| travel tambopata |
r i ch endemism The Amazon is dotted with pockets of particulary high biodiversity. The prevailing theory is that during the ice ages, patches of jungle were isolated and then subsequently reconnected, leaving specific areas rich with endemic species. And the 275,000 hectares of Tambopata – along with the one million of the adjacent Bahuaja-Sonene National Park – are among the richest, with 1,300 bird species, including 32 types of parrot, 200 mammal species, 1,200 butterfly species and more than 10,000 species of vascular plant.
The Peruvian government has long recognised the area’s importance, declaring it protected in 1990. The local tribes had already been given surprisingly strong land rights back in the 1980s, and serious efforts were made to preserve the area. Large swaths of the jungle around the Tambopata River are owned by, and registered in the names of, local families, who can only use the land for certain regulated activities, such as harvesting Brazil nuts, subsistence farming and, in the past 20 years, tourism. They can’t sell their land to outsiders, and how the land is used has to be agreed by the whole community.
Eduardo Ramirez – known as ‘El Gato’ (‘The Cat’) – and his family have been among the system’s beneficiaries. For the past ten years, he has run the tiny Baltimore Lodge – a homestay in the jungle where up to ten people live with him and his family. Together with his brother, who owns the neighbouring plot, he also runs a small farm, growing fruit and rice. He rents out access to his jungle paths to two nearby tourist lodges (there are six along a 50-kilometre stretch of the river). And he has the right to collect Brazil nuts on his 45 hectares of land.
Like most local people in the region, his family’s tribal affiliations and structures were smashed during the rubber boom of the early 20th century. The rubber barons pulled in labour from throughout the region, jumbled tribes together and created a confused and complicated population mix – there are still identifiable tribal groups among the 100,000 or so local people living in the region. They all feel – and are – distinct from the ‘highlanders’ who are currently making economic-driven incursions into the Amazon. There are even some ‘non-contacts’ in the area, leaving fleeting signs of their nomadic lives. However, most local people long ago adapted to a settled life of farming and working the jungle following the collapse of the rubber industry.
Previous page, clockwise from top: Tambopata National Reserve is home to about 90 species of bat; although still fairly common in the Amazon Basin, the scarlet macaw has delined in numbers due to it being captured for the parrot trade, its low reproductive rate and destruction of its habitat; this 3D image from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory indicates the height of vegetation along the Interoceanic Highway near Puerto Maldonado. The blue areas are the shortest and red the tallest; illegal gold miners retrieve sediment containing flecks of gold from the Tambopata River. The practice is environmentally damaging, as the miners use mercury to separate the gold from the sediment; Above left: a boat winds its way towards Lake Sandoval, an oxbow lake just south of the Madre de Dios River near Puerto Maldonado; Above: Eduardo Ramirez, who runs a homestay beside the Tambopata River, is wary of what the new highway will bring
2010 www.geographical.co.uk 59