Trop­i­cal birds, mon­keys in Peru jun­gle

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - SIMEON TEGEL

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.

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