Protecting the Heart of the Amazon
We are responding to the conservation and human rights crisis in the Amazon headwaters with a combination of measures intended to protect biodiversity while promoting strong stewardship and sustainable livelihoods in local indigenous communities. We are committed to working in the most vulnerable areas, where illegal activities and community exploitation often go undetected, despite the logistical challenges, dangers, and high-costs of working in such remote areas.
The Amazon headwaters of Southeastern Peru contains some of the most remote and intact forests in the entire world. Healthy jungle ecosystems support a full spectrum of Amazonian flora and fauna, and over a dozen different indigenous tribes including some still living in isolation from the outside world. The region’s core is made up of two of the most important protected areas for both biodiversity and indigenous cultures anywhere on the planet: the Alto Purús and Manu national parks. The parks are surrounded by other protected areas including four reserves for isolated tribes, and dozens of titled communities representing 10 different tribes in various stages of contact with the outside world. Living in small familial villages, they survive mainly on subsistence activities like hunting, fishing, and tending small gardens. Together these conservation areas and indigenous lands comprise a massive 25 million acre (10 million hectare) mosaic of protected lands roughly twice the size of Costa Rica called the Purús – Manu Landscape. It is truly one of the largest and wildest ecosystems left on Earth.
Intact but Threatened
While still largely intact, Purús – Manu is threatened by several deforestation drivers including both illegal and official road construction, drug cultivation and production, and the expanding agricultural frontier. In addition, illegal gold mining is devastating areas of Madre de Dios department to the south, causing rapid deforestation and contamination in protected areas and indigenous lands.
For the past two decades, the Alto Purús National Park and surrounding had been the center of Peru’s illegal logging trade, specifically Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata) among the world’s rarest and most valuable hardwoods. While still a major problem, the amount of illegal logging has dropped in recent years due to a combination of improved en situ enforcement of protected areas and oversight of timber exports.
Strong Protected Areas and Empowered Indigenous Tribes
Our work is focused on building the conservation stewardship of remote indigenous communities to protect their lands and adjacent protected areas. This is achieved through several multifaceted strategies.
We work closely with the Peru’s National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) and Peru’s Ministry of Culture to engage local people in monitoring access routes and buffer zones of protected areas like the Alto Purús National Park and the Murunahua Indigenous Reserve for isolated tribes. We provide field equipment, host guard trainings, and facilitate aerial and river patrols to investigate illegal activities and monitor populations of endangered flora and fauna. We also work with partners to develop PA management and protection plans, and to establish new, indigenous protected areas.
Effective protected areas depend to a great extent on whether adjacent “gateway” communities engaged in and benefitting from conservation. Through our community vigilance program we have developed 17 community vigilance committees on six rivers. Nearly 100 indigenous men and women are equipped, trained and assisting official guards conduct patrols and monitor remote watersheds inside and in the buffer zones of protected areas.
Example: The La Novia Conservation Alliance works to protect the La Novia watershed, a threatened tributary of the Alto Purús River, and serves as a model for indigenous—mestizo conservation partnerships.
Sustainable and Profitable Livelihoods
Remote communities need alternatives to destructive land use like logging and commercial agriculture. Current projects that promote both sustainable and profitable use of resources include management plans for the commercialization of fish in community lakes, harvesting mahogany seeds for reforestation projects and timber resins used for their medicinal properties.
Indigenous Land Titling
UAC has funded and led several community land titling efforts. For example, in 2015, we helped deliver title to the Ashéninka community of Saweto, the first indigenous community to be titled in the department of Ucayali in the previous decade. We help the tribes most deserving of title to their traditional homelands, regardless of factors that complicate the process such as overlapping forestry concessions.
Through our education and awareness campaign, we are generating international attention to the struggles of Peru’s indigenous tribes, especially the isolated tribes and those tribes in initial contact. On-the-ground work includes training local people on how to respond to contact events with isolated tribes, assisting in vaccination campaigns so diseases can’t be spread during contact events, and documenting and mitigating threats to the forests that the tribes depend on.