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Side Necked Turtles - Two Hundred Years Ago

Kurt Holle

Our guides spot and point at little side necked turtles (taricayas, Podocnemis unifilis) on the Tambopata River. Sometimes, lines of yellow butterflies flutter above their eyes, trying to lick them. It is an iconic image much like the macaw clay lick or the panoramic of the rain forest canopy.


John Hemming in Tree of Rivers cites Alexander von Humboldt as he floated down the Orinoco River (in Colombia) on this very sight. It was 200 years ago.  Humboldt describes the turtles this way: 8 to 10 rows of turtles, side by side, covering the river banks. Humboldt is horrified at the Franciscan friars, who plunder every nest for oil-rich eggs used in turn for street lighting.


The Jesuit friars did the same, although they at least left half the eggs. Humboldt copies registers from the lamp oil supply chain: 5000 massive jars of oil a year from 330 thousand turtles and 33 millions eggs.

The Amazon is an extraordinary place as is. And yet, no place deserves the slogan "Lets make America great again", as much as the Amazon.

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