In October 2006 Lee and I headed to the Peruvian jungle as the first stop on a 9-month world trip. Here we spent two months working as volunteers at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve, a private nature reserve in the Peruvian Amazon, located along the Madre de Dios River.
Arriving in Puerto Maldonado we climbed aboard a narrow, wooden boat loaded with supplies and kit and headed down river to the reserve. It would take an hour and half and was perhaps one of the most overwhelming wildlife experiences I have had. It was just so different to anything I had experienced in my life, to that point. It was like being in one of the hundreds of nature documentaries I had seen on the Amazon. A wide slowly meandering, muddy brown river, wider than any river I had seen at home. Steep banks lead to a dense wall of dark green and brown vegetation, trees, bushes, vines the variety of which I had never encountered before. Occasionally the jungle opened out to reveal villages, clusters of wooden houses with tin or palm leave roofs. Cattle wander to the rivers edge, where occasionally boats are moored. And sounds. Over the sound of the boat’s engine there was the sounds of birds, insects, mammals, all heard but not seen, hidden by the jungle screen.
The boat finally came alongside the bank, near to a small stream that joined the river with steep muddy sides. Emerging from the trees along the rivers bank, nestled among trees and clearings there was a cluster of wooden cabins and other buildings, linked by board walks, our living quarters for the next two months. The overriding impression is green. The jungle around and beyond the cabins is a dense mat of green with the occasional earthly browns of tree trunks. There were birds, butterflies and insects everywhere, more sounds coming from the surrounding trees and jungle. You just didn’t know which way to look or how to identify them!
That first day we were thrown straight in. After settling our gear into our cabin, we were taken down to a small beach area where we were shown yellow-spotted river turtles hatching and crawling out from the sand. This was part of the repopulation project the reserve at the time had just started. The species has been rapidly disappearing from the rivers of the Amazonian Basin, and along with work to protect a known nesting spot, the team had been collecting eggs and relocating them to artificial nests on the reserve where they could be closely monitored. Once they hatched, they were collected, measured and taken to a holding pool at the back of the lodge where they would stay until their release. On that day in October, my first day, 80 emerged from three nests!
Next, we were given a tour of the lodge’s animal rescue centre. Here animals that had been rescued, from mostly as pets, were cared for with the ultimate aim of release onto the reserve where possible.
In October 2006 there were a number of macaws, including Blue-and-yellow Macaws, Scarlett Macaws and a Chestnut-fronted Macaw affectionately known as Douglas. Mealy Parrots, Blue-headed Parrots, Dusky-headed Parrots and a Yellow-crowned Amazon Parrot. There was a spider monkey, white-fronted capuchin, a night monkey and two brown capuchin’s. Grey-winged Trumpeters and a Spix’s Guan. In addition there was a young white-lipped peccary (a type of wild pig) known as Winston and a young tapir (mammal similar in shape to a pig and with a short prehensile nose) called Whinny, plus a Central American agouti, a type of large rodent. By far the most impressive animal had to be the jaguar. But the animal that really captured my heart during our stay was a beautiful young ocelot, an individual I would have further wonderful encounters with during my stay.
These animals would form a core part of our work over the coming months as the volunteers helped to feed and water them, as well as undertaking repairs and enrichment of their enclosures and work to prepare them for release. More of that to come but anyone who knows me will know that this work is the reason why I do not like the smell of papaya!
That night it got dark quickly, but the sounds of the jungle never stop, they just change instruments as cicadas and tree frogs, along with hundreds of unnamed insects, take up the tune.