| travel TAMBOPATA |
But their way of life is now threatened. Just like the Incas 500 years ago, the people of the Andes come to find rich pickings in the jungle. Then, it was mainly for the prized coca leaf; today, it’s for hardwoods, gold illegally hoovered up from the muddy sludge of the riverbed and its banks and, increasingly, for farmland for cattle. Any way – legal or not – to escape the grinding poverty of the Andes.
El Gato is fearful. On one hand, he welcomes the road. ‘It means some things will be cheaper – cement, tinned food,’ he tells me as we fish for piranha in a creek leading into the Tambopata. ‘But it means people will come who want our land, robbers and thieves who will attack us, and things will change.’
Yet the lure of more tourists coming to his tiny jungle haven, either to stay with his family in the few huts dotted around the compound or to use his prized paths on paid-for jungle excursions, is a big incentive. ‘It could be good,’ he says. ‘If we are careful, we could make more money and we could look after our land.’
P ROTEC T ED J UNGLE Peru has more than 660,000 square kilometres of tropical forest – an area similar to that of France. This vast jungle has fared relatively well, with deforestation rates of less than one per cent a year – less than half the rate of neighbouring Ecuador. A recent study by the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology confirmed that the protected status of parts of the Peruvian forest has been key to their conservation, with such areas only accounting for one to two per cent of forest disturbance in the region.
But the highway poses a threat on a different scale. The early results of a pilot study in southeastern Peru that used a combination of satellite imagery, airborne-laser technology and ground-based surveys show a marked spike in carbon emissions caused by deforestation and degradation since last year, directly linked to the route of the highway.
The Peruvian authorities recognise the threat, and two years ago, they set up a body to create and monitor a buffer zone between the highway and the Tambopata reserve. César, who had been guiding in the area for 13 years for Rainforest Expeditions, was seconded to the body for three years and has helped draft the strategy to create the zone.
‘We are trying to make a buffer zone that can keep the worst impacts of the highway from the park,’ he explains as
The Peruvian authorities recognise the threat... Two years ago, they set up a body to create and monitor a buffer zone between the highway and Tambopata National Reserve
60 www.geographical.co.uk DECEMBER 2010
A view over the forest canopy at the Tambopata Research Center, the isolated location of the long-running Macaw Project