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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - April 2004


If this seems like a photo taken in paradise then you are not far wrong. This is a photo of the sunset over the Tambopata River just below its confluence with the river Candamo. It was taken from our campsite on the last night of our expedition into the world- famous Tambopata- Candamo Reserve in front of the world's largest macaw clay lick. The clay lick, or Colpa, is a large clay cliff where parrots, parakeets and macaws all come to feed on the earth to aid in their digestion of unripe fruits. All year round, and especially during the dry season (May- November), these birds are forced to feed on fruits that cannot ripen due to a shortage of water and/or light. Such fruits have a high level of potentially harmful toxins that in high concentrations could even prove fatal. This problem has thus lead to the evolution of the phenomenon whereby the birds feed on clay. The clay does not in fact aid in the digestion of the toxins but as it passes through the digestive tract it binds the poisonous compounds to it and hence they are excreted without being absorbed into the blood where they could cause a lot of damage. The photo (left), taken on this trip, shows Blue-and-Yellow Macaws (Ara ararauna) and Blue-Headed Parrots (Pionus menstruus) feeding on the clay.


Thus in the second week of April we set off from the Taricaya Research Centre with our two canoes laden with 22 volunteers and camping gear. After a full day's travel in the boat we spent the first night with a farmer whose land overlooks a waterfall known local as El Gato. Everyone quickly changed and spent a leisurely few hours swimming and setting up camp. The sunset was spectacular as ever and after a further swim the following morning we headed off and passed in to the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve. That morning on our way upstream we were fortunate to stumble upon a large family of capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris), see left, which let us manoeuvre the canoes to within just a few feet and everybody happily started clicking away with their camera. The second night we camped on the banks of the river Chuncho near a smaller Colpa also famous for the flocks of colourful macaws and parrots. However, the following morning our luck changed and we awoke to rain and cloudy skies. At most we heard a couple of macaws fly disconsolately overhead and we resigned ourselves to some fishing before packing up and heading on to our final destination in the world largest clay lick the Colpa Colorado.

Little Animals

The final leg of the trip was incredibly exhilarating because as we headed back down the tributary (Chuncho) and joined the main Tambopata river it soon became apparent that it had indeed been a stormy night in the foothills as we were confronted with a fast flowing torrent bearing freshly uprooted trees. Still we finally made it to a small clearing just upstream from the Colpa and started to pitch camp. Fortunately the weather improved and it was a spectacular sunset (see above) with good omens for the following morning. We were not disappointed as we headed off early across to a hidden marsh in front of the Colpa and before long the skies were filled with parrots and macaws wheeling and screaming overhead. The experience was truly amazing and I had forgotten how many of these wonderful birds flock daily to these giants wall of clay. The show lasted for almost two hours before we headed back to our camp and packed up for the long ride home.

It was a fantastic trip and I hope to make another one in a few months with the new group of volunteers.

Stuart Timson
Conservation Manager
Taricaya Research Centre
05th May 2004

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