Postcard from The Amazon

Globalteer's Marketing Manager, Simon and South America Project Manager, Colin recently took a trip from Cusco to the heart of the Amazon jungle to visit our Peru Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary. Here is their account of their rather magical visit:

It would be difficult to get a better idea of the geographical diversity of Peru than travelling by air to Puerto Maldonado, the location of our Peru Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary. From Lima you first leave the arid, dusty desert-like coastal plain and climb up to Cusco, surrounded by the jagged high peaks of the Andes, many of which are covered in snow year-round. Then from Cusco it’s just 45 minutes to Puerto Maldonado but the change in landscape is rapid and even more marked: from barren, cold-shattered sierra to lush rainforest in the metaphorical blink of an eye.

Dense jungle stretches as far as the eye can see. Wide, coffee-coloured rivers meander through the undergrowth and oxbow lakes punctuate the seemingly endless expanses of green. From the air there is little evidence of the creeping development – mining and logging - that is slowly destroying the habitat of millions of animals in an area that is still, mercifully, known as the biodiversity capital of Peru.

The tropical heat and fragrance of exquisite blossoms assaults our senses in equal measure as we drive through the ramshackle frontier town towards the project’s offices where volunteers register on arrival. And from here, a thirty minute drive down dusty unmade roads, alongside the broad expanse of the Madre de Dios River through seemingly untouched rainforest brings us finally to the rainforest wildlife sanctuary.

It is a beautiful setting made all the more lovely by the warm welcome we receive from project staff, volunteers and the two rescue dogs that live at the project alongside the myriad wildlife that has been rescued and is being lovingly cared for here. Some of the animals have been found injured and brought to the centre for treatment and hopefully release back into the wild.

But many are victims of trafficking or the “pet trade”, having been brought up in human households as pets and no longer able to return to the wild due to injuries sustained being kept in cruel conditions, or deliberately inflicted to prevent their escape. Many will sadly live the rest of their lives here because they can no longer survive as wild animals in the jungle. But even for those who will never return to their natural habitat, at least here they are well cared for and get to socialise with other animals.

We tour the site with staff and volunteers, walking from enclosure to enclosure on neat paths winding through the towering trees that cover the project site. I am thrilled to be allowed inside the enclosures with a docile group of red howler monkeys and a lively gang of Amazonian parrots. The beautiful toucans and cuddly-looking night monkey are deemed a little too lively for me, a stranger, to be allowed into their domain.

A further group of three howler monkeys is definitely off-limits as one of the females is expecting a baby soon and the alpha male is aggressively protective, letting out his inimitable howl with alarming frequency.

Another group of howler monkeys is kept at a distance from the rest of the animals as the project is hoping to re-introduce them to the wild. Their enclosure and surroundings are built to be as realistic as possible and human interaction is kept to an absolute minimum. At the moment the project is trying to figure out ways of training them to recognise and fear jaguars – their natural predator…

As we make our way to the volunteer accommodation we pass the kitchens where one of the animals’ two daily feeds is being prepared by staff and volunteers. There is much excitement and a lot of noise as we pass the “pig pens”, home to the three rather fragrant and hairy wild peccaries that currently live at the project. They know it is feeding time.

Watch our video clip of volunteers preparing a tasty lunch for the animals

Next we pass the much more sedate yellow footed forest tortoises and the elegant and rather lovely Valentina, a red brocket deer whose large enclosure is being surveyed by a rather magnificent macaw perched in one of the luxuriant trees.

At the shady accommodation blocks, overlooking a grassy clearing we chat with the volunteers who are sheltering on the wide veranda from an unseasonable and rather heavy downpour. They are all quite grateful for the cooling effect it has on the hot and humid atmosphere.

But it is the sign of an approaching “friaje”, a cold snap that rushes up from Patagonia in the dry season winter and sends temperatures plummeting so dramatically that sometimes the staff have to give the animals blankets and hot water bottles. None of the volunteers seem to mind though and tell us enthusiastically about their work with the animals, and about the animal-themed talent contest that is being planned for a group of volunteers’ last night...

When the rain clears we take a stroll to the riverbank with one of the staff. He points out a clearing on the opposite bank where project staff and volunteers sometimes hold evening barbecues, and the beaches from where it is possible to swim - although I don’t think I would be brave enough - or spot nesting turtles and capybara, the world’s largest rodent.        

As we climb back onto the project’s 4x4 to an improbable chorus of howler monkeys, colourful macaws and the strains of volunteers rehearsing a song from Frozen it strikes me that all is in fact in perfect harmony and I can understand why everyone here is so infectiously happy.

Watch our short video clip of one of our volunteers telling us about her experience at the project.

If you would like to take part in this unique Amazonian wildlife volunteering experience, you can find out more on our Peru Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary Pages. If you love animals and want to help preserve Peru’s capital of biodiversity, I am sure you won’t regret it!