Tropical birds, monkeys in Peru jungle
THE LOW roar thundering through the undergrowth grew closer. It was first light, just after 5am, on our first hike of the day from the Tambopata Research Centre, a lodge deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
Yuri, my guide, pointed into the dense canopy at the source of the intimidating rumble. “Don’t move,” he whispered urgently. But instead of some magnificent specimen of the Amazon like the jaguar, Yuri was waving at a small, brownish lump of fur, the howler monkey.
Diminutive, this species is reputed to be the loudest land animal on the planet. The roar of the male, produced via a large, hollow bone in the throat, is thought to mark territory between rival groups, and can travel up to 5km.
During my three days at the centre, I managed to see all seven of the local primate species. The large spider monkeys made spectacular leaps between branches about 25m above the ground, while the tiny squirrel monkeys were the most playful.
One of the Amazon’s most remote lodges, the Tambopata Research Centre lies eight hours upriver from the capital of Puerto Maldonado. “Our ‘why’ is conservation. “Tourism is a way to achieve that end,” Kurt Holle, Rainforest Expeditions general manager told me as he explained how the com- pany was created in 1989 with the initial purpose of preventing loggers accessing what is now the Tambopata Nature Reserve.
Since then, the company has cofounded the Tambopata Macaw Project, dedicated to studying the region’s spectacular birdlife in partnership with Texas A&M University. The lodge usually hosts four or five researchers at a time, including primatologists, conservation ecologists and other scientists.
Their board and lodging is heavily subsidised by the tourism operation; visitors to the lodge have the chance to mingle with the experts and pepper them with questions.
It is easy to understand why tropical ornithologists would want to use the Tambopata Research Centre as a base for their studies. Parrots love to eat clay, possibly for the salt it contains, or because it binds with toxic alkaloids in their diet. And the largest clay lick in the world, a red cliff stretching 450m along the Tambopata River, is a short journey from the centre.
Here, with the Andean foothills jutting out of the clouds on the horizon, macaws, parrots and parakeets gather most mornings for an earthy breakfast amid a cacophony of guttural squawking and a rainbow palette of flashing blue, green, red and yellow wings.
But the Peruvian Amazon is not just a twitchers’ paradise. Along with an estimated 806 bird species, it has 293 types of mammal, 2 500 butterfly species, and more than 7 000 types of flowering plants.
Many species are difficult to find – visitors spend hours tramping through the sweltering rain forest. With humidity high and long trousers recommended to minimise mosquito bites, the Tambopata Research Centre is for those serious about wildlife.
Returning to the centre
is always a treat. A simple, airy wooden structure, the centre has a thatched roof, built on indigenous principles, absorbing the din of the rainfall when the skies open to dump on the jungle. Energy use is kept to a minimum; there is no hot water, not that you would want it.
The rooms are open on one side, allowing visitors to fully experience the pulsating crescendo of wildlife.
The nearest I came to a dicey moment was when we were surrounded by a dozen white-lipped peccaries, an Amazonian version of wild boar that, in numbers, have been known to kill jaguars. As so often with wild animals, quietly standing your ground, making it clear you present no threat while refusing to behave like prey, prevented the encounter turning dangerous. – The Independent
RETREAT: Tambopata Research Centre, a lodge deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
NOISEY: Howler monkeys.