When Verde Ventures invested in Rainforest Expeditions in 2003, it did so based on the company’s high degree of success in creating ecotourism lodges in Peru’s Amazon region. More than simply creating an opportunity for visitors to experience the Amazon, however, the company—with the help of Verde Ventures—is helping local communities and protecting the region’s biodiversity.
Rainforest Expeditions operates three ecotourism lodges in the Peruvian Amazon. One of its award-winning efforts is the Posada Amazonas Lodge in Tambopata, partially owned and operated by the local community of Infierno.
RFE’s lodges employ 64 people from the community adjacent to the Tambopata National Reserve, a critical area for biodiversity conservation. In addition to wages as tour guides and lodge staff, local people earn income from the sale of handicrafts to tourists, agricultural produce to lodge kitchens and, in the case of Posada Amazonas, a percentage of the revenue. In 2007 alone, the dividends distributed to the community were approximately $135,000, which will be used for community improvements.
Now, funded by a grant from Verde Ventures, a group of researchers is working to accurately monitor and assess the impacts and benefits of RFE’s lodges on both the local community and biodiversity conservation efforts within the Tambopata National Reserve and the buffer zone area surrounding it.
“The presence of the lodges has generally benefited the indigenous people near the lodges. Now we need to know what the long-term effects are,” says Christopher Kirkby, a researcher from the University of East Anglia and principal investigator for the surveys.
Forestry and biology students from Peru’s Amazon University and Cusco University in Puerto Maldonado and other schools have been conducting surveys in the Tambopata National Reserve, counting and cataloging species living in the forest. They are also monitoring deforestation, a growing problem in the buffer zone between the reserve and local farms.
The reserve is home to a variety of globally threatened species, including white-bellied spider monkey ( Ateles belzebuth chamek), red howler monkey ( Alouatta seniculus), giant river otter ( Pteronura brasiliensis), black caiman ( Melanosuchus niger), razor-billed curassow ( Mitu tuberosa) and Spix’s guan ( Penelope jacquacu).
At the same time, members of the community are helping Kirkby track how the inhabitants are using their additional income. He says the study, which is ongoing, is revealing how local people use their land and the surrounding forest, and how much money they invest in improving their land and access to local markets. An even more critical point of the research will be whether the additional income eases pressure on the reserve and surrounding forest, helping to curtail harmful activities such as illegal logging and hunting.
Although this monitoring research will continue for another three years, Kirkby says there are already good signs the lodges are not only providing a clear benefit to local people, but also to the environment in which they live and work and on which they depend.