Yasuni National Park in the Ecaudorian Amazon is nature’s equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. If Michelangelo had ever had the privilege of visiting he may have thought it was ‘god’s soul floating amongst the lily pads’ and then, using his mastery, recreated it in paint. While exploring this extraordinary place, every leaf, stone and branch seems to morph into some sort of creature before your eyes, leaving you wondering if you are dreaming or just witnessing the most incredible abundance of life on the planet.
It is definitely the latter. Yasuni was recently described at the local scale as being the most biologically diverse place on the planet. A single hectare of forest is thought to contain 100,000 insect species and the greatest diversity of tree species anywhere. The park supports 600 bird species and holds world records for its abundance of reptiles and amphibians.
It is also a threatened mammals hotspot, containing 200 co-existing mammal species, including 12 primate species which are among the easiest mammals to record and also among the most endangered. On my first two days I was lucky enough to record the three most endangered, the Wolly monkeys, Yellow-bellied Spider monkeys and the icon of the Napo area- the Golden-Mantled Tamarins. All of these have experienced massive declines over the last few generations due to habitat loss and over hunting.
However, the local Kichwa community have ceased all hunting in the area and have created the Napo Wildlife Centre, an eco-lodge in the heart of Yasuni with all profits going directly into the healthcare and education of the community. This transition has allowed the wildlife to flourish and the local people to better their lives through sustainable eco-tourism.
Yet, Yasuni is not safe from development. The largest national park in Ecuador also happens to be sitting on the country’s second largest untapped oil field known as ITT or Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini block. Surprising, the Ecuadorian President has not rushed to drill and has instead called on the International community to provide financial compensation for the revenue lost to the Ecuadorian economy in exchange for keeping Yasuni preserved. For the moment, Yasuni’s future is uncertain but so far not enough money has been promised.
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Night monkey, yasuni park