The President of Ecuador Visits Napo!
On Saturday 15th August, Mr Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador visited our community! During his visit he was introduced to the sound enviromental practices at the Napo Wildlife Center...
- Reuters News
Service - December 2007
Travel Picks: Top 10 Eco-friendly destinations - Swarovski Optik
Photos for month of June - The CBS Early
Show - November 2007
Reporter Dave Price brings single mother Michele Graeff on the trip of a lifetime.
The Yasuni National Park, created in 1979, is situated in the eastern and central part of the Ecuadorian Amazon Region, more specifically in the Orellana and Pastaza provinces between the Napo and Curaray rivers. This conservation unit, the biggest in continental Ecuador, encompasses an area of about 980,000 ha. (2,450,000 acres). For this reason, the Yasuní N.P. was chosen as the core area of the biosphere reserve.
The most important rivers that flow through the park are Yasuní, Cononaco, Nashiño and Tiputini. Añangucocha (Ant Lake), Yuturicocha, Pañacocha (Piranha Lake) and Jatuncocha Napo River drainage. The Yasuní contains an amazing biodiversity of flora and fauna. There are, for example, more than 185 mammalian species, more than 650 bird species, more than 180 species of reptiles, more than 100 amphibian species and more than 600 fish species.
The flora is as biodiverse as the fauna with more than 5000 sp. Of pants (15 % of the Ecuadorian flora).
In the Yasuni National Park you can find two different ethnic groups, the kichwa, that you will visit with us during your stay and also the Huaorani, which is probably the most famous group in this region.
Ecuadorian Amazon Basin
Although Ecuador is a minute country with seashore on the Pacific Ocean and with the Andes dividing the country from north to south, almost one third of the country lies in the Amazon basin. The size of the Ecuadorian Amazon basin, so called “Oriente”, is around 135600 Km2 that is 40% of Ecuador’s area and only two percent of the entire Amazon basin. The “Oriente” is bounded on the west by the eastern Andean range also known as Cordillera Real (Royal Mountain Range). The eastern side of Ecuadorian Amazon Region is boundless because it expands toward the Amazon plains. The oriental flank of the Cordillera Real has an abrupt terrain that go down from an altitude of 6000-4000 m to 500 m in less than 100 Km. For this reason, most waterways of the Ecuador’s Amazon system initiate along the slopes of the Cordillera Real where torrential, high gradient streams with changeable course flow southeastward to generate three main hydrographic basins: the Napo, the Pastaza and the Santiago basins.
The Ecuadorian Amazon basin lies on deep tertiary alluvial deposits above Cretaceous marine sandstones with Pliocene and Miocene formations and recent alluvial deposits from the Quaternary. The topography of the lowland region is characterized by the presence of irregular and round hills, terraces and alluvial plains. The soils are red-brown lateritic (oxisols) in well drained areas closest to the Andes, while in poorly drained areas away from the Andes the soils are red-yellowish podzols (ultisols).
The Napo Basin originates east of the Ecuadorian Andes and expands southeast to the convergence of the Napo and the Marañon rivers in Peru. The area of the funnel-shaped basin is 98445 Km2. The Ecuadorian part is about 31400 K m2 that is 30% of the total basin area. Additionally, the Napo basin is the largest in Ecuador covering about 20% of the entire Oriente.
The annual rainfall in the Napo Basin can reach 3800 mm with an average monthly rain of 260 mm. The wettest month is, usually, July with 400 mm and the driest is December with 130 mm. The rainfall seasonality in the Napo is bimodal. In other words, there are two wet seasons, one between March and July, and the other between October and November. The mean annual temperature is 25.5 °C with a mean maximum temperature of 30 o C and a minimum of 23 o C. November, December and January are the hottest months whereas July is the coldest. The relative humidity is high during the whole year. In the dry season, the annual mean humidity is about 83% while in the rainy season is almost 90%.
The Napo River is formed by the confluence of the Jatunyacu and Ansu rivers. The Napo with only 1,300 Km is a small Amazon affluent that has a discharge rate of less than 1% compared to other major Amazonian watercourses like the Rio Negro in Brazil. The upper Napo River, almost 460 Km long, is entirely situated in Ecuadorian territory while the rest (840 Km) goes across northeast Peru. The Napo would be classified as a white water river because its appearance is turbid, the predominant color of water is pale-brown and the suspended sediment load is high. In the lowlands, the Napo riverbanks are continuously being changed by lateral erosion associated with meanders. That leads to the formation of temporary channels locally known as ‘chictas*, sand beaches (quartz), islands, oxbow lakes and floodplains. The water level in these types of rivers is constantly changing due to local rains and precipitation in the Andes. Sometimes during the rainy season, variations in water depth can be as much as 4 m in less than 8 hours.
Napo Wildlife Center Bird List
The list below contains 568 species actually seen in the Napo Wildlife Center Reserve area (map), or in the immediate vicinity along the Napo River or on the river islands immediately adjacent to the Reserve. Pearl Kite (which would be #569) has been included because it is often seen by our guests in the open areas around the Coca Airport, but is not found further down the Napo River.
Some obvious highlights include the world's largest and most reliable population of Zigzag Herons (0.6Mb Quicktime video), frequent sightings of Agami Herons (six were seen in one day by well known recordist John Moore), virtually guaranteed sightings of all five kingfishers found in the Amazon, and a better population of mixed-species understory flocks and ant-swarm specialists than you will find at any other lodge in the Napo region. And, of course, 51 species of antbirds.
The Canopy Tower was installed in November 2004, and since then has produced some amazing sightings including Black-faced Hawk, Crested Eagle, and Harpy Eagle in addition to the cotingas and canopy tanager flocks that pass right through the tree. The Parrot Clay Licks are an experience that one would not want to miss, and the clay licks at the Napo Wildlife Center are most accessible in Ecuador (they are incorrectly identified in Birds of Ecuador as belonging to La Selva Lodge). Simply put, there is no better birding destination in Eastern Ecuador. Be sure to take a look at the mammal list as well.
The bird list was prepared by Jiovanny Rivadeneira and Peter English.
To download a printable checklist, RIGHT Click here
Animals of the Napo Basin
The Napo and Aguarico basins are included inside the Neotropical zoogeographic region. More specifically, these two basins are the oriental part of the Tropical Ecuadorian zoogeographic district. This region is one of the most important biodiversity locations for fauna in Ecuador. The entire zoogeographic district is known to support 191 mammal species that is 51% of the entire mammalian fauna found in Ecuador. There are between 500-550 species of birds which is around 30% of the Ecuadorian birds. The fish fauna is one of the richest with around 630 species. Finally, about 180 species of reptiles and amphibians were recorded for this region. There is not enough information about insects but the number should be greater than a thousand species and steadily increasing.
Animals, in general, are difficult to observe because of their evasive behavior, cryptic coloration that blends with nature and relatively low population densities. Moreover, species in the rain forest are not evenly distributed but clumped around certain areas that have particular conditions in time and space (i.e., shelter, food, nursery grounds). There are, of course, a number of species that are easily spotted like some tropical birds (parrots, macaws, and toucans), a few mammals (monkeys, rodents), several insects, and not many amphibians and reptiles (river turtles, caimans, tree frogs).
Among the most amazing wildlife encountered in firm land forests, floodplains, swamps, rivers and lagoons of the Napo area are: Aquatic mammals like the Giant River Otter Pteronura brasiliensis, Pink River Dolphin Inia geoffrensis and Amazonian Manatee Trichechus inunguis are extraordinary residents of various waterways in the region. Tapirs Tapirus terrestris, Peccaries Tayassu sp., Monkeys, Deer Mazama americana, Jaguars Panthera onca and rodents are the mysterious wanderers of the forest. At night, Black Caimans and Tree Boas predominate in the darkness, as well as the infamous Bushmaster Lachesis muta.
Looking at trees, we may surprisingly discover arboreal species of monkeys, Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus or Pygmy Anteaters Cyclopes didactylus.
Tropical birds such as Scarlet Macaws Ara macao, Guans Penelope sp., Toucans Ramphastos sp., Woodpeckers, Tanagers and Barbets are multi-colored decorations of the canopy. Although fish don’t look attractive, Amazonian species like the giant Paiche Arapaima gigas and nut-eating Pacu Piaractus brachypomus are among the most stunning aquatic vertebrates in nature. Lastly, there are incredible numbers of insects that are ubiquitous in the rainforest. For instance, the colossal Conga Ants Paraponera clavata, the tireless Leaf-cutting Ants Atta sp. and the beautifully colored Harlequin Beetle Acrocinus longimanus are amongst the most striking insects in the area.
Plants of the Napo Basin
More than 20000 species of identified plants are found in Ecuador and 5000 species constituting (15%) were recorded only from Ecuadorian Amazon basin.
In the Ecuadorian Amazon at Yasuni, for instance, the number of tree species on a small plot of about 1 hectare (2.5 acres) is 480. This hyper-rich plot comprises 10 percent of the entire tree flora of Amazonian Ecuador.
The most representative vegetation types in the Ecuadorian rainforest are the following:
Terra firme consists of hilly forests that are never flooded by rain or river level fluctuations. The
soils in this type of vegetation are red or yellow clays. The average height of the canopy is between 25-30 m with emergent trees taller than 45 m and dense under story layer covered with lianas, epiphytes and herbaceous vines. This forest formation supports a high diversity of plants, especially tall trees. In the Yasuní N. P., for instance, a botanical team recorded 228 species of trees (728 individuals) in one hectare.
Some of the most representative tree species of the firm land forest are the (1) Chambira palm tree Astrocaryum chambira, its fibers are used to make hammocks and string bags, (2) a mimosa tree Parkia multijuga, the natives named this tree “dormilón”, in English sleepy, because its feathery leaves close when touched, (3) a wild, non-edible species of cocoa Theobroma subincanun and (4) the emergent tree species Cedrelinga catenaeformis, one of the most important timber trees that grow in poor soils. Some of the indigenous groups of the Napo area call this type of forest formation “urcu”, a Kichwa word that means hill.
Floodplains are terraces or flatlands located near white-water rivers like the Napo and Aguarico (varzeas), or black-water rivers like Añangucocha (igapos). Soils near white waters are muddy, sandy, rich in nutrients and appropriate for shifting cultivation. Soils located near black-waters are, on the other hand, muddy, acidic, poor in nutrients and not suitable for agriculture. These forests locally known as “pambas” (river valleys) are subject to annual flooding that comes from seasonal rains and river level fluctuations.
The specie richness of this sort of vegetation type is fewer (149 specie-417 per hectare) than terra firme forest but on average the trees are larger. The structure of the forest is multilayered with a strongly developed ground layer. Some of the most common plants in the “pambas” are (1) the legendary kapok tree Ceiba pentandra which easily reaches heights of up to 60 m, (2) the large-leaved ‘platanillo’ Heliconia sp. which is a wild and distant relative of domestic bananas, its flowers are bright red to attract hummingbirds, (3) Cecropia trees Cecropia sp. are fast-growing pioneer plants that colonize forest gaps, (4) the Inga trees Inga sp from the bean family, are light demanding species found along river and lake shores, (5) the Capirona tree Calycophyllum spruceanum which has a red bark that continuously sheds to discard bothersome epiphytes and (6) the thorny palm trees Bactris sp. and Astrocaryum murumu , their nutritious nuts attract fruit-eating fish.
Morete and palm swamps are permanently flooded lowlands due to rain and river floods. There are two types of swamps; one dominated by Morete palm tree Maurtia flexuosa. Kichwa Indians from the Napo call this swamp forest “muriti turu”. The soil in these areas is waterlogged, black in color, and acidic. Under these extreme conditions, few species like the 30 m tall Morete palm can survive.
A mixture of palm and tree species composes the other kind of swamp. These swamps are, on the contrary, temporarily flooded. Soils in these areas are black in color, acidic, poorly drained and not suitable for agriculture. Some of the common palm trees in this type of forests are (1) the Royal palm Scheelea that provides material for building the roofs of forest dweller houses and (2) the small and often colonial spiny palm Bactris.
Usually, palm swamps don’t have vegetation with an evident multilayered structure. The palm trees are widely separated showing weakly developed under story layer with less species and few individuals.
The Cultures of the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin
The Ecuadorian Amazon is home to 100,000 indigenous people divided into seven different cultures.
The Kichwa nation is the most numerous with a population of about 60,000 people. The origin of this group is diverse since it comes from a combination of different Amazonian cultures that adopted the Kichwa language in the century XV. At first, the Kichwa tongue was spoken by the Amazon people to communicate with groups that came from the highlands with the purpose of trading products. After the Spanish conquest, the missionaries gradually introduced the Kichwa until it became a general language in the Ecuadorian Amazonia. The Kichwas are divided into two groups, the Canelos that are truly inhabitants of the Amazon region. The Canelos occupy the Napo, Aguarico, Pastaza and Curaray rivers. The other group, the Quijos, dwell in valleys of the tropical lower montane rain forest located in the northern Andean cordillera (Cordillera Real). For centuries, some Quijos people have moved down to the east to live in the lowlands.
In general, the Kichwas are skillful navigators and cultivators. They prefer to live in the riverbanks where they carry out shifting cultivation, fishing and hunting.
Nowadays, this people have an organizational structure, which consists of communities “comunas” that share a common territory. Several families compose the “comunas”, each owning a piece of land (around 50 ha) within communal lands. At the same time, all communities are represented by political organizations such as FECUNAE and OPIP. These federations deal with land tenure, health, education and other social services.
Although the Kichwa nation is under the constant influence of the white-mestizo culture, its people maintain their tradition and religious beliefs.
The Cofanes also know as A’i, were natives of the Colombian-Ecuadorian boundaries between the San Miguel and Aguarico rivers even before the arrival of the Spanish take-over. After the XVI century, the Jesuit missions caused drastic changes in the A’i culture. The Jesuits incorporated catholic elements in the Cofan cosmological vision. The “maloca” or clan system (large families), for example, was changed for a European unfamiliar system. Also, clothing, monogamy and the economic system were aggressively introduced in the A’i people. This acculturation process has progressively continued until the current time.
The Cofan people as well as other groups have suffered the impact of rubber harvesting, colonization, drug-traffic and oil exploitation to the point of initiating violence, socio-cultural disintegration, alcoholism and prostitution. For this reason, twenty years ago some Cofanes moved
east into the area of Sábalo where they keep a territory of about 50,000 Ha inside the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. The A’i from Sábalo are dedicated to keep their ancestral traditions, territory and lifestyle.
Currently, there are only 400 Cofanes in Ecuador and around 1500 in Colombia. Their decimated population in Ecuador is gradually being integrated into a cultural group shared by Siona and Secoya, although the languages and origins are different. The Cofanes are represented by ONICE which deals with health, socio-economic and land tenure topics of this group.
The Huaorani with only 1,700 members, were the last Ecuadorian Amazon natives to be peacefully contacted by outsiders in 1958. For a long time, the Huaorani people were considered bellicose. Stories of violent encounters of missionaries, oil companies, settlers and Kichwas with the Huaorani were common until the 1980’s. That is also the reason why in Ecuador, these forest people were named Aucas or savages.
Originally, these nomadic dwellers were exceptional hunters and fruit gatherers. On the other hand, their navigation and cultivation skills were limited. They were adapted to live inside the forest rather than on the rivers banks.
At present, the Huaorani are divided into clans or large families that own a common territory. This common land is extensive and is situated in the heart of the Yasuní National Park. This people are experiencing a rapid process of acculturation due to the presence of the oil industry and settlers. The Huaorani are politically represented by ONHAE, which is the organization in charge of health, land tenure and other socioeconomic issues.
The Shuar and Achuar, commonly known as Jivaroanos, have a population of about 45,000 people. These two nations reside in the southern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Although both groups have similarities, some anthropologists consider the Achuar a different tribe. Probably, these two cultures were involved in violent tribal confrontations that brought up the traditional ritual of the headhunters.
The Jivaroanos are also excellent hunters, fishermen, navigators and farmers. Some communities make handicrafts that are sold in towns and villages along the region. Their solid and organized sociopolitical structure is similar to that of the Kichwa nation.
The Siona and Secoya are present in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon as well as Colombia and Peru. Their ancestors were probably the “Encabellados” who occupied the areas between the Caqueta and Napo rivers. These people, no more than 600, were traditionally nomadic and live from shifting cultivation, fishing, hunting and fruit gathering. It seems that the Siona-Secoya preferred to dwell in aquatic ecosystems such as Lagartococha, Cuyabeno and Zancudo. Both groups have practically shared identical stories; suffering the exploitation of outsiders, being reduced into villages by missionaries and becoming the vestiges of great cultures. At present, the diminished population combined with a poor organization has virtually isolated these Amazonian groups in Ecuador.
C A S T Y O U R V O T E ! Voting is now open for theConde Nast Johansens "Awards of Excellence" and we would love for you to vote for Napo Wildlife Center.Please cast your vote here.