Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Perú 11

Perú: Yavarí

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
25 March–13 April 2003 (biological), 17 March–15 April 2003 (social)

The Yavarí and Yavarí Mirín river valleys in the Amazonian lowlands of northeastern Peru (Figure 2), where a 1.1 million-ha area has been proposed as a Zona Reservada, a first step towards formal protection. The area stretches from the Peru-Brazil border in the east to the Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo (which it includes) in the west. Its western border is 60 km south of the city of Iquitos.

Sites Surveyed
Four sites along the Yavarí River, between the town of Angamos and the mouth of the Yavarí Mirín. At each site we surveyed a mix of forest types and microhabitats, both in the hilly uplands and on the Yavarí’s broad floodplain. Upland forests at the first site grow on steep hills with relatively poor soils, while those at the second and third sites cover rolling terrain with richer soils. At the fourth site, an old alluvial terrace overlooks a mosaic of flooded forests and oxbow lakes near the mouth of the Yavarí Mirín.

Organisms surveyed
Vascular plants, fishes, reptiles and amphibians, birds, large mammals, and bats

Highlight of results
This region of Peru holds world records for tree and mammal species richness, and every group of organisms we studied was exceedingly diverse. Despite the area’s extensive use during the rubber boom—attested to by thousands of scarred rubber trees still standing throughout the area—plant and animal communities appear fully recovered and essentially indistinguishable from those in famously intact regions of Amazonian Peru, like Manu National Park.

Plants: The team registered more than 1,650 plant species in the field, of an estimated regional flora of 2,500–3,500 species. Forests along the Yavarí are floristically similar to those around Iquitos (but lack white sand soils) and are probably a good approximation of what the Iquitos area looked like many years ago. Even so, many common plant species here appear to be new records for Loreto or Peru. Upland forests are extremely diverse and heterogeneous, especially in poorer-soil areas, where tree species composition appears to turn over with soils on a very small scale.

Fishes: Despite floodwaters that prevented sampling in the Yavarí itself, the ichthyologists recorded a much richer fish fauna than expected—240 species— in the mixed-water lakes and tributaries of the Yavarí. At least ten of the species collected are new to science and about 20 others are new to Peru. Most of the new species are small, showy fish with potential as ornamentals. More than 400 fish species are expected in the region.

Reptiles and amphibians: The herpetological team recorded 77 amphibian and 43 reptile species during the inventory, and estimate a combined total of 215 species. Five amphibians appear to be new to science, including a black frog speckled with vivid yellow and white spots that belongs to a formerly monotypic genus never before collected in Peru (Allophryne). Apart from river turtles and caiman, which are not common along the Yavarí and may be recovering from hunting pressure, the herpetofauna appears healthy and intact.

Birds: We recorded 400 bird species in just three weeks and estimate a regional avifauna of 550 species. The Red-fan Parrot (Deroptyus accipitrinus, Figure 6B), known in Peru from a single record and not reported in the country for half a century, was spotted several times in the Yavarí floodplain. Many other records, like the Elusive Antpitta (Grallaria eludens), represent significant range extensions. During the inventory we witnessed a large-scale migration event—a curious mix of boreal, austral, and within-Amazonia migrants—that suggests the area may be an important flyway for Amazonian birds.

Large mammals: Censuses reconfirmed what a decade’s worth of mammal work in the area has documented in detail: world-record diversity and robust populations of many mammals globally threatened with extinction. Thirteen species of primate have been found inside the proposed Reserved Zone; two others occur just outside its borders. At least 11 populations of the threatened red uakari monkey—Cacajao calvus, protected nowhere else in Peru—occur in the area, andsome of these contain more than 200 individuals. During the brief inventory we sighted several rare Amazonian mammals, including jaguar, tapir, giant anteater, short-eared dog, and giant otter.

Human communities
Despite the region’s proximity to Iquitos, no settlements exist inside the 1.1 million-ha proposed Reserved Zone. The ribereño village of Nueva Esperanza (Figure 2), with 179 inhabitants, borders the proposed area to the northeast. Several other communities that settled in the region over the last four decades have since left, largely because of endemic, chloroquine-resistant malaria and poor access to markets in Leticia and Iquitos. The social team found strong interest in the surrounding ribereño settlements, and in the nearby Matsés indigenous territories farther up the Yavarí, for conservation that involves and benefits local communities. The Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo, which is included in the proposed Reserved Zone, has been successfully managed for 12 years by local communities on the Tahuayo and Blanco rivers (Figure 2).

Main threats
The area is remarkably untouched at present, but two major threats are on the horizon. In the north, a segment of the proposed Reserved Zone overlaps with forestry concessions that may go into auction this year. Other forest concessions border the proposed Reserved Zone to the north, along the Esperanza and the lower Yavarí Mirín rivers. At the same time, communities on the lower Yavarí are discussing large-scale immigration projects into unoccupied areas along the Yavarí Mirín.

Current status
INRENA, the Peruvian service for protected areas, is supportive of the establishment of a Zona Reservada in Yavarí. However, a large area in the north of the proposed Zona Reservada (Figure 8)—a region of extreme biological importance and part of an AIDESEP (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana) proposal to protect a non-contacted indigenous group—remains designated for logging concessions.

Principal recommendations for protection and management

Provide long-term protection for forests in the proposed Reserved Zone in association with surrounding communities, including strict protection for the upper Yavarí Mirín watershed and ecologically compatible use in buffer areas.

Remove or minimize the impacts of soon-to-open forestry concessions in the crucial “three headwaters” area between the Esperanza and Yavarí Mirín rivers.

Upgrade the Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo to a Reserva Comunal at the national level, within the Peruvian protected areas system (SINANPE).

Benefits for conservation and for the region
The conservation landscape we propose for the Yavarí region will provide long-term protection for some of Peru’s most diverse forests, hundreds of species not protected elsewhere in the country’s parks network and dozens of globally threatened species. There is a wealth of additional reasons—economic, cultural, and political—why the establishment of a conservation landscape in the region will benefit Loreto and Peru for the long term, including :


Permanent protection and long-term monitoring of a source area for game animals —especially peccaries, tapir, and large fish—that form the basis of Loreto’s rural economy.

Economic opportunities for isolated rural communities and local control of the area’s natural resources.

Highest protection for lands that may be inhabited by indigenous groups who prefer to remain uncontacted.

Increased international conservation investment in Loreto, and a windfall for Loreto’s ecotourism industry—with a new, globally important tourist attraction just 60 km from Iquitos.

Binational collaboration with Brazil in conservation, management and sustainable development in the border region.

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