The Amazon Basin Sights

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Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park

Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park Review

From Puerto Maldonado, the Madre de Dios River flows east to the Bolivian border. The river defines the northern boundary of the Tambopata National Reserve and passes some nearby, easy-to-reach jungle lodges. The Tambopata River flows out of the reserve and into the Madre de Dios at Puerto Maldonado, and a boat trip up that waterway can take you deep into that protected area: a 3.8-million-acre rain-forest reserve about the size of Connecticut. Officially separate from the reserve, but usually grouped for convenience under the "Tambopata" heading, is the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, created in 1996 and taking its moniker from the names in the local indigenous Ese'eja language for the Tambopata and Heath rivers, respectively. (The Río Heath forms Peru's southeastern boundary with neighboring Bolivia.) The former Pampas de Río Heath Reserve along the border itself is now incorporated into Bahuaja-Sonene, and encompasses a looks-out-of-place secondary forest more resembling the African savanna than the lush tropical Amazon.

Peru works closely on joint conservation projects with Bolivia, whose adjoining Madidi National Park forms a grand cross-border 7.2-million-acre reserve area. Only environmentally friendly activities are permitted in Tambopata. The area functions partially as a managed tropical-forest reserve, and local communities collect castañas, or Brazil nuts, from the forest floor.

Elevations here range from 500 meters (1,640 feet) to a lofty 3,000 meters (9,840 feet), providing fertile homes for an astounding number of animals and plants. The area holds a world record in the number of butterfly species (1,234) recorded by scientists. Tambopata contains the largest of Madre de Dios's collpas, the Colpa Chuncho. It's visited by approximately 15 species of parrots and macaws who congregate at dawn to collect a beakful of mineral-rich clay, an important but mysterious part of their diet.

Updated: 11-21-2012

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