A slice of the jungle saved- a day to remember

My time spent volunteering with Asperideq/Manu Park Volunteer was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

One of my first sunrises at Amaru Mayu.

Waking up to the birds chirping sweetly, I’d wander down to the bathroom and I got to see this. (dreamy)

While in the loo, your view below of the river.

My fascination with this wild forest grew daily and soon I felt myself fine-tuning my ears and speaking a little lower just to be sure to never scare away the monkeys that visited us (stealing the occasional banana from the kitchen), or of a native bird stopping briefly to sing to me.

This leaf looking creature was on the deck.

A better look-mutual observation

Dante Núñez del Prado Santander is the founder of Asprideq, a conservation organization aimed at protecting the land just outside of the Manu National Park in Peru. Manu National Park was announced a World Heritage Site back in 1987. 15,000 species of plants are found in and around the Manu area, with up to 250 varieties of trees. It is also home to over 1000 species of birds.

The area outside the protected range of the park is rampant with illegal loggers & trespassers-locals who try to make an illegal living off the land. Asprideq/Amaru Mayu land is now a large protected patch on the map, and Dante adds new pieces of land as possible with funds from the volunteer program and donations.

Me before I got 'dirty' (who brings white shirts to the jungle?)

I didn’t know I was about to witness firsthand what happens when you catch illegal loggers in the act .

One afternoon, Dante hears a whistle from a boat on the river below- the voice warned him of illegal activity on Asprideq land. He immediately called for the volunteers to accompany him and our guide, David, to see if we could catch the illegal loggers in action. Deborah of @girlventures, a fellow named Armin, and myself ran to get ready and head out.

Dante(right) and David listen as one of the illegal loggers tries to claim his innocence

We made our way down the river, and turning a corner, spot a raft resting on the river bank. As soon as we came alongside, Dante and David jump out of the boat and literally sprint across huge rocks, giving chase. They’d spotted someone.  After some time, a young man emerges from the woods. His name is Walter, and the three men engage in a discussion.

The mother of one of the loggers waits at the riverside, hiding occasionally in the bushes

Dante tells Walter he’d be willing to file a police report against the men, but what he’d rather do was have Walter peacefully show him where they’ve taken the wood from, and they’d resolve the situation calmly back at the volunteer house.

Looks like they've been busy

We waited while the men crossed the river to locate the wood. From the woods appeared two other young men, Mateo and Caesar. The men pushed the thick slabs of wood they’d created with the chainsaw down the steep hill and came down to meet Dante and David.

Another one of the illegal loggers pushes the wood down the mountain

The wood would now be pushed downstream and used to build new structures on Amaru Mayu land.

Realizing he's caught, he brings the wood down to the river.

Massive trees slaughtered and rapidly sawed into wood slabs destined to become a  piece of a new home or furniture. A terrible way to have to make a living, as some trees can take 60 years to grow back.

Dante and David discuss with the illegal loggers

There is definitely a logging problem in these lush green mountains. The difficult task becomes actually witnessing it and trying to protect it from happening. Which apparently didn’t happen often.

We’d gotten very, very lucky.

I'm glad the whole thing went down without any fighting

The young men (aged 20, 21 & 23) confess that they knew they were trespassing, however, they never expected to get caught. They usually took their wood from Walter’s uncle’s land, but that was a long 10 day journey. In contrast, Dante’s property was much closer to their homes and for the price of what they’d be paid for just one tree (700 Soles-about $250 dollars) they were willing to take the risk.

The wood ripped from the forest is now being floated downstream to safety.

In the end, the 3 men agreed to work on Amaru Mayu land to compensate for the loss of the trees. The day they were supposed to show up to work, we heard they’d gone to the village instead. Incredibly, even though they knew they’d been trespassing, they accused Dante of mistreating them and taking their property (by removing their chainsaw).

The townspeople showed them sympathy, and in the weeks that followed, one day we returned back to the house to find that the chainsaw had been stolen from the shed. We never did find out who reclaimed it.

The infamous chainsaw

What are your thoughts on this story? Is it ever alright to make a living illegally off the land? Do you believe it’s right for people to make a living however they can, or should the laws be observed?

11 Comments

  • Great story and amazing pics! Those weird green insects or whatever are disgusting blee

    • Mica says:

      Thanks! I really loved all the bugs I saw-we even had small scorpions on the wall of our kitchen! Scary!

  • For $250 a tree I can see why it would be extremely hard to stop illegal logging :( I think it’s great that you guys are trying hard to protect what’s left of the forest.

    • Mica says:

      I know. It’s a daily battle, and they are doing some great work. I’d really like to go back. It was a great volunteering experience.

      • Gabriela says:

        Mica i want to volunteer as well but im kinda scared about the security, food, people and such. Can you tell me a little more about that? Thanks.

        • Mica says:

          Hi Gaby, it depends on where you’d like to go. I can vouch for the safety of this program and I’ll send you an email so you can give me some more info on where you’re thinking of volunteering!

  • Sad story Mica, but every little helps and the message about protecting the forests will become louder and louder.

    Jon.

  • Angela says:

    Your pictures make me want to live there! The little green bug is a little ugly, great shot though, you can even see his tiny eyes :S

    • Mica says:

      I want to go back and live there too. Is the little green guy not amazing? Nature produces some interesting species.

  • Jim says:

    I have to agree with Jill above- $250 for a tree is huge temptation for illegal logging for people who may have little other choice in earning for their family.
    Glad you popped into my blog as I’d never have known you had such great experiences posted here! I’ve just got back from a volunteer conservation project in Namibia and it’s really great to read of others doing similar stuff.

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