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Tambopata: Return to Paradise

Photo: Alejandro Balaguer


Photo: Alejandro Balaguer


Photo: Alejandro Balaguer

In the heart of the Amazon, the world´s oldest jungle which dates back 75 million years, stands a miraculous spot where all life forms on earth seem to be concentrated. All studies to date show it is one of the richest and most diverse regions on our planet. Peru's Tambopata-Candamo Reserve, located in the department of Madre de Dios, just a half an hour's plane ride from Cusco, has been converted in recent years into an important research center for groups from universities and institutes worldwide as well as being one of the most exciting destinations for adventure tourism. In this amazing biological community, three different ecosystems converge: the Amazonian plain, the eastern slopes of the Andes and the Pampas ecosystem. This whim of nature permits at least 11 different types of forests to co-exist. In their shadow teem the most diverse forms of life. The number of species identified until now have truly scored world records:1,234 types of butterflies, 592 species of birds, 152 varieties of dragonflies, 135 kinds of ants, 127 species of amphibians, 103 types of mammals, 94 species of fish, 74 kinds of reptiles, 40 species of termites and 39 varieties of bees.

One place where this virtually infinite variety of animal life can be found is in the Colpa de Guacamayos, copper-colored cliffs where each day at dusk thousands of birds gather to feed on the mineral salts contained in this area. However, this reserve also hosts a silent drama: the drama of destruction.

Ever since western man penetrated the Amazon Basin, 67 hectares of the tropical rainforest disappear every minute and the native population has dropped from 9 million to less than a million. More than 90 ethnic groups have vanished in this uncontainable spiral of depredation. For example, the Esa'Eja tribe or Huarayos who live in the Tambopata Reserve has fallen from 10,000 to just 600 due to disease, migration, and the impact of the exploitation of oil, wood and rubber.

According to the "Red Book" of the International Union for Nature Conservation, there are 13 endangered species in the Tambopata. They include the jaguar (Panthera onca), the giant otter or river seal (Pteronura brasilensis), the ocelot (Felis pardalis), the harpy eagle (harpia harpyja) and the giant armadillo (Priodentes giganteus).

Despite a series of consultations with environmentalists, indigenous groups and local and regional authorities, who have all urged that the Reserve be designated a national park, the current government has yet to take any action. Some conservationists blame this on the interest of the U.S. company Mobil Oil in searching for petroleum in the Reserve. Company officials have expressed their willingness to develop this activity without upsetting the ecological balance of the zone. Gold prospectors also seriously harm the ecosystem by dumping large quantities of mercury into the river. This, added to the indiscriminate felling of forests and the uncontrolled action of hunters place at serious risk something which Peruvians and all those interested in existing harmoniously with the rest of the world should defend. Tambopata is the perfect place to remember once more that nature does not belong to us. We belong to nature.

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By Guillermo Castro
Volume I/Issue 3, Page 8
Edited, 2003

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