Tambopata National Reserve – Amazon Wildlife

Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park – Amazon Wildlife: border one another in the southern Peruvian Amazon region. The area contains high levels of biodiversity and beautiful natural landscapes. The two protected areas were initially declared as a reserved zone in the early 1990s. Subsequently, after a drawn-out consultation process and negotiations with stakeholders, two definitive areas were set aside as a national park and reserve.

Peru – Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park

  • Date of last field evaluation: September 2002
  • Date of publication: October 2002
  • Location of Tambopata: Province of Tambopata, department of Madre de Dios; provinces of Sandia and Caraballa, department of Puno, in southeastern Peru
  • Year created: 1990
  • Area Tambopata: 1,366,106.00 ha (National Park: 1,091,416 ha; National Reserve: 274,690.00 ha)
  • Eco-region: Southwestern Amazon tropical humid forest
  • Habitats Tambopata: Tropical rainforest and tropical cloud forest foothills

Biodiversity of Tambopata National reserve:

The Tambopata River watershed is one of the world’s richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity. The area features a major diversity of plant life, including forest species of economic importance such as cedar (Cedrela odorata) and mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), and palm trees such as the pona (Iriartea ventricosa) and aguaje (Mauritia flexuosa), among others. The area is home to large numbers of giant river otters (Pteronura brasiliensis), an endangered species, as well as vulnerable species such as the anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), black spider monkey (Ateles paniscus), the jaguar (Panthera onca), pink river dolphin (Ajaija ajaja), the yellow-headed river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) and the anaconda (Eunectes murinus).

Threats in Tambopata National Reserve:

ParksWatch – Peru classifies Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park as vulnerable due to a variety of threats. The most pressing problems are agriculture and land conversion, gold mining, illegal logging, excessive extraction of other natural resources (wild game, fish, fruit and palm fronds, among others), paving of the Cuzco-Puerto Maldonado road, and increased migration to the region.

Physical description of Tambopata:

The protected area features eight life zones: suptropical humid forest, tropical humid forest, suptropical high-humidity forest, suptropical high-humidity foothills cloud forest, subtropical rainforest, tropical cloud forest foothills, subtropical lower foothills cloud forest and semiflooded subtropical lower foothills cloud forest.

The main rivers that flow through the area are the Tambopata, Malinowski, la Torre, Tavara, Candamo and Guacamayo. The main rivers flowing around the area are the Heath, Inambari and Madre de Dios. A series of smaller rivers and gullies make up the rest of the area’s watershed.

There are several ways to access these protected areas. One can fly to the southeastern jungle town of Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the department of Madre de Dios. By road, one can drive from the Andean city of Cuzco to the northern edge of the protected areas or from Puno to the southern border. River access is down the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers in shallowbottomed boats. From Bolivia, one can reach the area via the Madre de Dios and Heath Rivers.

Average annual temperature is 26° C, ranging from 10-38° C; with average annual rainfall of 1600-2400 mm. Rainfall in the protected area is typical of most areas in the Peruvian Amazon.

The climate ranges from humid and warm (3000 mm and 25° C on average), sub-level humidity and semi-warm (1700 mm and 26° C on average), high-level humidity and semi-warm (4000 mm and 23° C).

Biodiversity of Tambopata:

Tambopata features a high diversity of habitats or wildlife, and therefore an incredible number of species are represented. In the Andes there are high levels of endemism, and this is true in the protected area as well. The protected area is concentrates rich biodiversity for several groups of organisms.

The protected area features common species and concentrates a rich biological diversity in several groups of organisms. The Tambopata River watershed is considered to be one of the world’s richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity. An indicator of this vast wealth is the fact that in an area of just 550 hectares, researchers have found 91 species of mammals, 570 birds, 127 reptiles and amphibians and 94 fish, among other surprising records.

Flora in Tambopata Reserve:

The Tambopata River in Madre de Dios near the Puno foothills is riddled with clumps of bamboo, the exclusive habitat of a variety of species of birds and mammals. The area features mature flooded forest and jungle typical of lower cloud forest. Flora in the national reserve is fairly typical of the southwest Amazon Basin.

The Heath River and surrounding plains are a unique ecosystem in Peru. The pampas are pastures that are periodically flooded, and small groves of trees with varied plant life grow in isolated clumps on the plain.

The protected area is home to a wide diversity of plant life, including exploited forest species such as cedar (Cedrela odorata), mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), tornillo (Cedrelinga sp.), Brazil nut (Bertholetia excelsa), palm trees such as the pona (Iriartea ventricosa), aguaje (Mauritia flexuosa), huasaí (Euterpe sp.) and ungurahui (Jessenia bataua).

Fauna Tambopata Reserve:

Researchers have discovered in the protected area large numbers of species that are now rarely found elsewhere in the Amazon jungle due to poaching, particularly tapirs and spider monkeys, but also jaguars, white-lipped peccary, medium-sized and large monkeys and caiman. The rivers teem with giant river otters and beavers.

Within the Tambopata reserve, the lower elevation zone is dominated mostly by Amazonian bird species, the ones that are at or near their upper elevation limits, and by species that are restricted (or partially restricted) to the narrow band of rain forest found on the lower slopes of the Andes. Because of the growing deforestation rate along this latitudinal border in other parts of the Andes, this ecosystem is one of these most threatened in all of South America. A relatively large portion of this ecosystem is found within the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park.

In a 5,000-hectare area where La Torre River feeds into Tambopata, almost 575 bird species have been registered. In addition, this same area contains approximately 1200 butterfly species, making its conservation extremely important (CI Peru).

The Heath plains and environs have yielded 74 species including marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), short-haired highland dog (Atelocynus microtis), 28 species of amphibians and 17 species of reptiles.

According to the Red Book on Wildlife in Peru by Víctor Pulido, the protected area features various species with differing conservation status. There are species on the verge of extinction such as the beaver (Lutra longicaudis) and giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis); vulnerable species such as the anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus), black spider monkey (Ateles paniscus), white squirrel monkey (Cebus albifrons), black squirrel monkey (Cebus apella), choro monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha), jaguar (Panthera onca), pink river dolphin (Ajaija ajaja), paujil (Crax globulosa), South American river turtle (Podocnemis expansa), yellow-headed river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), anaconda (Eunectes murinus); and rare species such as the hairy armadillo (Dasypus pilosus), Goeldi’s marmose(t Callimico goeldii), highland dog (Speothos venaticus), pacarana (Dinomys branickii), harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja); and species in a status yet to be determined such as the musmuqui (Aotus miconax), shot-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis), tropical weasal (Mustela africana), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), margay (Leoparduss wiedii), jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguaroundi), ash deer (Mazama gouazoubira), macaws and parrots Ara ararauna, Ara militaris militaris, Ara macao, Ara chloroptera, Ara severa castaneifrons, Ara couloni, redfooted tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria), white cayman (Caiman sclerops), and rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria).

Budget for Tambopata Reserve:

The total annual budget is 140,000 nuevos soles (approximately US$38,000) allocated to covering operating expenses, and which is financed by the tambopata national park’s own cashflow, largely from entrance fees paid by tourists entering the protected area. Salaries are covered by national funding. WWF Peru helps cover the salaries of three professionals and a park warden. There are also budgets from international funding: US$30,000 from Dutch cooperation and US$8,000 from Biofor to prepare a Master Plan. In the medium term there will be funding available from Phase II of the Global Environmental Facility’s (GEF) project for the protected area.

History and Borders of Tambopata Reserve:

In January 1990, the Peruvian government established the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone through Ministerial Ruling No. 032-90-AG-DGFF covering an area of 1,478,942.45 ha. The initial boundaries of Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone were used to create the BahuajaSonene National Park and later the Tambopata National Reserve. After a participatory process, Supreme Decree No. 012-96-AG of July 17, 1996 created the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park as a strictly protected zone covering an area of 537,053.25 hectares.

The area covered by the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone, without taking into account the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, continues to be a reserved zone. The new national park was curtailed by the presence in Block 78 of a US oil firm, which was exploring for oil in the area. The area in Block 78 overlapped the southwestern section of the reserved zone, including the Tavara River Basin. Mobil, having failed to discover quality hydrocarbons in abundance, handed Block 78 back to the Peruvian government. The territory was then incorporated in to the national park. Thus on September 4, 2000, Supreme Decree No. 048-2000-AG (5/09/00) expanded the area covered by BahuajaSonene National Park to 1,091,416 ha. Supreme Decree No. 048-2000-AG also created the Tambopata National Reserve in Madre de Dios with an area of 274,690 ha. Finally, Head Office Ruling No.298-2001-INRENA marked out the borders of the buffer zone for the Tambopata National Reserve.

The western buffer zone extends from the northern border of Tambopata Reserve to the Cusco Puerto Maldonado highway. The eastern buffer zone extends from the Reserve to Tambopata River and lower Madre de Dios. INRENA’s resolution 298-2001 established a temporary buffer zone for Bahuaja Sonene National Park until corresponding studies are completed to officially declare its boundaries. Currently, Bahuaja Sonene’s buffer zone surrounds the southeastern park until the community of Mazuko.

Human influence in Amazon Peru:

Population in Amazon Tambopata:

There are no human establishments within the boundaries of the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. Within Tambopata National Reserve, there have been isolated settlements along stretches of the Malinowski River and where it flows into the Tambopata River. The buffer zone in the northern section of the Madre de Dios is home to some 3,200 people.

This figure is a conservative estimate as it does not include migration over the past five years or those living on the other side of the road, who despite living outside the area, nevertheless make direct use of it. The buffer zone in Puno to the south is home to a temporary population of some 3,800 people, Andean indigenous migrants who travel to the region to plant coffee. This figure is also conservative, according to the manager in charge of the park’s master plan and the national nacional.

The area has a floating population of seasonal migrant workers which can reach some 11,000 people at times of year when there is demand for workers. There is little information on the Inambari River area. It is known that there are settlements in the area, but there is no exact data on how many settlements exist nor what their residents do for a living; it is presumed that they farm in the upper reaches of the forest, cut timber in the lowlands and work in informal mining activities throughout the area.

The creation of the protected area was the result of a participatory process which gauged the opinions and concerns of the local inhabitants, private institutions and non-profit development entities. When the protected area was originally created, at first the local population opposed the idea for fear they would be prohibited from making use of the area’s natural resources and working in their subsistence activities. Today, there is less opposition to the concept, and there is greater awareness among the local population, thanks to the coordinated efforts of NGOs and state entities.

Tourism in Amazon Peru:

Tourism is becoming an increasingly important activity in the area in recent years. Madre de Dios is home to 25 registered tourist lodges, 11 of which lie within the buffer zone and two within the reserve. There are also independent tour guides operating in the area, with 13 guides registered to date. Some local inhabitants are participating with their own lodges and hostels with the aid of loans and institutional backing. The area features two lodges that are owned by indigenous communities, one in Infierno on the Tambopata River, Posada Amazonas, and the other in Sonene on the Heath River, Ese Eja Indian Lodge.

Tourism in the protected area is concentrated around the Tambopata River and the lower Madre de Dios. Ever year, 7-8,000 tourists visit the area mainly from abroad. Tourists are charged an entry fee to visit, and the amount depends on the activity: whether the tourist is spending the night, visiting the macaw clay lick or whitewater river rafting. The area features a rafting circuit which runs down the Tambopata River from Putina Punco crossing the entire national park down to Puerto Maldonado.

Some lodges located in front of the buffer zone on the other bank of the lower Madre de Dios River use the buffer zone by crossing the river, establishing trail networks and visiting Lake Sandoval and environs. Some tour operators offer visitors the chance to go fishing or hunting, and demand authorization from the protected area. Independent guides tend to take tourists to campsites instead of the lodges, making it harder to control their activities.

The giant river otter is a species of great interest to tourists, and tourists often stress otter colonies residing in lakes. A similar problem occurs with the parrots and macaws, which descend to peck at the clay lick. Here tourists often get too close or make too much noise, upsetting the birds. The administration of the protected area has set up regulations for all tour operators working in the area and rules for visitors’ behavior, with fines for companies that fail to comply.

Conservation and research Amazon:

  • Since the protected area was created, a series of conservation and research projects have been developed, including:
  • The giant river otter research project run by the Frankfurt Zoological Society
  • Rainforest Expeditions’ Macaw Ecological Research Project
  • Environmental Education project run by the Southern Jungle Conservation Association (ACSS)
  • INRENA’s regional project for protected areas of the Amazon. All research has been carried out at the Explorer’s Inn on the Tambopata River and in other parts of the protected area by students and naturalists over the past 25 years, much of it thesis work, essays and unpublished reports.
  • Mobil’s environmental and social impact studies for oil exploration in Block 78
  • Various studies or data collected by park guards including logs registering the climate, visitor entrances,  community relations activities, research into the palmiche palm tree and felines, among other studies and research projects.
  • INRENA’s project to protect the yellow -headed river turtle in the Heath River with the participation of the native community of Sonene, with backing by Peruvian NGO Pro naturaleza.
  • Projects run by Conservation International, such as Rapid Biological Evaluation (RAP), which produced fast and simple inventories to provide scientific information to help determine the protected category of the area.

Threats in Tambopata National Reserve:

Activities that pose the greatest threat to the Tambopata National Reserve and the Bahuaja Sonene National Park include:

  • Gold mining
  • Illegal logging
  • Extraction of forest resources
  • Increase in farming

Gold mining in Tambopata:

From the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, gold mining has been the key economic activity in this part of Peru. When the government created the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone in 1990, there were mining operations in existence, and they continued to operate after the reserve zone was declared. Today, the traditional mining areas of Madre de Dios have been massively overexploited and less gold is extracted as a result, forcing many miners to explore new opportunities for employment.

Gold mining causes a major impact on the forests, riverbeds and canyons. It makes the water cloudy and sediment-filled, as well as pollutes rivers with mercury. Mining in the lower Madre de Dios River is done on a small-scale by gold panners and on a larger scale with floating dredges.

The capacity of the dredges is greater than that of gold panning as it digs up more of the riverbed and the ground, causing more environmental impacts. Gold mining is done informally along the Malinowski River, with the minerals being extracted by hand on the riverbanks. While today the administration in charge of the protected area has banned the entry of dredges into the area, preventing impact by mechanized, larger-scale operations, there are still large numbers of individual miners working on a smaller scale in the area. Because of the temporary nature of gold panning and difficult access to many areas where it is carried out, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people are working in the area.

Miners have formed a variety of groups and associations to defend their interests. At workshops and other participatory events for the preparation of a master plan for the protected area, these organizations have expressed their opinion that the entire area around the Malinowski River should be open to mining.

Mechanized mining operations have concentrated in the area around Mazuko, in the buffer zone, using tractors, frontloaders, trucks, powerful waterpumps and large extraction platforms. Mining within the community of Kotsimba is done on a small scale. Part of this community lies within the buffer zone, but it also borders the park and the national reserve and is home to the headwaters of the Malinowski River. Despite the fact that this settlement is considered a native community, only two native families live there and the rest are highland migrants making a living from gold panning and logging.

The community’s population is approximately 300 inhabitants that are spread out across a large area. The village recently carved out a dirt road that runs down to the Malinowski River. The opening up of this trail has made access easier for all kinds of extractionbased activities, particularly miners in search of new prospecting areas. The road to Cuzco features several access routes down to the Malinowski River, whereby one can reach the river in a couple of hours. These detours are used mainly by miners based along the river to transport their tools and food supplies down to the area of operations. Miners based at the mouth of the Malinowski River travel down the Tambopata River and cross through INRENA’s control posts, while the other access routes are not monitored.

Illegal logging in Amazon Peru:

According to Supreme Decree No. 038-2001-AG, commercial logging is prohibited within national reserves. Also described by this decree are acceptable practices, which include the management of agroforestry and secondary forest plantations. Yet, illegal logging occurs in both the buffer zone and the national reserve. While the control posts along the Tambopata and Heath Rivers prevent much of the wood from being taken out of the national reserve, wood is continually extracted for commercial purposes, and loggers often manage to avoid INRENA’s control posts.

The main method of forestry management in the area is that of selective logging. Woodcutters generally chop down the most commercially valuable trees with chain saws and split up the tree trunks, cutting them into planks on-site before transporting the wood to the sales point. Wood is smuggled downriver, through gorges and down side roads. Briolo Gorge within the protected area is a site where many people (mainly residents of Puerto Maldonado) enter to extract wood.

The Gorge is between Lake Sandoval and the Palma Real River in the lower Madre de Dios. According to local sources, approximately 5,000 feet of wood is extracted per week along the Tambopata River, in the village of Condenado near the mouth of the Malinowski River. Along the road to Cuzco along the Puerto Maldonado-Mazuko stretch, loggers are also smuggling out large quantities of wood. Extraction is done mainly by migrant farmers based along the road who have cleared the nearby forests of valuable wood and are forced to look ever deeper within the buffer zone for wood which they then truck out from their farmlands beside the road.

The Jayave River, which crosses the road at Kilometer 126 on the way to Mazuko, is an important link in the illegal logging trade. Loggers float trunks and planks down to the road before loading the wood onto trucks headed for Cuzco. At the same time, the villages of Villa Rocío and Santa Rita are also heavily involved in illegal logging. Migration to the area has increased illegal logging. In the Manuani Gorge, near Mazuko in the buffer zone, a group of migrants has invaded the area and set up operations under the guise of an agro-forestry herders’ association. This group of migrants is involved in illegal logging and is clearing the forest to prepare it for grazing pasture.

The community of Kotsimba is also involved in logging and holds contracts for wood extraction in its territory, so logging is legal in this case. The inhabitants of this community have received the support of a group of loggers to build a dirt road down to the Malinowski River. This support gave them access to loans to rent heavy machinery and other necessities which they now have to repay. Debt payments are made in wood equivalent, not in cash. This road also makes it easier for miners to enter the area, both smallscale and mechanized operations, as well as migrant farmers looking for land to settle. When the forests of the Kotsimba community have been overdeveloped, this will force settlers deeper into the protected area.

Logging roads and trails open up areas of tropical forest that were previously inaccessible to migrant farmers. This was the case of an area called Jorge Chávez, where an old logging road made it possible for people to enter the area to extract wood and plant fields in area bordering the national reserve. In the buffer zone in the southern section of the national park, there is intense, ongoing logging. This activity opens up more forest trails, which are then used by migrant farmers to access and settle the area.