Archive for the ‘Amazon Culture and Links’ Category

A few recent photos of fauna and flora

In the scale of the vast Amazon basin, the area of the reserve at Santa Cruz is a virtual pinhead. Yet, due to the encroaching development and pressures from the poaching of bushmeat and illegal logging, it has become a safe haven, a veritable hot spot of biodiversity. In January 2015, a rare frog, previously seen only in primary forest in Ecuador was found for the first time in Perú on the Santa Cruz site. Discovered by Marisa Ai Ishimatsu, on previously developed land, and fetched by our multi-talented Emerson Torres, the difficult work of identifying and verifying the species, Pristimantis orphnolaemus, was the result of world-class herpetologists including Dick Bartlett and Kenny Wray. Kenny and his family are spending ten months on the site, as he continues post-doctoral research.

Pristimantis orphnolaemus, first sighting in the country of Perú.

Pristimantis orphnolaemus, first sighting in the country of Perú

Here are some more photos taken by volunteers in the last couple of months.  Wherever possible, the reptiles and amphibians have be ID’d by world-class guru of herpetology, Dick Bartlett.


Rather large larvae of an unidentified ground beetle


One of the many phases of the velvety swamp snake, Liophis typhlus, They can be orange, gray, tan, olive-gree, leaf green, or other hues.


Bufo margaritifer, crested forest toad, immature


Bufo margaritifer, crested forest toad


Young Imantodes cenchoa, blunt-headed tree snake


Dipsas sp., possibly the rarely seen Dipsas pavonina, a snail eating snake.


Plica plica, common tree runner


Anolis (probably nitens (forest anole) but possbily bombiceps (blue-lipped anole))


Beautifully camouflaged beetle on heliconia flower.


Leaf mimic soaking up minerals from drop of sweat.


Giant monkey frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor. These things can get really big.


Land planarian


Scorpions are among the most successful species on Earth. Here, the smaller they are, the more they hurt.


Skink eggs?

PATMoths PATPl01 PATSpider PATSpiderEggs

School Overnight Field Trip in the SC Forest

During the second Hands-on Amazon course for teachers, eighteen youngsters from the Santa Cruz elementary school enjoyed a field trip and overnight at the forest preserve.  The culmination of months of coordination between Project Amazonas and the community of Santa Cruz, the experience was intended to foster the children’s team-building skills, self-confidence and a respect for the forest and environment.

It might seem strange that Amazon children would revel at the chance to spend the night in the forest, but these children had never had an opportunity to bond with their classmates outside of school and this was a chance to be together.  Although a few families live within walking distance of the school, most arrive every day by canoe, which can be an hour-long commute unless the family has access to a peque-peque (the same canoe with a motor, pronounced “pecky pecky.”)


A late July Sunday at noon, volunteers Nina, Edis and Isabelle Levent stopped at the village on their way back to the station to pick up the youngsters with our transport boat, the Yucandero.   We were extremely disappointed when it arrived at camp without children.  The American teachers had spent the evening planning a program of lessons, games, challenges and fun for the children, and the mother lode of food and sports equipment was ready to go.  The Levents reported that the children were all waiting at the river with their little overnight knapsacks and “jumping out of their skins.”  But the principal and lead teacher, who live two hours away in Iquitos were not there and the community would not release the children without them.


Disappointed yet hopeful, we sent the boat back in two hours to learn that the principal and teachers had been stuck in Iquitos waiting for a boat to Tumicurillo, the small port on the Amazon that serves as the gateway to the town of Mazan and onward up the Mazan River to Santa Cruz.  Principal Jimmy Valera, teachers and parent chaperones hopped on board with great excitement.

After the boat ride to the landing and a half-hour hike from the river to the main field station, the Peruvian teachers sorted out the various sleeping accommodations in the tambos (open-air huts).  The American teachers started their thoughtful plan of tried-and-true activities.  The first task involved getting the children to arrange themselves in a line chronologically in ascending order of birthdays without verbal communication.  A great ice-breaker for American children accustomed to “organized” social games, it fell flat.  Explaining the directions was just the beginning: only Andrea Mercado, an ESL teacher, was a native speaker of both English and Spanish; the only other bi-lingualism belonged to Devon Graham (the real tropical biologist) and yours truly, and our Spanish can be described as fluent while interesting in terms of pronunciation and linguistic validity.  Luckily the colloquial speech does not strain toward literary excellence and comprehension is more important than grammatical purity.


Things picked up with a hula-hoop challenge and finally broke loose when a rope for tug-o-war was tossed out.  Immediately, spontaneous games broke out with volleyball and soccer going until dark.  An exquisite meal was prepared by a local cook, whose talent could make stone soup not only tasty but tender; tablecloth of fresh banana leaves.  The principal and local teachers led the children to their evening ablutions, girls sharing the showers and boys washing at pond’s end.   The boys and girls jumped on the air mattresses, told stories, giggled themselves to sleep and a chorus of frogs and birds bridged the gap to sunrise.

After breakfast, there was time for coloring and puzzles before heading back to the river.  There, Dr. Graham gave the children a primer on how to plant a tree: add abono (compost) for nutrition, build a perimeter of cut vegetation on the drip line, but not too close as to encourage insect predation, particularly leaf cutter ants, then water copiously.  The children each proudly and dutifully planted a 3-year-old grafted citrus seedling and were invited to name their tree and to write the name on a plant tag.  So eager to please, at Devon’s suggestion: “for example, if you want to name your tree ‘Jose’, write it on the tag.”  So a dozen trees were named “Jose.”  The letters have since been weathered from the tags, but the trees had all survived their critical months as of December 2013.


The children readied to depart with their hula hoops and soccer balls, then rushed back to the river house at the announcement of free toothbrushes and toothpaste (donated by Frances O’Flaherty of Ohio and her dentist friends).

Before boarding, the Peruvian teacher reminded the children: “Who’s first?” – “mujercitas!” – young ladies, the boys responded.  Granted, although perhaps antiquated and chauvinistic by current norms, it was a heartwarming display of civility and respect among youngsters, and that is indeed worth preserving.

If our goal is living in peace with ourselves and with the planet, there is so much to be shared.   To start, we could learn from the wealth of traditional plant-based medicine from tropical forests.  And we might help the locals learn that plastic doesn’t decompose.

In retrospect, the children’s experience is not very different from that of my home school community in New Jersey, where we bring our seventh grade class on a similar overnight excursion for the same purpose.  Except for a few differences.   The kids there aren’t burdened with electronic gadgets that shorten the attention span, nor have they ever experienced snow, in essence, the differences exist only in the stuff they have and where they are, not in the heart or spirit.  Children are children wherever and whatever.

The next school visit is planned during the Hands-on Amazon course for teachers from July 23-30, 2014.


One of a dozen seedlings named “Jose.”

Don Dean

February 2014

A couple of Amazon Folk Legends

Some Amazon Folk Legends

as represented in Nauta, Loreto Perú

(Click on the pictures to read the Spanish text)

Las Amazonas (The Amazons)

A group of warlike women visited by Fransicso de Orellana when he discovered [sic] the Amazon.  They say that these women were as tall as any man and that sporadically once a year they mated with men of neighboring tribes.  If the child was a male, he was returned to the father to be sacrificed.  It was the custom of women to amputate the right breast to facilitate the precision of firing an arrow from a bow.


The Ayaymama

Tells of two children who were abandoned in the jungle by their stepmother and father pretending to go on an excursion.  The lost children were transformed into little birds, and one night during a full moon, they flew to the roof of their house and let out their song: Ayaymama… ayaymama… Our mother has died and abandoned us.


El Bufeo Colorado (The Pink Dolphin)

The pink dolphin of the Amazon that can transform itself into a “gringo” (white) appealing to young women.  This vision would appear at fiestas to choose a girl to love and visit at night.  If not discovered in time, he steals the girl and brings her to the bottom of the river never to return again.


The Chullachaqui

The small devilish goblin can morph into the form of any person or animal to capture a new victim and lose it in the forest.   If you get lost in the jungle and casually encounter a dear being, you have to be cautious and look at its left foot, which has the form of a goat’s hoof or a human foot turned backwards.


A few more pictures from the wall at Nauta




TREE planting update: September 2013

Seventy percent of the approximately six hundred acres in the Project Amazonas Santa Cruz Forest Preserve is old growth rainforest with an extraordinary plant and animal diversity that draws world-class researchers, hobbyists, eco-tourists and volunteers.  The goals of the TREE team include a Hippocratic preservation of the primary forest (do no harm) and developing the former agricultural land to promote sustainable food production and accelerate its return to a natural state by prudent introduction of legacy plant species.   In addition, portions of this former “slash and burn” area are dedicated to establishing an arboretum of useful plant species, notably fruits, high-value timber trees and medicinal plants.


Just before this writing, I spent the better part of two months at the field site on the Mazan River, witnessing a disturbing increase in timber traffic, legal and otherwise.  Several new saw mills have appeared and there is a significant increase in the traffic of log rafts heading downriver.  One of the new mills now produces finished lumber in a way making it almost impossible to track the source and rein in the illegal logging trade.  Before this summer, it had never occurred to me to talk to the men and families passing days or weeks on the logs under little plastic tents on their way to the mills.  Battery powered radios help alleviate the boredom.


There is about a minute of contact time to chat with them as they pass the field site.  The average journey is five to seven days, a half day to go; days without stimulation, they relish the conversation.   I ask what type of logs: tornillo.   Cool.  I’ve got forty in bags ready to replenish the sanctuary.  Tornillo (Cedrelinga cateniformis) is a bit stubborn to start, needing an assist to get out of its seed pod, and often flounders in the field and forest.


It has been just over three years since planting began in earnest: over a thousand seeds and trees to date.  Although there have been many casualties (notably, entire trees and crates of seedlings carved up and carried into subterranean nests by Atta spp., leafcutter ants), the good news is that the survivors look terrific – explosive new growth, and several of the fruits have their first flowers.


Already among the mature fruits on the site that provide seasonal crops are charichuelo, cacao, macambo, guaba, caimito, guayaba, Brazilian guayaba, sinamillo, unguharhui, aguaje, chambira, cidra, pifuayo, uvilla, and pandisho (breadfruit).  Several of the new fruits planted from seed recently produced their first flowers or fruit: carambola (star fruit), Brazilian guayaba, cashew and anona are among those that will begin fruiting within the year.  In the wings are a significant number of young plants: camu camu, huito, guayabana, mango dulce, palta (avocado), copoazú, sapote, lucma, poma rosa, umarí and various citrus, (including trees adopted by the local school children – look for an upcoming blog on the Heritage Teachers’ Course); on the trellis are vines of the passion fruits tumbo, maracuyá, granadilla, as well as the nutritious sacha inchi.


Plantings of trees valuable for both wood and medicine increased their ranks, among them, andiroba, azucar huayo and marupa.  A half-dozen marupa, (Simarouba marupa) were acquired on the Nauta highway last year in a near wild-goose chase visiting government “nurseries.”  Marupa has a host of documented medicinal properties, including effective treatment of viral infections, intestinal parasites and malaria.  The young trees have a very attractive habit; unfortunately, the appeal of one tree escaped the machete of an overzealous local guardian while “tidying up.”SeedStarts


The future canopy trees of huimba / lupuna (Ceiba samauma) and Brazil nut now exceed three meters and are reaching for the sky, while pino chuncho and cedro (Spanish cedar, Cedrela odorata) line the paths on the old property lines.  Another CITES-protected species, caoba (mahagony, Swietenia macrophylla) has taken well to the site and is growing rapidly.  This summer, we had a high-germination rate of shihuahuaco (ironwood, Dipteryx micrantha) with 150 seedlings ready for planting in a couple of months.


An extraordinary specimen was brought from the Madre Selva field site, about four hours down the Amazon on the Rio Oroso.  Devon Graham and colleagues had found a rare conifer in the Retrophyllum genus and retrieved a pair of young plants to increase its survival chances. They are doing nicely; hopefully they are a boy and a girl!

CacaoRetrophyllum sp.

Since there is so much land to re-populate, two sections along the river were set aside to intersperse legacy trees with food production with significant plantings of yucca, sugar cane, pineapples and coffee.


A third project was begun this summer – a future butterfly / hummingbird riverfront sitting garden on a knoll on the upriver property line, the path and perimeter to be lined with spiral gingers, and medicinal, ornamental and interesting plants drawn from the primary forest.  Target date: summer of 2015.


As of August 2013, we now have a continuing volunteer presence at the site (in addition to the local guardians) to care for the seeds and tender seedlings until they become established.  This has enabled us to move the seed starting operation from Iquitos to Santa Cruz; the reduction in transportation costs and logistics will make it much more efficient.

Butterflies are specialized for distinct species of plants..

If you or someone you know wants to do something exotic and valuable for the future of the rainforest, consider a stint as guest gardener!  Also, if you have knowledge of rainforest plants, consider joining the TREE team.  Contact Don at


TREE welcomes two new members

This spring (2012), The Reforestation and Environmental Education Committee of Project Amazonas welcomed two new members: Rebecca Honeycutt and Robin Van Loon.

Rebecca Honeycutt is Program Coordinator at Riverworks Sturgeon City, a civic and environmental education center formed in the footprint of the city’s former wastewater treatment plant near Jacksonville, North Carolina, USA.  Riverworks is the focus of a community’s commitment to learn from the past to inspire young people to promote positive change.  It does so with the backdrop of a successful bioremediation program, restored bay and river habitats, inspired youth, ongoing applied research and real world applications of science.  At Riverworks, Rebecca focuses on youth leadership, civic involvement, habitat restoration and environmental education and stewardship in programs that will reach approximately 7,500 individuals this year and beyond.  Her love of the rainforest developed after extensive travel in South America and she works to bring common issues of environment and global water quality to her programming at Riverworks.

Robin Van Loon, a Massachusetts native, has lived in Peru since 2002, arriving in the Peruvian Amazon two years later.  His time spent with indigenous communities and experience in tropical agro-forestry and sustainable habitat design led him to create Camino Verde, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to planting trees in Tambopata, Peru, and elsewhere.  Robin has served as a reforestation consultant in many regions of Peru and has personally planted over 10,000 trees, representing 250 species.

Through research and personal experience, Robin has identified the agricultural and ethnological uses of hundreds of species and has created an impressive database of trees.  This has been very useful in planning to restore the natural balance to degraded rainforest on sites maintained by Project Amazonas.

TREE is now looking to collaborate with educators of all types: public or private school, outdoor / environmental education, informal educators, or others who have a passion for the rainforest and its preservation.  Maybe you have a unique project you’d like to do with your students or colleagues, or better yet, can find an opportunity to visit the Upper Amazon…

Please contact: