Tambopata National Reserve harbors some of the wildest, least impacted habitats in the world. In this one million plus hectare protected area, rainforests and tropical savannahs meet in a land where roads have never existed and rivers are the only means of accessing its dense forests and bird-filled marshes. This huge wilderness gets its name from the Ese-Eja words for “Tambopata” (Bahuaja) and “Heath” (Sonene). These are in turn names for two prominent waterways and areas in the modern day Tambopata province.
In a part of Peru already known for wild rainforests, Bahuaja-Sonene National Park stands out for its vast, wild character. Buffered by the 274,690 hectare Tambopata National Reserve, the deep, wildlife-filled jungles are rarely visited by people. In fact, very little access is actually given to the national park itself to keep it preserved as a true, Amazonian wilderness.History of Tambopata National Reserve
The forests and savannahs of Bahuaja National Park are believed to have existed for anywhere from 30 to 50 million years. The vast rainforests of the Amazon basin are believed to have formed around that time in conjunction with a warm, moist climate related to widening of the Atlantic Ocean. Up until 10 to 15 millions years ago, parts of western Amazonia were located beneath water and this may have included the area of Bahuaja-Sonene at various times during it history.
The rainforests of the Amazon and Bahuaja-Sonene are also thought to have gone through dry periods associated with glaciation in other parts of the globe during the past one million years. As climate in some parts of the Amazon basin became drier and converted the rainforests into savannahs, the area encompassed by the national park and much of southeastern Peru are believed to have retained their forest cover. Arguments for this are supported by southeastern Peru being one of the most biodiverse areas of the entire Amazon rainforest and the existence of several species of plants and animals that are endemic to the region.
During most of their history, the rainforests of Bahuaja-Sonene were untouched by people. Although it’s hard to say when humans first walked through the cathedral-like rainforests of southeastern Peru, given that the first known settlement in the Amazon dates back 11,000 years, nomadic tribes may have first hunted in the forests of Bahuaja-Sonene anywhere from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. Since that time, the main people who resided in the tropical forests and savannahs of Bahuaja-Sonene belonged to the Ese-Eja culture. Living in small communities, they cultivated manioc (yuca), foraged for wild fruits and plants in the forest, and hunted for wild animals such as tapirs, deer, and gamebirds.
Communities of Ese-Eja people continue to live near the boundaries of the national park at present times. Since the creation of Bahuaja-Sonene in 1996, very few people have penetrated the heart of the park.Habitats in Tambopata National Reserve
The 1, 091, 416 hectares in Tambopata National Reserve include such habitats as:
Biodiversity in Tambopata National Reserve
- Endless tracts of old-growth Amazonian rainforest: Many of the trees are 30 meters (90 feet) or more in height and are covered in vines, moss, bromeliads, and other plants.
- Thick groves of bamboo: Native species of bamboo flourish along the banks of rivers and in some parts of the forest.
- Rainforests that grow in floodplains: These tall, beautiful forests are periodically flooded by rivers during the annual rainy season.
- Oxbow lakes: These “blackwater” lakes are formed by meanderings of rivers and host a huge variety of fish, aquatic birds, and animals such as Anaconda and Black Caimans.
- Palm Swamps: Poorly drained areas sometimes host swamps where palm trees are the dominant vegetation. These areas act as critically important nesting sites for Blue and Gold and Red-bellied Macaws.
- Savannahs: In the eastern sector of the park near the Heath River, natural savannahs occur that are associated with more extensive wet grasslands in northern Bolivia and adjacent Brazil.
The lowland forests and tropical savannahs of this national park are some of the most biodiverse areas on the globe. Although the park has actually been explored very little, much of its biodiversity indices are expected to mirror those of the adjacent Tambopata Reserve. Decades of field work and surveys in this reserve have resulted in species lists of plants and wildlife that are higher than most other places in the world.Birds
As an idea of how incredibly diverse this national park and Tambopata is, at least 670 bird species have been identified in the area. Nearby Manu National Park has a bird list of 1,000 plus species but this also takes into account different sets of bird species that occur at elevations ranging from near sea level to 3,000 meters (9,000 feet). The bird list for Bahuaja-Sonene and Tambopata, however, encompasses a much smaller elevational gradient that is almost entirely lowland in nature and barely reaches the Andean foothills.Some of the bird species that occur in the park include:
- Harpy Eagle: The wild, extensive forests of the national park hold healthy populations of this large, rare bird of prey. The largest eagle in the Americas and one of the biggest in the world, the Harpy preys on sloths, monkeys, and can even take Brocket Deer.
- Hoatzin: Frequent around oxbow lakes and wetlands, the Hoatzin is a common resident in the park.
- 13 tinamou species: This probably represents the highest diversity of tinamou species for any area of equal size.
- 8 macaw species: In Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, four large and four small macaw species have been recorded. Big, healthy populations of macaws along with 17 species of parrots and parakeets occur in the intact, extensive forests of the national park. Six of the macaw species from the national park can be seen at the Tambopata Research Center clay lick.
Among the 174 species of mammals that occur in the park are healthy populations of such rare mammals as:
Reptiles and amphibians
- Jaguar: Healthy populations of this large, rare feline live in the national park.
- Giant Anteater: Although it occurs in the rainforests of the park, it is more common in the savannahs along the Heath River.
- Amazonian Tapir: The forests of the park harbor a large number of tapirs.
- Maned Wolf: This endangered canine is only common in protected savannahs such as those of Bahajua-Sonene National Park.
At least 100 species of reptiles and amphibians are known from the national park and given the difficulty in finding them in the wild, there may be more species awaiting discovery.Plants
An astounding 20,000 species of plants are known from the park and the Tambopata Reserve. This number is even more amazing when one considers the strong possibility that there are several plant species occurring in the canopy that have yet to be discovered.The Future of Tambopata National Reserve
The future of this national park along with the thousands of plant and animal species that live there seems to be secure. Access to the national park is controlled and few people actually enter it, there are no roads that approach its boundaries, and it is buffered by the Tambopata National Reserve. Although people use the forests in the reserve, attempts are made to control activities and ecotourism is one of the main economic activities in the area.
The economic activity generated by such lodges as Refugio Amazonas and the Tambopata Research Center (the closest lodge to the national park) provide incentives to protect the rich forests of Tambopata and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park.
To learn more about the Tambopata Research Center and family-friendly activities near Tambopata National Reserve, visit PeruNature.com