Few places in South America are as remote, wild and biodiverse than the Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region in southeastern Peru. Found in western Amazonia the Madre de Dios is where the Andes Mountains drastically meet the Amazon fluvial valley in southeastern Peru. The sheer contrast between mountain habitats and jungle lowlands produces a unique community of plants and animals, a hotspot for biodiversity found nowhere else on earth.
However, this once isolated region is in peril. New roads have opened the once impenetrable jungle to human consumption changing the landscape. Swaths of jungle are being illegally logged and cleared, poachers roam freely hunting in excess and after 500 years gold mining is still destroying and contaminating large tracts of primary forest.
Paul Rosolie, a New York born naturalist, explorer, author and award-winning wildlife filmmaker, is trying to change all that. His affinity with wild places took him to the Madre de Dios when he was still a teenager, and he never left. Under the apprenticeship of a local villager and mentor he has become part of the local community and learned to immerse in the harsh environment, alone, for days at a time. Most importantly, he has witnessed first hand how unique and important this region is for the rest of the planet.
I caught up with Paul in New York City’s concrete jungle of all places, where he was presenting his work and sharing his growing concern to the Brooklyn Bird Club in Prospect Park. We gathered in the park’s historic Litchfield Villa and watched and listened attentively, with mouths agape, at the photos and stories of giant anacondas, magnificent jaguars, rare birds and wildlife we didn’t even know existed, like the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtus), one of the Amazon’s rarest mammals. Specially mesmerizing was Paul’s award-winning short film An Unseen World (video also above). The film captures an astounding diversity of animals using motion sensor cameras in a single spot, or colpa, where they congregate to take advantage of the unusual concentration of salts and minerals typically scarce in jungle soils.
After the presentation we chatted about his soon to be published book “Mother of God” where he details extraordinary wildlife encounters, adventures and findings in the western Amazon. Described by Jane Goodall as “a narrative that is gripping, sometimes disturbing and always satisfying” the book is geared to raise awareness of the region’s biological richness and reveals places that have only been seen by a handful of souls. Paul is also the founder of Tamandua Expeditions, a travel adventure company that offers journeys with a purpose through out his beloved Madre de Dios region. The company promotes regional conservation through responsible eco-tourism, volunteerism and engages the local community via employment and education.
The Tamandua Expeditions research station and base camp is strategically located on the Las Piedras River, the longest tributary in the Madre de Dios. This is the only unprotected area of the region otherwise guarded by the UNESCO World Heritage Site Manu National Park, Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, the Alto Purus and the Madidi National Park just across the border in Bolivia. Although this remote part of the Amazon is home to some of the last remaining tribes never contacted by the outside world the Las Piedras River watershed remains vulnerable. Protecting this region would create a vital corridor system linking important biodiversity hotspots. During the expeditions Paul challenges willing adventurers to assist with surveys during the wildlife focused outings to gather important observations for the scientific community.
“Protecting this river would create ecosystem connectivity between large, famous protected areas. I think that connecting the already-existing parks to create a mega-reserve would be something for Peru to be proud of and an important example for the rest of the world.”-P. Rosolie
During our conversation his passion for defending wild and natural places was palpable. Through his book and expeditions he wants to bring more attention to this important cause and raise awareness about all that is at stake. Paul, the Tamandua Expeditions team and a growing number of supporters are spearheading the effort to protect the Las Piedras River watershed in the Madre de Dios. The rate of deforestation in the world is a serious problem that has severe effects on the rest of the planet and every bit that is saved helps a lot.