January 23, 2015

What ecotourism means for indigenous tribes in the Amazon

What ecotourism means for indigenous tribes in the Amazon
By: Kathleen McAfee

This article is presented by Peru For Less.
Photo by Elizabeth Weintraub / Peru for Less

Over the past 30 years, tourism in Peru has seen an explosive increase, growing on average of 25% every 5 years. As one of the largest and most profitable industries in Peru, tourism at its core is evolving to create new facets which are gaining importance and momentum. Perhaps one of the most intriguing and innovative of these new developments is ecotourism. In the heat of the climate change debates and worldwide push for countries and industries to “go green”, ecotourism in Peru, especially in the Amazon region, has gained popularity among the environmentally conscious travel community. Visitors and industry pioneers are eager to understand how people can travel more responsibly and protect the beautiful destinations affected by modern tourism.

Just as the term implies, ecotourism is a niche of the tourism industry which invokes environmentally sound principles and business practices among players in the tourism industry. It aims to protect the land, wildlife, natural and man-made attractions, as well as the cultural traditions and livelihood of indigenous and local populations.

Photo by: Alisha Thompson / Peru for Les
One of the areas of Peru most affected by tourism is the Amazon Rainforest. This vast region spans about 60% of the country, contains thousands of endemic and endangered plants and animals, and is home to about 5% (about 1.5 million) of the country’s population. Due to the popularity of this region among international travelers and its appeal to natural resource export companies, the 5% population (widely of indigenous tribes and heritage) living in the Peruvian Amazon is sadly overlooked, misrepresented, and even marginalized. It is not uncommon that large companies force entire indigenous communities off their lands or trick them with complicated legal contracts in order to gain access to cheap lumber, petroleum, and mined precious metals such as gold and silver. While the Peruvian government and environmental activists have made progressive efforts to protect regions of the Peruvian Amazon, unsustainable urban development around the Tambopata and Amazon Rivers have sparked growing controversy. Such projects as the Transoceanic Highway that passes through the Puerto Maldonado and unprecedented increases in visitors to the region only threaten further the lands and the livelihood of indigenous people living in the Peruvian Amazon. While the current situation paints a bleak picture for the people of the Amazon Jungle, there exists a gleaming hope in the fundamental tenets of ecotourism.

Photo credit: Rainforest Expeditions / Posada Amazonas
How does ecotourism benefit indigenous populations in the Peruvian Amazon, you ask? Well, let’s consider Rainforest Expeditions’ Posada Amazonas project in the Department of Madre de Dios around the Tambopata River. This initiative was envisioned in 1998 in efforts to protect the people of the Ese Eja community as well as their lands and surrounding wildlife from the negative impacts of urban development. The result has been the establishment of a top quality ecolodge that is owned by the community and co-managed by Rainforest Expeditions. The Ese Eja community also receives 60% of the profits earned by the ecolodge. The Posada Amazonas project is a leading example of how ecotourism can be profitable and conducive to the preservation of natural habitats and indigenous populations. Other entities have followed suit in order to work more closely with indigenous populations in the Department of Loreto. A growing number of tour operators within the Amazon Basin emphasize and promote responsible travel practices, provide energy efficient and low environmental impact facilities and services, and even help to sell locally-made products hand-crafted by the indigenous communities.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Weintraub / Peru for Less

So what can we take away from the ecotourism movement in the Peruvian Amazon? We learn that not only is ecotourism profitable, but it is also a completely plausible idea that tourism can benefit both travel companies and assist in the protection of indigenous communities, their lands, and the wildlife which surrounds them.

We also learn that we can all do our part as responsible travelers to reduce our impact on destinations we visit, including the local people who live there. It is as easy as remembering to recycle during your trip and minimize waste with reusable travel gear, or researching to find an eco-friendly hotel or lodge accommodation that also gives back to the local community. Here are some ways you can be a friend to mother nature during your next vacation.

As travelers and business alike, it is important not only to respect the environment of the destination to which we are visiting, but also respect the local people who live there in order to protect the beauty and allure for years to come.

This article is presented by Peru For Less the Peru Tours Experts. Contact us today to book your Amazon Tours adventure.
December 31, 2014

Wrapping up 2014 with Rainforest Expeditions


Every year, people from all over the world venture to the Southeastern corner of Peru. And it’s not hard to understand why; the Tambopata National Reserve lies in the Amazon Basin and boasts some of the most spectacular rainforest and wildlife this world has to offer. Jaguars, Macaws, Monkeys, Capybara, Giant river otters, and Harpy eagles are some of the notable megafauna that can be observed in their natural habitat here. But not all of the impressive wildlife in the Amazon is large in size. In fact, the little creatures can be just as fascinating, if not more so. Most of the planet’s biodiversity comes in the form of insects, worms, and other miniature living organisms, and new species are being discovered each day. Some of our top stories this past year included coverage of unknown species of insects and spiders that were found in close proximity to the Rainforest Expeditions jungle lodges in Tambopata recently!

Here are some of our top stories from 2014:

This Spider Makes Fake Spiders. But Why? 1.21.14. By Nadia Drake. http://www.wired.com/2014/01/more-decoy-spiders-philippines/

A photo of the ‘Decoy spider’ sitting at the top of its pseudo-spider structure. Photo courtesy of Lary Reeves.

What I learned Hunting Decoy-Weaving Spiders in the Amazon. 6.16.14. By Douglas Main.

Lary (right) and Aaron (left) investigating the ‘Decoy spiders’.

Expedition to Candamo: Venturing into ‘The Last Rainforest Without Men’. 11.2.14. By Aaron Pomerantz. http://blog.perunature.com/2014/11/expedition-to-candamo-venturing-into.html

Aldo and his team push the boat through strong rapids to make it to Candamo.

Predatory ‘Glow Worm’ Discovered in Peruvian Rainforest. 11.19.14. By Lisa Winter.
A bioluminescent insect larvae protrudes its head from the earth and lures in prey to its powerful mandibles.

Closing out with fruitful December expedition

This past December, I was joined by two incredible groups in the Amazon. Chris Johns, a friend and colleague of mine, is a graduate student at the University of Florida and assembled a team that rumbled through the jungle with myself and guide Frank Pichardo for two weeks. We came across a myriad of amazing animals, including a Harpy eagle that had just snatched a howler monkey for breakfast, caiman, tailless-whip scorpions, monkey frogs, snakes (big snakes!), and much more.

A beautiful Harpy eagle snatches a howler monkey for breakfast. Photo by Chris Johns.

A caiman smiles big for the camera. Photo by Chris Johns.

A large Yellow-bellied Puffing Snake was none too happy to see us.

Howler monkeys greet us each morning with their loud calls. Photo by Chris Johns.

Chris, I think you’ve got a bug on your face…A tailless whip scorpion to be exact.

Then I was joined by Christie Wilcox, a rising science communication star who celebrated her successful Ph.D. defense by immersing herself in the Peruvian Amazon. In addition to taking in everything fascinating that the jungle has to offer, Christie was working to gather content for her book on venom (coming soon). This meant getting up close to potentially dangerous animals, including snakes, scorpions, wandering spiders, and bullet ants (ouch!). All in all, we had a safe trip and documented plenty of venomous fauna to satiate Christie’s toxic appetite.

A wandering spider displays a warning threat by raising her front pairs of legs. Don’t mess!

The stinger of a bullet ant, supposedly one of the most painful insect stings one can experience. I’ll take your word for it...

Large bark scorpions in the Amazon can be found on night hikes.

Christie, you most CERTAINLY have a bug on your face

So what comes next with Rainforest Expeditions? Ongoing research projects for our peculiar spider and glow worm species push us to stay on top of the scientific literature and techniques so we can gather more data and publish our results. There are still many emerging questions that have yet to be answered. Is the ‘Decoy spider’ a new species? What purpose or purposes does the decoy structure serve? If it is indeed to avoid anti-predation, what predators pushed for the selection of this unique behavior in the spider? Are the ‘glow worms’ a new species and is this a new record of their occurrence in Southeastern Peru? We’re also working to organize more trips over the course of the next year with scientists, photographers, and filmmakers, who are eager to come down to this area which is ripe with unknown animals and discoveries. What comes next isn’t entirely known, and that’s part of the adventure.

A perfect day in Tambopata, Peru.

Last but certainly not least, I’d like to thank the people who helped me get here and who have been invaluable colleagues in the field this past year. Lary Reeves is a graduate student at the University of Florida who invited me to join him in the Amazon in May of 2014. What was meant to be a routine research expedition turned into a position working with the Tambopata Research Center as a Science Communicator, and I am thankful to Lary, as well as Jeff Cremer, for giving me the opportunity to come to this place.

Top left: Lary Reeves, Douglas Main, Augusto Bazan, and Nadia Drake composed an indispensable team in May where we made some more exciting discoveries about the ‘Decoy spiders’. Top right: In October I organized a team to venture into the remote Candamo region, and it couldn’t have been done without the help of Jeff Cremer, Mike Bentley, Geoff Gallice, Roy, Misael, Rodolfo, Gallo, Pedro, and Aldo. Bottom left: This December trip, I’d like to thank my amazing group with Chris Johns, Kai Moreb, Lauren Georges, Narayan Ghiotti, Frank Pichardo, and Nicole Lizares. Bottom right: Christie Wilcox was a pleasure to have in the field poking at dangerous animals, and I hope we get to do it again soon. One last shout out to Phil Torres and Jeff Cremer, who have been incredible sources of knowledge, friendship, and collaboration on projects in this part of the world. Wrapping up 2014 with Rainforest Expeditions has been an amazing experience thus far; I can only imagine what the top stories of 2015 will look like…Cheers to the New Year!

-Aaron Pomerantz


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