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The Macaw Project: 29 Years Of Success

Juan Diego

I started visiting the Amazon jungle working for Rainforest Expeditions by the beginning of 2014. This is my fifth year with them and I have seen many changes in these Amazon jungle lodges in the past years. More food options, luxury hotels services and upgraded rooms and even internet access.

Do you think anyone thought about internet in the untouched heard of the tropical Rainforest 29 years ago?

Probably someone did, and that’s why we have it now. But let me tell you a little bit of the whole process, from the beginning of the Macaw Project until now.

The goal at that moment was to make this place accessible to people in a sustainable way, using its mega-diverse Flora and Fauna and (of course) the beauty of macaws as an eco-touristic resource. Remember that the new world tropics is the most diverse place on earth.

Tambopata Research Center - first building 29 year ago
First building of the Tambopata Research Center lodge: Shapaja palm roof and rounded columns.

The beginning takes place 29 years ago, specifically in September 1989. At that time, getting to Colorado Claylick (the biggest and most diverse in the world, located next to Tambopata Research Center lodge) took at least two days by boat. Nowadays it takes only around one-third of the time. The trip starts in Puerto Maldonado City, followed by one hour by bus to Infierno Native Community, then two hours and a half boat drive up to Refugio Amazonas Lodge, and finally the next day a 3 hours and a half boat drive. A very gentle way to get into the Tambopata National Reserve, perfect to enjoy the landscape, spot some animals and have a great time.

 River view close to TRC lodge. Photo by Carlos Huamaní, Macaw Project member.

In the past, the trip started at “Puerto Tambopata”, in Puerto Maldonado city, where by the way, you have many hotels options now. The boats were equipped with simple engine motors named locally as “peque-peque” because of the sound they make. These 16 horsepower boats, after 12 hours of the trip, did only half way to Tambopata Research Center. They usually stayed overnight on a sandy beach or in the house of a local family, arriving the next day after another 12 hours boat drive.

The passion that the team had for protecting and inspiring people with wild macaws was so intense, that they decided to study them seriously. To help the population of macaws in the region, they build artificial nests.

Macaws naturally nest in tree holes of Shihuahuaco (Dipteryx micrantha) trees, a species of tree that can live more than 1000 years hosting a birthplace for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, there is only 1 Shihuahuaco tree within each hectare and also, this species grows only in “Flood Plain forest”, meaning an area of forest that floods during a period of time of the year, where the water brings nutrients from the high mountains of the Andes to the ground of these forests, nurturing the soil year after year. So, Shihuahuaco trees were not everywhere and the distribution was not dense enough.

Artificial nest hanging from Dipterix treeArtificial nest hanging from Dipterix tree. Photo by George Olah

These nests were made with different materials; wood, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and concrete. They were hanging down from the huge tree branches of Shihuahuaco Trees and some other tree species like the huge emergent Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra). To achieve the correct access to the nests, it is required a system of ropes, harnesses, ascenders, carabineers and a lot of technique and experience, besides a quote of courage to stay concentrated working, hanging from a single rope more than 30 meters (98 feet) above the ground. A great everyday adventure, necessary to collect data for the study.

Macaw Project Researcher in Tambopata - Photo by MR
Macaw Project Researcher in Tambopata - Photo by MR

The project was run by Eduardo Nycander, Rainforest Expeditions founder, from 1989 to 1993. From 1999 to the present, all the research is led by Donald Brightsmith, Ph.D., Texas A&M University. Their current studies are on food availability, clay supplement, and nest availability breeding within other topics.

Do you want to learn more about this amazing long-term project? Keep an eye in our stories from our jungle lodges and our coming video from the Tambopata MacawCam or better live one of them by experiencing the new Tambopata Research Center Lodge, the only lodge located inside in the National Reserve of Tambopata!!


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