In January of 2008, I had the great privilege to visit the Ecuadorian Amazon at the Napo Wildlife Center Eco-Lodge. This unique lodge, nestled along the banks of Lake Anangu in the Yasunì National Park. This park is an important UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the largest tract of tropical rain forest in Ecuador.
This area of the Amazon is under constant threat from deforestation, bush meat hunting and habitat destruction brought about through the actions of major international oil and gas companies. The lodge was created in 2003 through the combined efforts of the local, indigenous Anangu Quichua Community and international sponsors.
Prior to the creation of the lodge, the Anangu people were extremely poor. The tribes people had to travel many miles in order to earn small wages to support their families. This greatly impacted tribal life, as many of the adults had to spend large amounts of time far from their families. With the help of international benefactors, these people used the best local knowledge and the best eco-sensitive technology to create a means of showing outsiders the wonders of the Amazon in a low impact way, while helping the people to protect their local environment. The international interests kindly gave over ownership of the venture and today it is 100% owned and operated by the people from the nearby village.
The resulting lodge is beautiful, welcoming and extremely well operated. The guides and staff are extremely friendly and welcoming, and the facilities are luxurious. These people demonstrate a deep love of the area and its inhabitants. They apply strict rules to keep the tourist activities from having significant impact on the animals living around the area.
Each day, I was woken by the haunting calls of troupes of nearby howler monkeys. After eating, we set out under the cover of darkness in dugout canoes to explore the surrounding forest by water. A myriad of tropical birds live in the surrounding trees while troupes of squirrel monkeys wind their way across the tree canopy above. Down the river, a short paddle away, large, mixed, flocks of colorful parrots, parakeets, and parrotlets feed on clay deposits which help to detoxify chemicals found in the seeds that make up their diet. Along the way to these clay deposits, a local farm provides habitat for groups of tiny pygmy marmosets, the world’s smallest monkeys. These tiny primates live in large family groups, high in the trees, descending to feed on sap from the tree trunks.
The lucky visitor has opportunity to spot small groups of giant otters the fish in the side streams near the lodge. These otters appear to be very shy near the boats and the ethics of the local guides forbid following them if they choose to flee.
Later at night, there is opportunity to head out onto the lake with handheld lights to spot the glowing eyes of black caimans in the water. Although these relatives of the crocodile grow to large size, I saw only small juveniles during my forays out into the darkness.
There are many opportunities to spot monkeys, otters and birds, but, any trip to the Amazon is woefully incomplete without stopping to appreciate the smallest inhabitants of the region. The insect life hiding on and under the low lying foliage is incredible in its variety and imaginative manifestations. Many species of bats sleep along tree trunks during the day and hunt fish and insects under the cover of night.
The Amazon is one of the truly great wonders of the natural world. Every nature lover must visit this region at some point in their life. The threats to the survival of the great forest grow every year. It is heart warming to meet local people who are committed to working toward its survival. The Anango people are now meeting with other local peoples to teach them to build and run their own ecotourism operations. As more local groups commit to such ventures, hopefully the tide will turn from exploiting the forest for bush meat, oil exploration and farm land and turn to towards sustaining the forest for future generations. I encourage you to support such ventures if you plan to visit the Amazon.