BOLIVIAN AMAZON: The Lost World & its Wildlife
In the late 1979, a major advance on the Neotropical conservation front occurred with the establishment of the 541,000-hectare park called Huanchaca. In 1988, the name was changed to Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, in honor of a distinguished Bolivian biologist who died in the effort to preserve his country's vast biodiversity. It was this park, not the Venezuelan Tepuis, that Colonel Fawcett explored and later inspired his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to write The Lost World.
Now encompassing over 2.4 million acres, the park hosts one of the largest undisturbed wilderness areas in the Neotropics. Amazon rainforest, Cerrado habitat reminiscent of central Brazil, Pampas and gallery forests provide a wide range of habitats. An extensive Precambrian plateau that rises sharply from the lowlands to over 1,600 feet above the surrounding plain dominates the center of the park. With its rainforests, clear-water rivers, striking waterfalls, vast, forested plateau and rugged 1,600 feet escarpments, the park includes the most dramatic scenery in northeastern Bolivia.
Noel Kempff is matched in size and extraordinary landscape only by its incredible diversity of flora and fauna. A preliminary survey of the fauna of the park identified over 525 bird species, 91 mammal species including 57 that are not rodents or bats, 18 reptiles and a phenomenal number of fish. Many if not most of the plant species have yet to be identified or receive a name.
The park holds perhaps the largest piece of virgin Cerrado habitat left in the world. Cerrado is a mixture of grasslands, gallery forests, sparse woodlands with twisted trees, and seasonal marshes. More typical of central Brazil, most of that has been turned into soybean production to help pay that country's national debt. With the devastation of the habitat, so go the species that live there. Many rare and endangered Cerrado animals are found here, including Maned Wolf, Giant Anteater, Giant Armadillo, Pampas and Marsh Deer, Yellow-collared Macaw, Black-tailed Marmoset, and others.
The rich Amazon rainforest here hosts Giant Otter, Jaguar, Puma and at least four other cats, Amazon River Dolphin, at least 6 (and probably more) primates, Brazilian Tapir, White-lipped and Collared Peccaries, Red and Brown Brocket Deer, Collared and Silky anteaters, and many, many more. The fact that various areas of the park have not been hunted has left many of the animals with little to no fear of man. Many of the mammals are fairly easy to see, which is another highlight of the park.
As with all relatively unexplored areas in the tropics, there are undoubtedly species yet to be discovered. The discovery of three new primates in Brazil in the last four years confirms this. A legend speaks of a huge 13-foot freshwater shark, and diving Brazilian gold prospectors have claimed to see one in a nearby river. We are not likely to see that, but it would not be too surprising to find something unknown to science.
Accommodations are available in Flor de Oro in the northern part of the park. Formerly a 25,000-acre ranch managed as a low level cattle operation, the infrastructure consists of a main and two smaller houses, together with various other small structures. There is hot and cold running water, with electricity supplied by a generator. The southwestern part of the park, which is more humid, can also be visited from accommodations in that section.
In 1920, the town of Perseverancia sprung up west of Noel Kempff in the heart of Bolivia's wilderness. The rubber boom was in full swing, and the town was the center of production for several years before the market fell, causing most of the rubber tappers to leave. In 1972, the last two remaining tappers moved on. About the same time, an airstrip was constructed, and the settlement became a center for the illegal trade in animal skins.
Professional hunters collected hundreds of Giant River Otter, Jaguar and other skins until 1986 when the area was abandoned. In 1989, a tourist facility was built for those wishing to experience nature in its purest form. It is only accessible by private aircraft and the setting is unparalleled in terms of isolation. The closest sizable city is Santa Cruz, some 350 km to the south.
One of the reasons Perseverancia and the surrounding Rios Blanco y Negro Wildlife Reserve is so rich in wildlife is the number of different habitats in the immediate region. It is located in an extensive transition zone between the Amazon to the north and Chaco to the south. Situated on the blackwater Rio Negro, there are huge seasonally wet pastures, marshes and ox-bow lakes.
These support populations of Giant River Otter, Capybara, and Yacare Caiman, and a tremendous variety of waterbirds. In the dry season, April to October, nesting turtles use the sandy beaches. This part of the reserve is reminiscent of the Brazil's Pantanal and some of the wetlands along other rivers in Amazonia. A portion of the forest is V·rzea flooded forest, and trails lead into continuous primary rain forest after crossing through dense vine forest.
Here we find several primate species, Jaguar, Bush and Short-eared dogs (both very rare), Paca, Tapir and many more species. Isolated areas of grasslands with palm stands are reminiscent of Chaco and Brazil's Cerrado, and support many of the same species. Giant Anteaters, Silvery Marmoset, White-lipped Peccary, and a couple species of brocket deer are fairly common.
Dr. Andrew Taber, a research fellow with Wildlife Conservation International, describes Perseverancia as the best area he knows for mammal sightings, noting that the region is a sure bet for seeing Giant River Otters.
The fact that there are so many habitats and associated plant species also guarantees incredible number of bird species. Around 350 have been recorded to date. Just a few of the special ones we expect to see are Blue-and-Yellow, Yellow-Collared and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Orange-winged, Blue-headed and Mealy Parrots, Band-tailed, Fiery-capped and Red-headed Manakins, a dazzling array of colorful tanagers, Razor-billed Currasow, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Crimson-bellied Parakeet, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, White-bearded Hermit, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Jabiru Stork, Scale-breasted Pigeon, Black Hawk-Eagle and just possibly the rare monkey-eating Harpy Eagle.
Isolation, while protecting what are certainly two of the richest wildlife viewing areas on Earth, also drives up the cost of upkeep, maintenance and logistics. Much of the cost of visiting these regions is the cost of the chartered plane necessary to get there. The longer one stays, the cheaper the per day expense. On the other hand, the cost and difficulty of getting there is no doubt what will protect the paradise for future generations.
Bolivia is outrageously varied, rich and spectacular, with a strong cultural heritage, and very friendly people. It continues to be one of the safest Latin American countries to travel in. Most people that go there once find themselves wanting to return soon. We have not exhausted its places of interest here.
We can offer tours to any of these areas, others, and can combine several to create a longer itinerary. In addition to our guided tours, we are happy to help you design a "do-it-yourself" itinerary that meets your own needs. We want your experience in Bolivia and with Focus Tours to make you very, very happy.