Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Perú 12

Perú: Ampiyacu, Apayacu, Yaguas, Medio Putumayo

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
3-21 August 2003

Lowland forests of northeastern Peru, in the broad interfluvium between the Amazon and Putumayo rivers, three degrees south of the equator. The region’s indigenous communities, with the results from the inventory, propose formal protection for a 1.9 million-ha wilderness bordering their lands. The area’s southern reaches are less than 50 km from the city of Iquitos, but its northern reaches, along the Colombian border, are some of the most inaccessible areas in Peru.

Sites Surveyed
Three sites at the heart of the proposed reserve: the upper headwaters of the Yaguas River, the upper headwaters of the Ampiyacu River, and the upper headwaters of the Apayacu River. The Yaguas is an immense, essentially uninhabited river valley with settlements only at its mouth (Figure 2). The site we visited was old-growth floodplain forest. The other two sites are dominated by upland forest on low hills, mostly under 200 m elevation and drained by small headwater streams lined by swamp forest. The proposed Reserved Zone also includes a 100-km stretch of the blackwater Algodón River, a biologically distinct ecosystem that we surveyed from the air but did not visit.

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

Highlight of results
Biological communities in the proposed Reserved Zone are among the planet’s most diverse, harboring as many as 1,500 vertebrate and 3,500 plant species. Plant and animal diversity were astonishing at all three sites we visited, but the vast, undisturbed, and inaccessible Yaguas valley had the highest conservation value.

Plants: Upland plant diversity, on low, acidic hills of intermediate fertility, is astronomical. As in Yavarí, south of the Amazon River (Pitman et al. 2003), the team registered more than 1,500 plant species in the field, of an estimated regional diversity of 2,500-3,500 species. Small-scale diversity of woody plants here may be the highest on the planet; one of our 100-stem inventories contained 88 different species. Forests here are floristically similar to those around Yavarí and Iquitos, but lack white-sand soils. However, many common plant species, like the tree Clathrotropis macrocarpa (Fabaceae), are typically Colombian taxa that only reach these northernmost forests of Peru and were not in Yavarí, to the south.

Fishes: In black- and whitewater streams, rivers, and lakes at the three sites we registered 207 fish species. We expect that the total ichthyofauna of the proposed reserve exceeds 450 species—more than 60% of all fish species in the Peruvian Amazon. Fifteen species we collected are new to Peru and five are new to science, including an electric fish in the genus Gymnotus. The never-before-studied Yaguas River was the most diverse site we sampled; half of the species recorded there were not seen anywhere else during the inventory. Overall, roughly half of the species that we found in this northern region did not occur to the south, in the region we sampled the Yavarí River.

Reptiles and amphibians: The Iquitos area is a global epicenter of herpetological diversity, and more than 300 species of reptiles and amphibians are expected to occur in the proposed Reserved Zone. We registered 64 out of an estimated 115 species of amphibians, including a salamander and an unfamiliar caecilian, and 40 out of an estimated 194 species of reptiles, including 15 snakes, 19 lizards, three caimans, and three turtles.

Birds: The ornithological team registered 362 bird species during the inventory, of an estimated regional avifauna of 490 to 540 species. Five of the species we recorded are restricted to the northwestern Amazon, and an additional 18 only occur north of the Amazon River. Among the species expected along the Putumayo River is the Critically Endangered gamebird Crax globulosa.

Mammals: Mammal communities are untouched by human influence on the Yaguas River, where the team found what may be the highest density of lowland tapirs ever recorded—11 sightings in less than two weeks—and recorded groups of white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari) with 500 individuals. The other two sites show the effects of occasional hunting by local communities, but will sustain a very diverse wildlife under improved management. We estimate a regional mammal fauna of at least 119 species, including the rare canid Atelocynus microtis. In Peru, the primate Saguinus nigricollis is restricted to this Putumayo-Amazonas interfluvium,and is not currently protected within Peru’s parks system.

Human communities
The proposed Reserved Zone is bordered to the north and south by the 26 indigenous communities who have led the initiative to establish it. These include Huitoto, Bora, Yagua, Ocaina, Quichua, Cocama, and Mayjuna communities; two additional communities, Ticuna and Yagua, are at the mouth of the Yaguas. These communities have a total population of roughly 3,000 people and titled lands totaling >110,000 ha. The indigenous federations that represent the communities have built partnerships with the SNV Netherlands Development Organization, the Instituto del Bien Común, The Field Museum, CEDIA, and other organizations to produce detailed maps of indigenous resource use in the area and to push for the protection of their traditional lands.

Main threats
Most of the proposed Reserved Zone is relatively untouched at present, but forests along all the main rivers except the Yaguas are visited frequently by local hunters, fishermen, and small-scale loggers. No proposed forestry concessions overlap with the proposed conservation land. In 1999, the government of Loreto considered Korean proposal to build a huge industrial complex for forest and mineral products in the area. In the north, chronic instability, drug transport, and isolation are long-term problems in remote communities along the Colombian border.

Current status
The indigenous communities’ 2001 proposal to establish a Communal Reserve in a 1.1 million-ha expanse of their traditional territory could not be approved by Peru’s protected areas service (INRENA), for whom protecting this megadiverse area of Peru has long been a priority, without additional biological information. Based on the results of the recent rapid biological inventory, the proposal has been modified to incorporate the entire watershed of the Yaguas River, rather than just its headwaters, thereby increasing the proposed Reserved Zone to 1.9 million ha. The proposed conservation complex includes Communal Reserves and a National Park (see below). The new proposal has been viewed favorably by INRENA.

Principal recommendations for protection and management

Establish a core area of strict protection: Yaguas National Park.
The National Park will protect intact forests with the highest conservation value on the landscape—the headwaters of the Apayacu and Ampiyacu rivers, a stretch of blackwater habitats along the Algodón River, and the uninhabited portion of the Yaguas River.

Establish four communal reserves for managed use by the resident native communities (see map below and Figure 3).

Readjust the boundaries of native communities to reflect current use.

Benefits for Conservation and for the region
The conservation landscape we propose for the Ampiyacu, Apayacu, Yaguas, and Medio Putumayo region will provide long-term protection for areas as rich in cultural as in biological diversity. Our vision is an integrated system of land use areas that simultaneously provides (i) a refuge for biodiversity, including the hundreds of unprotected species occurring only in forests north of the Amazon River, and (ii) a strong framework for conservation stewardship, with local indigenous communities actively participating in the management and protection of natural resources in their forest homes.

A new reserve in the region will secure a better economic, environmental, and cultural futurefor Peruvians in Loreto and the rest of the country by:

protecting vast tracts of high diversity terra-firme forests absent from other reserves in Peru,


preserving traditional ways of life for the nine indigenous groups living in the area—a central component of Peru’s rich cultural heritage,


creating economic opportunities for indigenous and ribereño communities— and by extension, the nearby markets in Pebas and Iquitos,


safeguarding the headwaters of five principal rivers in the region of Loreto— a proactive measure to ensure uncontaminated water for future generations,


establishing source areas of game to replenish animal populations depleted by unmanaged hunting—including tapirs, peccaries, and large primates.

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