My time spent volunteering with Asperideq/Manu Park Volunteer was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Waking up to the birds chirping sweetly, I’d wander down to the bathroom and I got to see this. (dreamy)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The wood would now be pushed downstream and used to build new structures on Amaru Mayu land.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?