Newspapers across the globe have been filled in recent weeks with news of the deforestation crisis that continues to unfold in the Amazon basin. In Brazil, the new government led by president Jair Bolsonaro has publically endorsed exploitation of the country’s vast Amazon region, eroding the authority of the ministry of the environment and undermining the work of FUNAI, the Brazilian institution that carries out policies related to indigenous peoples.
According to the most recent data released in Brazil, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated to an estimated three football fields a minute. This means that during July 2019, more than 2254 square kilometers (840 square miles) of Amazon tropical forests were cleared. This startling statistic comes in the wake of year-on-year increases in deforestation reported for the months of May and June.
Governments around the world accuse the new far-right government in Brazil of actively encouraging a wave of environmental destruction unprecedented this century. But the government in Brasilia shows no signs of backing down: Bolsonaro has openly mocked European leaders for their stance on environmental protection.
Peru is far from immune to this kind of mass environmental exploitation. Successive governments have been weak in their enforcement of environmental laws, and while the nation is home to almost one hundred sixty protected natural areas, accounting for around 17% of Peruvian territory, each of those reserves and parks faces a host of threats to its survival.
In southeastern Peru, Tambopata National Reserve and our own Tambopata Private Conservation Area face the ever-present threat of invasion from illegal loggers, land grabbers and illicit mining operations. In the forests that form the buffer zone around the pristine Tambopata National Reserve, illegal roads built to remove highly-prized timber such as mahogany, or to supply fuel and other materials to illicit mining operations, threaten the delicate ecosystems upon which countless species of flora and fauna depend. On the edge of the National Reserve, barges continue to operate on the Malinowski River, dredging for gold and polluting that Amazon waterway with mercury.
In the context of this grim scenario, projects like our Tambopata Private Conservation Area and the Tambopata National Reserve in which we operate our rainforest excursions are more important than ever.
In recent years, the area of forest of which Tambopata Ecolodge is the custodian has seen its health improve markedly, as the results of our recent camera trap studies have shown. At Tambopata Ecolodge, we believe that ecotourism constitutes an invaluable resource in the daily struggle against those who would destroy the Amazon basin for short term financial gain. We work to preserve a small part of the Amazon basin, inviting travelers to experience the wonders of the forest, while creating local wealth and employment. Our mission is to demonstrate to local people and the rest of the world that the tropical forests of South America are worth more to society if they are left to flourish.
Without ecotourism, the forests in which we at Tambopata Ecolodge live and work might already have disappeared. But the battle is far from won: constant vigilance is required to ensure that the remaining forests of southeastern Peru and the rest of South America survive the multiple threats posed by those in search of the profits that can be generated by carving up the lungs of planet Earth.