The Forest Needs Us: Conservation of the Las Piedras

Photo taken at ARCAmazon’s concession, in the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC.) (Image from conservetheamazon.org)

I’ve always found nature to be incredible; its wonders stretch beyond imagination. The perfect synergy of ecosystems and astounding ways evolution has created millions of diverse species never ceases to blow my mind. Nature has developed more advanced biological technology than human minds can comprehend, over longer time periods we have ever witnessed. The mainframe of this massive biological network of life on Earth are the tropical rainforests; of which I am more than excited to witness.

ARCAmazon, through its partnership with Wild Forests and Fauna (WFF) gained the rights to an 11,000 hectare ecotourism concession along the Las Piedras river (in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian rainforest) in early 2015. Through this concession and the construction of the Las Piedras Amazon Center, ARCAmazon aims to conserve the region’s rich biodiversity, minimize threats to the environment and local communities, and inspire local and international students to connect with rainforests.

Based out of Seattle, Washington, WFF works around the globe to protect and restore threatened forests. Organizations like WFF exist all over the world with similar goals, but why do these non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work so hard to protect areas so distant from our civilization? Why are places like ARCAmazon’s concession so important, and why do these organizations want to spread awareness?

The area where ARCAmazon’s concession is located, the Madre de Dios rainforest region, is perhaps among the most important forest regions in the world and is in urgent need of protection. The area is located within the Western Andes Biodiversity Hotspot, the richest and most diverse wildlife region on Earth. The hotspot spans from Western Venezuela to Northern Chile and Argentina. Civilizations have inhabited this region for thousands of years and continue to expand, putting this exquisite wildlife region in increasing danger.

Opening this rich and beautiful area to researchers and visitors is invaluable, expanding on the very limited knowledge we have about life on earth, perhaps discovering aspects of nature that can benefit humanity and advance our medicines and technology. I am very grateful for and excited about the opportunity ARCAmazon presents to myself and other outsiders interested in witnessing this beautiful and unique place firsthand.

It is of utmost importance to protect this area, not only for its robust biodiversity, but also to sustain the lives and cultures of uncontacted tribes living in voluntary isolation. Here, closely entangled with the natural world, indigenous peoples have thrived for thousands of years. Although it may be easy for us to dismiss these cultures as simplistic, even savage; as they have been labelled since they were first discovered by westerners, these people may be wiser than we ever knew. Though these cultures lack conventional scientific advancement, they have cultivated a more intimate relationship with nature, through countless generations than most of the people could ever hope to achieve in the modern world.

There are 1,354 known indigenous tribes remaining in the Peruvian Amazon, occupying 17% of the total area of the Peruvian amazon. Several of these uncontacted tribes are known to inhabit the headwaters of the Las Piedras river in the Alto Purús National Park. In one of the only studies of the region in 2002 to document illegal logging, it was found that 17.3% of all interviewed loggers reported having personally seen uncontacted natives. The same study found that 92.2% of illegal loggers working along the Las Piedras tributaries had worked within areas reserved for these isolated indigenous people.

Uncontacted Tribe on the Las Piedras River (Photo taken by the Frankfurt Zoological Society during 2012 fly-over)

Even if these tribes remain uncontacted, their lives are still in danger from the disruption of their ecosystem; the land they depend on for survival. The immune systems of these uncontacted natives are extremely vulnerable to foreign diseases, even brief contact can lead to epidemics and the death of entire populations. The rubber boom (~1879-1912) saw the exploitation of thousands of natives, forcing them from their homes in the forest in the name of material wealth. Even after the boom, these accessible, yet vulnerable territories were quickly infested with hunters, skin traders, tortoise egg gatherers, loggers, oil companies and drug traffickers.

This relentless use of force and aggression towards natives haven’t been addressed until the past two decades, when the Peruvian government has made changes to allocate areas for logging and protected areas for indigenous tribes and forest conservation. The Peruvian Government has created national parks with the hope of protecting the forest and the native tribes. They have also granted more than 7.5 million hectares to logging companies, and a 1.5 million hectare concession to Mobil oil. Though strict policies exist, illegal activity has stemmed from these newly accessible areas and threatened more of the forest than ever before.

(Image of the Las Piedras concession from Wild Forests and Fauna)

Before this pristine wilderness can be experienced by visitors, its protection must be ensured. Currently, ARCAmazon’s concession, as well as many national parks and protection areas have no real protection against illegal activity. National programs are underfunded, and even “protected” areas are riddled with illegal activity.

The rainforest needs our help and our attention. With the opportunity I’ve been given, I look forward to learning all I can about this mysterious and beautiful place, so that I can share it will all of you. I will be witnessing the culture, the environment and the threats to its serenity. I can’t wait to explore my passion for the environment, and finally get to work giving back to the natural world to which I owe everything.

Sources:

http://wildff.org/project/arcamazon/

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