The first time I put my feet on Madre de Dios was during the rainy season of 2014, to be precise on January 3rd.
The goal of that trip was to collect information about the “Castaña” (Brazil nut tree) production in the property of Refugio Amazonas Lodge, start my thesis to get the degree and also, try to graft mature Brazil nut trees with buds of productive trees from other parts of the region in order to enhance the production.
To start my work and accomplish the goals I needed to find “Castaña” buds from productive trees. Talking with people in the city I met a “castañero” known as Cachimba, a 65-year-old man who offered his trees so that I could prune the buds. His Brazil nut concession land was close by Valencia Lake. This lake is an oxbow lake that was part of the Madre de Dios River many years before.
The day I arrived everything ran perfectly; weather in the best conditions, no rain but cloudy. The tree that the worker showed me to climb for collecting the buds was only 10 minutes walking from the base camp. When I arrive at the base of the tree, I felt like being in the Avatar movie. That Brazil nut tree was considered the most productive of the land and with a longevity of around 1200 years.
This intimidating ancient tree was 55 meters tall, supporting a 30 meters wide crown. I spent the whole day climbing, collecting the buds, moving between branches. The most intense and gratifying day of work in my life. Then, with the buds in my hands, I only had between 3 and 5 days to graft them in the trees in Refugio Amazonas Lodge.
Brazil Nut Tree - Photo by Varun Swamy
As soon I got back to Refugio, the buds were installed and the “castañeros” of the land arrived. Three men with their upper body armed as soldiers were collecting all the coconut like fruits of the “Castaña”. Using machetes as blades, they opened the hard shells to get the seeds, in only three hits. My work was to count how many fruits produced each tree.
First, I helped them find the fruits on the ground by the tree base and stack them in a small hill. Some trees have 50 fruits but there could have up to 2,000 fruits. When they started breaking the fruits I sat down close to them and counted how many they opened.
One of the days I was counting, very concentrated, all the fruits, so that I wouldn’t miss a single one and be able to get the more precise results in my thesis.
Suddenly, they were looking at me with extremely afraid faces. Their faces made me freak out; they were acting as if they were seeing a ghost. I started to look at my body because I thought I had a viper on me but I didn’t, so I realized they were looking behind me.
I turned back and saw 8 meters away from me, a female Jaguar. She was curious about the sounds of the machetes hitting the fruits. Between her front legs was a cub, a small one, probably 2 or 3 months old. That scene lasted around 10 more long seconds, no one was moving, we were paralyzed, probably without knowing if we were on a dream. Then, the jaguar turned to her left and started walking into the density of the forest. The cub took two more seconds to realize his mom was gone, made two jumps out and disappeared. After that moment I spent two years without looking at a single Jaguar.
Referential photo of Jaguar by Jeff Cremer
Jaguars are solitary cats, they don’t live in herds like lions. Is easy to spot them nearby the river banks during the boat trips. When you travel to the Amazon, in Tambopata, you have up to 35% chance to spot one. The territories of females are associated with the surroundings of the rivers where they can find their favorite preys: capybaras.
Males use bigger territories, up to 300 square kilometers and can get deep inside the forest for long periods following white-lipped peccary’s herds or Tapir trails. If you saw more than one jaguar together could be a female whit its cups, maybe a couple of young brothers that still together before taking its own way or maybe a male and a female during breeding season.
The incredible thing about this story is the proximity that we can have with these activities. Within everyone's reach...The Brazil Nut Trail and even the Jungle Jaguar Search. Definitely unforgettable experiences.