In a study on this species in southern Brazil, authors reported females ranging from 4 to 9, with an average of 6.5 young . In surveys carried out in other countries in South America, the number of young ranged from 3 to 9 in Venezuela  and in Colombia the average number of young per female/year was 13.5 .
A key feature perceived by those who have a closer contact with common opossum is the fact that this species has a defense mechanism characterized by the production of a fluid with a strong odor, which is expelled against its predators. According to information provided by riverines, such fluid is produced by glands in armpits, locally named as “travancas”. The characteristic odor, known as “catinga” [nauseating odor], is frequently reported during “vagrancy-vadiação”, because females fight with other females when seeking for males to mate. Information about the location of these glands is different both from that available in the literature and that provided by experts, i.e. odoriferous glands are located in the perianal region instead of the underarms [21, 31].
Strategies and times to hunt common opossum
Hunting is usually practiced by men and, on certain occasions, women accompany hunters. Knowledge of hunting strategies is orally transmitted from generation to generation, by fathers, uncles, or grandfathers. Many riverine people, still young, are taken to hunts by their fathers, who teach them how to become good hunters. The importance of teaching is primarily based on the idea that children do not go through hard times when food is scarce, being able to hunt for resources available in the region. Hunters’ training takes place gradually, as children grow, because the woods, according to respondents, pose many dangers, they are not safe for unaccompanied children. When the decision to hunt is taken, usually hunters prefer to take along a relative (brother, cousin, son, nephew, etc.) who is able to assist them in the undertaking.
Dogs are used in hunting excursions (Figure 4D), as they help sniffing out places where opossums hide and even capturing them, but certain residents noticed that the use of dogs must be done with caution, to prevent unnecessary killing of animals. The variation of techniques, used according to location, time, and hunter’s experience, demonstrates that traditional knowledge is not static, changes are based on people’s involvement in the environment to which they belong .
When asked about places where they are usually found, respondents informed us that common opossum inhabit different places according to the season. In summer, they are usually seen in the “cofó” (canopy) of trees, and during winter they are observed in hollow woods and in bushes. All these sites are occupied by the morning, when animals are resting, as they have nocturnal habits, when they leave to forage or, as locally said, “mariscar” [peck the ground]. During the hunting excursions, knowledge on the preferred environments of this animal greatly facilitates finding and capturing individuals when hunters rely on the use of dogs, which quickly identify a common opossum by sniffing.
Indeed, some hunters reported that common opossum, when faced with a hunter, stands watching him, motionless, trying to recognize its predator. When excursions are nocturnal, they are dazzled by flashlights and start fighting with the hunter, trying to scare and expel him. According to reports by riverine people, the best times to hunt a common opossum are by the morning, when they are resting in burrows and there is better light; or at night, when individuals are in “vagrancy” or “mariscando” [pecking the ground]. Actors also said that between 8:00 p.m. and 02:00 a.m. is an excellent time to hunt.
When the hunters have difficulties to obtain the game, a situation locally known as “panema”, they use various ways to reverse this failure state, such as, for instance, “bathing” the bandolier with chili pepper and then put it in a smokehouse. Many riverines reported us that pregnant women can cause “panema” if they eat bushmeat; in this case, there are a variety of bath recipes to drive misfortune away. Another practice taught was squeezing a lemon into the barrel and across the rifle, leaving it hanging down for two days at the pathway through which everyone passes, then the rifle must be washed in hot water. “Panema” is a state widely known among Amazon hunters, it is described in various anthropological and ethnoecological studies [8, 53–55].
When asked about the number of times per week they hunt, the answers were varied; there were respondents who hunt from 1 or 2 times/week to once a month. In the past, the hunting activity in the town was practiced more frequently, but nowadays, due to ease of access to processed foods or those derived from plant extraction and fishing, combined to better income and welfare policies adopted by the Brazilian government, we notice lower dependence on hunting as a primary source of protein. Studies conducted with traditional communities in other Brazilian regions have shown greater independence from forest resources for survival due to better income [56, 57]. However, it is worth highlighting that hunting remains as an activity practiced in this Amazon town, as D. marsupialis is among the few current alternatives .
Food use: preparation and consumption
Regarding meat preparation, first, the fur is removed, something which may be done in two ways: by putting the animal in direct contact to fire or by leaving it in boiling water so that the fur is soften and it becomes easily removed. When it is a male, before slaughter, it must undergo castration to avoid “pitiú”, local term that means “stink”. After removing the fur, the animal must be cleaned, extracting parts that will not be used, for instance, “miudagem” (viscera). In locality all can to eat the meat no restriction. Fat is used to produce medicinal oil, something which is discussed below.
Meat was generally classified as having a very good flavor, when compared to other species, such as cattle, pig, and chicken. It was also characterized as very soft, it is similar to other bushmeats, such as lowland paca [Cuniculus paca (Linnaeus, 1766)], deer [Mazama americana (Erxleben, 1777)], and common agouti (Dasyprocta aguti Linnaeus, 1758). Respondent reports illustrate the importance of hunting for the local gastronomy:
This meat is tenderer than beef. I think it is like the meat of common agouti, lowland paca, or deer. (Antonio Dias, interviewed on 10 Dec. 2012).
I like it a lot. It has a different flavor, it is very soft. (Osvaldo Rodrigues, interviewed on 11 Dec. 2012).
The meat is very tasty. When restful, it becomes better. I mean by restful meat that the animal did not undergo stress. (Manoel Pereira, interviewed on 10 Dec. 2012)
According to respondents, glands producing the odoriferous fluid, 4 in total, are located close to the 4 animal’s limbs involved in locomotion; this information differs from that provided by Roque et al. , who indicate that these glands are located in the animal’s perianal region. According to respondents, removing these glands is a challenge during meat preparation, because not everyone knows the location and the way how collecting them. Thus, it is worth highlighting an issue. If our interviews showed that information provided by residents on the location of these glands are controversial, what do riverine people remove from the animal? Unfortunately, we could not observe how bushmeat was handled before cooking.
When cleaning, we can use lemon or garlic and vinegar, in order to eliminate “pitiú”. Meat may be roasted over a wood fire, baked, or fried in oil. Another detail highlighted during interviews was the fact that the animal must be prepared immediately after slaughter, at the risk of unpleasant flavor changes if it takes too long to be cooked. Indeed, when the common opossum is hunted at night, it is preferable to keep it alive until the next day. Certainly, change in meat flavor may be associated with odoriferous glands, as they are triggered as a result of stress to which the animal is subjected.
In fact, the stress of the chase was reported as a factor that influences on meat flavor, i.e. an animal that is slaughtered without stress will taste better than that which has been slaughtered under stressful conditions. Thus, “restful” meat, as riverine people say, is tastier. Comparing meat flavor to that of other species, we were informed that common opossum has a specific, unique, and incomparable taste. Some respondents prefer eating animals that live in the forest instead of those found in urban areas, as the latter usually feed on garbage [21, 28].
An important aspect to be mentioned with regard to the consumption of D. marsupialis is related to the fact that this wild mammal is reservoir for Tripanosoma cruzi Chagas 1909, the parasite causing Chagas disease [31, 59–61], which triggers heart failure and digestive problems and it can lead to death, if not treated. According to studies conducted by Roque et al. , also in Abaetetuba, several D. marsupialis individuals captured were contaminated with the parasite, thus constituting a public health problem. A study pointed out that, when the animal is handled before cooking, there is risk of infection with parasites, especially if its blood is contaminated. Other studies, carried out both in Brazil and in Colombia [32, 61], pointed out that D. marsipialis is also a reservoir for the parasite Leishmania braziliensis guyanensis Viannia 1911, which causes leishmaniasis, a disease that affects dogs and human beings and it triggers problems both in epithelial tissue and in viscera; the flagellate parasite Tetratrichomonas didelphidis (Hegner and Ratcliffe 1927) was observed, too . Because of this evidence, it is worth discussing the use of D. marsupialis from a public health perspective, in face of the risk that local population is contaminated by eating opossum meat.
In the community under study, overall, respondents said that consumption takes place from 1 to 3 times per week; if on the one hand men are in charge of hunting, on the other hand, when it comes to preparing the delicacy, women take on the task, thus demonstrating a clear work division, as the process involved in bushmeat consumption has to be analyzed according to its different steps. Just as fathers teach their son hunting strategies, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers train their daughters to become good cooks of opossum meat; however, some men venture to prepare it, as reported by some respondents. Indeed, participant observation, by means of interaction with families, allowed us to understand how many daily tasks are accomplished. These observations showed us that work division is flexible in certain situations, i.e. both men and women may perform tasks that traditionally are not assigned to their gender, with the exception of hunting, an exclusive task of men.
Medicinal use: medicine made of common opossum in the Amazon
When preparing the opossum meat, fat, locally known as “banha” [fat], is separated to produce the handmade medicinal oil. This medicine is produced by melting fat over a fire until it becomes oil. After this, a scent freshener is added to oil, to attenuate the strong smell, such as camphor, a substance extracted from the camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora L.), a species from the Lauraceae family. The medicinal oil is used as an anti-inflammatory for muscle pains, rheumatism, bruises, asthma, but mainly for sore throat. It is also indicated for pregnant women, because, according to respondents, this oil eases childbirth pain. This indication is associated with the fact that female opossums, as pointed out by riverine people, do not feel pain while giving birth to their young, which complete their development in a pouch, the marsupium. According to local belief, opossums have received the blessing of Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus Christ, who, one day, when asking milk from a lactating woman, had her request denied; the opossum, in turn, by hearing such a denial, gave her milk to Our Lady and then received the gift of never feeling pain during birth. This is the cosmological explanation for the marsupium and the absence of pain among female opossums.
Studies conducted in other parts of the Amazon rainforest [12, 13, 17] have registered the use of opossum for food and medicinal purposes. Terra and Rebêlo , in the state of Amazonas, registered the use of D. marsupialis bile and tongue to alleviate pain and asthma in pregnant women, respectively. In the first case, the use is similar to that identified in this study, although the substance used is different. Other studies show that the species concerned is widely used in the Brazilian traditional medicine [24–26, 63, 64]. The use of animal fat for medicinal purposes has been registered in many countries, such as Nigeria , India , Mexico , Nepal , Argentina , among others.
The most appropriate time for applying the oil is at dusk or late at night, before going to bed, and it may be used 2 or 3 times a day, depending on the case. When asked about the effectiveness of this oil, people informed us that, besides being assured of its efficacy, they also think that faith is crucial, because believing in a higher power helps in achieving a successful outcome of the medicine. Another interesting account was the idea that “every animal has a cure”, i.e. every animal species has some curative property.
This tradition, even being practiced to a lesser extent today, is widespread among residents, and we realized that older individuals intend to keep using it, conveying knowledge to younger people, also when modern medicine is present. The relative ease of access to modern medicine and the better income enabled by policies adopted by the Brazilian government may explain the decrease in its use. Above all, women, recognize that such knowledge was acquired from elderly people, this is something learned “watching while mom did that”, as a female respondent said. The influence of modern medicine on health problems faced by residents has made the practice of traditional medicine to become less frequent in the region. This, mainly among older residents, has raised doubts concerning the use of synthetic drugs and the loss of traditional knowledge and practices.
To obtain some income
Hunting opossum in the town is primarily motivated by meat consumption within the household and also to share it among neighbors and relatives, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and reciprocity . However, some inhabitants hunt the animal for commercial purposes, as the meat of this marsupial species is prized by people living in the urban area .
In fact, people sell this meat in their own community or in nearby areas, on demand or not. In the town fair, which is located on the left bank of Maratauíra River, a respondent told us that, whenever he hunts, even without any order, it is relatively easy to sell the product in the town fair, because this meat is highly demanded by residents due to its flavor, considered very good. A respondent explained us that when açaí palm extraction (E. oleraceae) is low, hunting becomes an important income source. The price of a common opossum, which may be sold alive or already slaughtered, varies according to animal size and season of the year. It ranges from R$ 10.00 (U$D 4,50) to R$ 40.00 (U$D 18,00), when the animal weighs about 5 kg; it is worth highlighting that live individuals are more expensive. On average, a common opossum weighs 2 kg and it costs R$ 30.00 (U$D 13,50). As wild animal trade is illegal in Brazil, as provided by Law 9,605/1989 , usually hunters sell animals late at night, in the only town fair. In the rural zone, trade takes place in an overt way, because there is no inspection.
Is opossum hunting sustainable?
Common opossum hunting, according to reports from some respondents, decreased when compared to the past, but it still plays an important cultural role in the lives of local actors. We did not conduct population studies with the species concerned nor measured the percentage of meat consumed daily by riverine people, but, taking into account the attitudes of some actors with regard to the hunting practice and changes in eating habits, we may claim that, seemingly, this activity has not caused a negative impact on the local populations of D. marsupialis. However, as for the size of animal population, we noticed controversial speeches among hunters.
Some respondents stated that there is a decreased number of animals, as a consequence of the increased human population and greater pressure on this resource, also for trade; other respondents argued that there is an increased number of opossums in the region. The latter ones ground their claim in the increased number of jobs and better income levels observed in recent years, factors that reduce the need for hunting. A third group said that the common opossum is a species that has a good reproductive capacity (it is a “mineral animal”), therefore, they think the population remains stable. Given the diversity of discourses, we realize that all reports must be considered, since each member of the community has a particular way of addressing the environment. So, there is a need for conducting studies on population dynamics, in order to determine the demographic status of this species.
Respondents’ concern about sustainability became clear when they reported to observe the species reproductive and growth periods, they claim to avoid hunting females with young. Another interesting discourse consists in observing the increased human population in the floodplain region and its consequent deforestation, something which led animals to get away from households. Thus, two respondents reported that opossums once came to the river bank and, nowadays, their sounds are no longer heard. This information reinforces the consequences of the relationship between community and environment: when deprived of their habitat, animals gradually move away from the households, avoiding a contact that could be harmful to their survival.
Another account was very important for understanding the relationship between human beings and nature in the community under study. A respondent said: “If you bring everything you see, soon nothing else will be seen”. This comment was made by a community leader on predatory hunting, which has been the key factor to explain a possible decrease in the number of opossums, as he found out that many hunters do not observe any evidence of animal reproduction and hunt both males and females. The same respondent told us that some hunters are proud to hunt a large amount of animals, even over twenty opossums per hunting expedition. He has already found dead opossums in the woods, which perhaps were regarded as small and not relevant for trade. On this subject, another community member said that: “I think a person may hunt to sell a large amount of animals when he needs to do that for a living, but I do not agree with wastage, leaving bushmeat behind”. This reinforces the idea of community sustainable hunting: people should avoid hunting a large amount of animals and local species may not be endangered, regardless of their current conservation status .
According to an interviewee, in addition to the precautions taken, as already reported in this article, guidelines were acquired from governmental institutions about sustainable hunting practices, in order to safeguard opossum reproduction and keep its current population. This reflects what Coelho-de-Souza et al.  pointed out as the joint management process involving governmental actors and civil society in the pursuit of a dialogue between knowledge as a tool for addressing biodiversity and appreciation of local community wisdoms and practices . Although we have not enough data to claim that the hunting activity is sustainable in the region under study, given the controversial information provided by respondents, we have noticed the expression of a particular environmental rationale by some community members.
Studies on Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology are of great relevance because they register knowledge of local peoples on environment and natural resources. Such knowledge is key to promote dialogue and a closer contact between researchers and local actors , encouraging processes to gather Brazilian State agencies and the traditional peoples who fight for their territory and access to natural resources. These processes must strengthen the cultural identity of peoples, as well as improve the dynamics of biodiversity conservation and management. This study pointed out that common opossum (D. marsupialis) constitutes a significant hunting resource for the local population, both from the food and medicinal viewpoint. In sporadic cases, it provides families with an additional income. The meat of this species is highly prized by residents, something which shows that hunting resources play an important role as a source of animal protein for traditional Amazon populations. Certainly, the pressure on D. marsupialis is due to shortage of other kinds of bushmeat in the region, as in upland forest areas, where there is a richer diversity of hunting fauna, people hardly eat opossum. We stress the importance of further research in the public health field, because some studies have pointed out the risks posed to human health by the consumption of marsupials contaminated with parasites.
The authors thank to the Maracapucu Community “Sagrado Coração de Jesus”, from Abaetetuba, Pará, for participating in the survey and sharing knowledge. We are particularly grateful to Mr. Gildo and Mrs. Iracema, for hosting them in their home. PAA thanks to the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies of the Federal University of Pará (UFPA), for granting him an undergraduate research scholarship. The anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.
- Khatun Z, Bhuiyan P, Roney SI, Rahmatullah M: Traditional knowledge on zootherapeuticpractices among some folk medicinal practitioners of Bangladesh. Amer-Euras J Sust Agric. 2013, 7 (3): 155-161.Google Scholar
- Ramos-Elorduy J: La antropoentomofagia y las culturas. Manual de Etnozoología: una guia teórico-práctica para investigar la interconexión del ser humano com los animales. Edited by: Costa-Neto EM, Santos Fita D, Clavijo MV. 2009, Valencia: Tundra EdicionesGoogle Scholar
- Badie MC: El conocimiento y consumo de himenópteros, coleópteros y lepdópteros en la cultura Mbya-Guaraní, Misiones, Argentina. Manual de Etnozoología: uma guia teórico-práctica para investigar la interconexión del ser humano com los animales. Edited by: Costa-Neto EM, Santos Fita D, Clavijo MV. 2009, Valencia: Tundra EdicionesGoogle Scholar
- Ibrahim JA, Muazzam I, Jegede IA, Kunle OF: Medicinal plants and animals sold by the “Yan-Shimfidas” of Sabo Wuse in Niger State. Nigeria Afric J Phar Pharm. 2010, 4 (6): 386-394.Google Scholar
- Alves RRN, Alves HN: The faunal drugstore: Animal-based remedies used in traditional medicines in Latin America. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2011, 7: 9-10.1186/1746-4269-7-9.PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Alves RRN, Silva CC, Barboza RRD, Souto WMS: Zootherapy as an alternative therapeutic in South America. J Altern Medic Reseac. 2009, 1: 21-47.Google Scholar
- Costa-Neto EM, Motta PC: Animal species traded as ethnomedicinal resources in the Federal District, Central West Region of Brazil. The Open Complem Medic J. 2010, 2: 24-30. 10.2174/1876391X01002020024.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Barros FB, Pereira HM, Vicente L: Use and knowledge of the razor-billed curassow Pauxi tuberosa (Spix, 1825) (Galliformes, Cracidae) by a riverine community of the Oriental Amazonia, Brazil. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2011, 7: 1-10.1186/1746-4269-7-1.PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Barros FB, Varela SAM, Pereira HM, VICENTE L: Medicinal use of fauna by a traditional community in the Brazilian Amazonia. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2012, 8: 37-10.1186/1746-4269-8-37.PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Figueiredo N: Os “bichos” que curam: os animais e a medicina de “folk” em Belém do Pará. Bol Mus P Emílio Goeldi. 1994, 10 (1): 75-91.Google Scholar
- Pinto AAC, Maduro CB: Produtos e subprodutos da medicina popular comercializados na cidade de Boa Vista. Roraima Acta Amaz. 2003, 33 (2): 281-290.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- da Silva AL: Animais medicinais: conhecimento e uso entre as populações ribeirinhas do rio Negro, Amazonas. Brasil Bol Mus P Emílio Goeldi. 2008, 3 (3): 343-357.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Terra AK, Rebêlo GH: O uso da fauna pelos moradores da Comunidade São João e Colônia Central. Biotupé: meio físico, diversidade biológica e sociocultural do Baixo Rio Negro, Amazônia Central. Edited by: Silva EN Dos S, Aprile FM, Scudeller VV, Melo S. 2005, Manaus: INPAGoogle Scholar
- Pezzuti J, Chaves RP: Etnografia e manejo de recursos naturais pelos índios Deni, Amazonas. Brasil Acta Amaz. 2009, 39 (1): 121-138. 10.1590/S0044-59672009000100013.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Alves RRN, Santana GG: Use and commercialization of Podocnemis expansa (Schweiger 1812) (Testudines: Podocnemididae) for medicinal purposes in two communities in North of Brazil. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2008, 4: 6-10.1186/1746-4269-4-6.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Rodrigues E: Plants and animals utilized as medicines in the Jaú National Park (JNP), Brazilian Amazon. Phytother Res. 2006, 20: 378-391. 10.1002/ptr.1866.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Ribeiro ASS, Palha MDC, Tourinho MM, Whiteman CW, Silva ASL: Utilização dos recursos naturais por comunidades humanas do Parque Ecoturístico do Guamá, Belém. Pará Acta Amaz. 2007, 37 (2): 235-240.Google Scholar
- Alves RRN, Rosa IL: Use of Tucuxi dolphin Sotalia fluviatilis for medicinal and magic/religious purposes in north of Brazil. Hum Ecol. 2008, 36 (3): 443-447. 10.1007/s10745-008-9174-5.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Alves RRN, Souto WMS, Mourão JS: A etnozoologia no Brasil: importância, status atual e perspectivas. 2010, NUPEEA: RecifeGoogle Scholar
- Costa-Neto EM: Alves RRN (Orgs.): Zooterapia: os animais na medicina popular brasileira. 2010, NUPEEA: RecifeGoogle Scholar
- Emmons LH, Feer F: Neotropical rainforest mammals, a field guide. 1997, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 2Google Scholar
- Adler GH, Carvajal A, Davis-Foust SL, Dittel JW: Habitat associations of opossums and rodents in a lowland forest in French Guiana. Mammal Biol. 2012, 77: 84-89.Google Scholar
- Baia PC, Guimarães DA, Pendu YL: Non-legalized commerce in game meat in the Brazilian Amazon: a case study. Intern J Trop Biol. 2010, 58 (3): 1079-1088.Google Scholar
- Alves RRN, Rosa IL: Zootherapeutic practices among fishing communities in North and Northeast Brazil: A comparison. J Ethnopharm. 2007, 111: 82-103. 10.1016/j.jep.2006.10.033.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Alves RRN, Rosa IL: Zootherapy goes to town: The use of animal-based remedies in urban areas of NE and N Brazil. J Ethnopharm. 2007, 113: 541-555. 10.1016/j.jep.2007.07.015.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Alves RRN, Lucena I, Santana GG: The role of animal-derived remedies as complementary Medicine in Brazil. Bioscience. 2007, 7 (11): 949-955.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Smith NJH: Utilization of game along Brazil’s Transamazon Highway. Acta Amaz. 1976, 6 (4): 455-466.Google Scholar
- Cabello DR: Reproduction of Didelphis marsupialis (Didelphimorphia: Didelphidae) in the Venezuela Andes. Acta Theriol. 2006, 51 (4): 427-433. 10.1007/BF03195189.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Videira LFF: Fauna e flora em lendas. 2003, Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi: BelémGoogle Scholar
- Mastop-Lima L, Beltrão JF: Os animais nos mitos Aikewára. 2009, EDUFPA: BelémGoogle Scholar
- Roque ALR, Xavier SCC, Gerhardt M, Silva MFO, Lima VS, D’andrea PS, Jansen AM: Trypanosoma cruzi among will and domestic mammals in different areas of the Abaetetuba municipality (Pará State, Brazil), and endemic Chagas disease transmission area. Veter Parasi. 2013, 193: 71-77. 10.1016/j.vetpar.2012.11.028.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Arias JR, Naiff RD, Miles MA, de Souza AA: The opossum, Didelphis marsupialis (Marsupialia: Didelphidae), as a reservoir host of Leishmania braziliensis guyanensis in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. Transac R Trop Medic Hyg. 1981, 75 (4): 537-541. 10.1016/0035-9203(81)90194-2.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Monteiro W: Francisco Monteiro, o fundador de Abaetetuba, In: Abaetetuba terra de homens valentes. Ver- o- Pará. 2012, 10 (23): 1-22.Google Scholar
- NSTITUTO BRASILEIRO DE GEOGRAFIA E ESTATÍSTICA (IBGE). Sistema IBGE de Recuperação Eletrônica (SIDRA). 2013, Disponível em: <http://cod.ibge.gov.br/1J6OO%3E Accessed in 17/09/2013
- Slater C: A festa do boto: transformação e desencanto na imaginação amazônica. 2001, Rio de Janeiro: FUNARTEGoogle Scholar
- Figueiredo Ν: Pajelança e catimbó na Região Bragantina. Rev Inst Histór Geog Alagoas. 1976, 32: 41-52.Google Scholar
- Maués RH: Medicinas populares e “pajelanças caboclas” na Amazônia. Saúde e doença: um olhar antropológico. Edited by: Alves PC, Minayo MCS. 1994, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Fiocruz, 174-Google Scholar
- Maués RH: Catolicismo e xamanismo: reflexões sobre pajelança amazônica, renovação carismática e outros movimentos eclesiais. Rev Pós Ciênc Soc. 2007, 4 (8): 11-30.Google Scholar
- Malinowski B: Argonautas do Pacífico Ocidental: um relato do empreendimento e da aventura dos nativos nos arquipélagos da Nova Guiné Melanésia. 1978, Abril Cultural: São PauloGoogle Scholar
- Spradley JP: Participant observation. 1980, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston EdGoogle Scholar
- Bailey K: Methods of social research. 1994, New York: Free PressGoogle Scholar
- Marques JGW: Pescando pescadores: ciência e etnociência numa perspectiva ecológica. 2001, São Paulo: NUPAUB/USP, 2Google Scholar
- Huntington HP: Using traditional ecological knowledge in science: methods and applications. Ecol Appl. 2000, 10: 1270-1274. 10.1890/1051-0761(2000)010[1270:UTEKIS]2.0.CO;2.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Albuquerque UP, Lucena RFP: Métodos e técnicas para coleta de dados etnobotânicos. Métodos e técnicas na pesquisa etnobotânica. 2ª edição revisada, atualizada e ampliada. Edited by: Albuquerque UP, Lucena RFP, Cunha LVFC. 2010, Recife: COMUNIGRAFGoogle Scholar
- Berlin B: Ethnobiological Classification. Principles of Categorization of Plants and Animals in Traditional Societies. 1992, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University PressGoogle Scholar
- INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR CONSERVATION OF NATURE (IUCN): Red list of threatened species. http://www.iucnredlist.org. (accessed in 13/05/2014)
- Adler GH, Arboledo JJ, Travi BL: Populations dynamics of Didelphis marsupialis in Northern Colombia. Stud Neotr Fauna Environ. 1997, 32: 7-11. 10.1076/snfe.184.108.40.20662.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Cáceres NC, Monteiro-Filho ELA: Tamanho corporal em populações naturais de Didelphis (Mammalia: Marsupialia) do sul do Brasil. Rev Bras Biol. 1999, 59 (3): 461-469.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Charles-Dominique R: Ecology and social adaptations in didelphid marsupials: comparison with eutherians of similar ecology. In Advances in the study of mammalian behavior, Amer Soc Mammalogists Spec Publ. 7th edition. Edited by Eisenberg JF, Kleiman DG; 1983:395–422.Google Scholar
- Julien-Laferriere D, Atramentowcz M: Feeding and reproduction of three didelphid marsupials in two neotropical forests (French Guiana). Biotropica. 1990, 22: 404-415. 10.2307/2388558.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Cherem JJ, Graipe ME, Menezes ME, Soldateli M: Observações sobre a biologia do gambá (Didelphis marsupialis) na Ilha de Ratones Grande, Estado de Santa Catarina. Brasil Biotemas. 1996, 9 (2): 47-56.Google Scholar
- Frazão-Moreira A: A natureza em perspectiva: reflexões sobre saberes ecológicos locais e conhecimentos científicos. Etnoecologia em perspectiva: natureza, cultura e conservação. Estudos & Avanços. Edited by: Alves AGC, Souto FB, Peroni N. 2010, Recife: NUPEEAGoogle Scholar
- Viveiros de Castros E: Araweté: o povo do Ipixuna. 1992, São Paulo: Centro Ecumênico de Documentação e InformaçãoGoogle Scholar
- Lima EC d: Cobras, xamãs e caçadores entre os Katukina (pano). Tellus. 2008, 8 (15): 35-57.Google Scholar
- Barros FB: Biodiversidade, uso de recursos naturais e etnoconservação na Reserva Extrativista Riozinho do Anfrísio (Amazônia, Brasil). Dissertação de Doutorado em Biologia da Conservação. Universidade de Lisboa. 2011Google Scholar
- Arruda JC D: Conhecimento ecológico, usos e manejo de palmeiras pelos quilombolas de Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade, Amazônia Meridional. Dissertação de Mestrado em Ciências Ambientais. Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso. 2013Google Scholar
- Sander NL: Estrutura, composição florística e etnobiologia de um buritizal na fronteira biológica Amazônia-Cerrado. Dissertação de Mestrado em Ciências Ambientais, Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso. 2014Google Scholar
- Viveiros de Castro E: A inconstância da alma selvagem. 2011, São Paulo: Cosac NaifyGoogle Scholar
- Deane MP, Lenzi HL, Jansen A: Trypanosoma cruzi: vertebrate and invertebrate cycles in the same mammal host, the opossum Didelphis marsupialis. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1984, 79 (4): 513-515. 10.1590/S0074-02761984000400021.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Herrera L, Urdaneta-Morales S: Didelphis marsupialis: a primary reservoir of Trypanosoma cruzi in urban areas of Caracas, Venezuela. Annals Trop Medic Paras. 1992, 86 (6): 607-612.Google Scholar
- Travi BL, Jaramillo C, Montoya J, Segura I, Zea A, Gonçalves A, Velez ID: Didelphis marsupialis, an important reservoir of Trypanosoma (Schizotrypanum) cruzi and Leishmania (Leishmania) chagasi in Colombia. The Amer J Trop Medic Hyg. 1994, 50 (5): 557-565.Google Scholar
- Tiana T, Carli GA, Glock L, Jeckel-Neto EA: Morphologic Aspects of Tetratrichomonas didelphidis Isolated from Opossums Didelphis marsupialis and Lutreolina crassicaudata. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2001, 96 (2): 265-271. 10.1590/S0074-02762001000200022.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Seixas CS, Begossi A: Ethnozoology of fishing communities from Ilha Grande (Atlantic Forest Coast, Brazil). J Ethnobiol. 2001, 21 (l): 107-135.Google Scholar
- Alves RRN, Rosa IL: Trade of animals used in Brazilian traditional medicine: trends and implications for conservation. H Ecol. 2010, 38: 691-704. 10.1007/s10745-010-9352-0.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Adeola MO: Importance of Wild Animals and Their Parts in the Culture, Religious Festivals and Traditional Medicine, of Nigeria. Environ Conserv. 1992, 19 (2): 125-134. 10.1017/S0376892900030605.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Mahawar MM, Jaroli DP: Traditional zootherapeutic studies in India: a review. J Ethnobiol Etnomed. 2008, 4: 17-10.1186/1746-4269-4-17.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Monroy-Vilchis O, Cabrera L, Suárez P, Zarco-González MM, Rodríguez-Soto C, Urios V: Uso tradicional de vertebrados silvestres en la Sierra Nanchititla. México Interciencia. 2008, 33 (4): 308-313.Google Scholar
- Lohani U: Man-animal relationships in Central Nepal. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2010, 6: 31-10.1186/1746-4269-6-31.PubMed CentralView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Martínez GJ: Use of fauna in the traditional medicine of native Toba (qom) from the Argentine Gran Chaco region: an ethnozoological and conservationist approach. Ethnobiol Conservn. 2013, 2 (2): 1-43.Google Scholar
- Mauss M: Sociologia e Antropologia. 2013, Cosac Naify: São PauloGoogle Scholar
- Lei de crimes ambientais do Brasil. Lei N° 9.605/1989. Disponível em http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/L9605.htm. Accessed in 27/04/2014
- Coelho-de-Souza G, Bassi JB, Kubo RR: Etnoecologia: Dimensões Teórica e Aplicada. Transformações no Espaço Rural. Edited by: Coelho-de-Souza G. 2011, Porto Alegre: Editora da UFRGSGoogle Scholar
- Rist S, Dahdouh-Guebas F: Ethnosciences: A step towards the integration of scientific and indigenous forms of knowledge in the management of natural resources for the future. Environ Dev Sustain. 2006, 8: 467-493. 10.1007/s10668-006-9050-7.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.