Three years ago Brazil's Amap state launched its nearly 25 million-acre Amap Biodiversity Corridor project with support from CI. Its landscape management strategy blends biodiversity protection and economic development activities
, encompassing national parks, indigenous lands, and other areas with varying degrees of protection.
Working with local partners, CI launched a series of scientific surveys in August 2004 to collect information on the diversity and distribution of animals and plants within the corridor. Eight expeditions have recorded more than 1,000 species, including at least a dozen new to science. The latest survey occurred last fall. Following is biologist and CI Amazonia Project Manager Enrico Bernard's first-hand account:
Tumucumaque Mountains, Brazil:
An expedition into the Amazon
is no walk in the woods. Descending for the third time into the heart of the Amap Biodiversity Corridor the largest tract of protected tropical forest in the world our scientific team was sorely tested. The destination was Tumucumaque National Park, the corridor's greatest treasure, more than 9.5 million acres of dense forest and tumbling rivers sprawled across Brazil's northernmost border with French Guiana and Suriname
Vast, remote, and extremely difficult to traverse, Tumucumaque has defied scientific attempts to comprehensively map its interior or identify its hidden wealth of species. Using satellite imagery, we chose instead a strategy of sampling parcels of forest that were representative of the park's most important habitats.
Our first challenge was logistical. Transporting 30 people, their scientific equipment, and supplies on a 20-day trek through roadless, unexplored forest is a daunting task. Since helicopters are prohibitively expensive, the only other way in is by boat. But this path into Tumucumaque also isn't smooth: the rivers
here can be wild, studded with rocks, and churned by whitewater rapids that threatened to capsize our motorized canoes.
Dividing the expedition into two groups, we journeyed up the Oiapoque River along the French Guiana border. One party went ahead to construct our base camp on the banks of the Anotaie River, while my group, composed of researchers and TV crews from Brazil and Germany, followed several days later.
Our boats were guided by seasoned pilots who regularly carried supplies to more than 4,000 "wildcat" gold miners prospecting illegally in French Guiana. We soon saw evidence of their destructive activity as our river's tea-colored waters changed to muddy brown at the confluence with the Camopi River flowing out of French Guiana. Many fear these waters, so close to the national park, are being polluted by toxic waste from the illegal mining.
After several days, we neared our destination as the boat reached the beautiful Anotaie River, but our adventures had only begun. Still two days from camp, we faced no less than 14 sets of rapids, one so dangerous we had to come ashore and briefly drag our loaded canoes through the rain forest.
It was a great relief when we finally arrived at camp, though our boatmen were dismayed to learn they would have to abide by the park's rules: no hunting or fishing. Usually when rivermen come ashore, they live off the forest
, traveling with the barest necessities. It was comical to watch these rugged fellows grumbling over our dinner of canned sardines, while large river fish splashed nearby.
But Tumucumaque didn't hide its abundant treasures for long. Our scientific team identified some 32 different kinds of reptiles and amphibians, as well as 57 mammal species
, adding invaluable new data to our growing list of the park's extraordinary biodiversity. Of particular importance was proof that creatures endangered elsewhere in Latin America, like jaguar (Panthera onca
), giant river otters (Pteronura brasiliensis
), and tapir (Tapirus terrestris
), can also be found possibly in greater abundance in this protected forest. Because Tumucumaque is so huge and inhospitable, these and uncounted other species have safely thrived here. Some species I encountered on previous trips were so cloistered they had no fear of people.
This is Brazil
's last pristine wilderness. Using the scientific information our teams have collected here, CI and its partners are gaining the tools to understand and help Brazilian park authorities to find new and better ways to keep this ancient forest safe.