Ecuador is a small gem of a country with picturesque Quito nestled in the Andes bisecting the unique Galapagos Islands and some of the most biodiverse rainforest in the world. A recent site visit to the easternmost part of the Ecuadorian Amazon exposed me to the amazing flora and fauna of this ecosystem, now under increasing pressure to be developed because of its oil reserves. Searching for a suitable site to send nationally-selected Eagle Scouts for the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA), Tiputini seemed to be a great destination. Long experience with expedition medicine required some advance reconnaissance for me to assure safety.
It took twelve hours to travel from Quito to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) deep in the Yasuni National Park, arriving on a small motorized river canoe after a flight to the growing river settlement of Coca, a two hour bus ride, and another river boat ride. Along the route, signs of human encroachment gradually gave way until we arrived at the signature luxuriant Amazonian rainforest that marked the beginning of the 9820 km2 Yasuni.
The 6.5 km2 of TBS is jointly administered by Universidad San Francisco de Quito in collaboration with Boston University. Established in 1995, it provides a field research venue in rainforest abutting the Tiputini River which has been restricted from hunting of large mammals in agreement with the indigenous people. It is not easily reached because of its remote location and access but tourists can visit, though regular tours are not available. Field scientists and students perform research on a wide diversity of interests. Since it sits right in the forest, it is not uncommon to have a variety of visitors ranging from multiple monkey species to a spectacular array of birds and insects. Breakfast was shared one morning with one very large Huntsman spider upon which we kept a wary eye.
Venturing into the rainforest, one must pay attention to small details or risk missing the many insects camouflaged as plants or leaves…..or the trail of fire ants climbing your pant leg. It has been stated that this is the most biodiverse region in the world with 600 bird, 150 amphibian, 655 tree, and over 100,000 insect species. Cruising down the river, we had the highly endangered pink freshwater dolphins cavorting while accompanying us on our biological searches. This area has the highest concentrations of jaguar and ocelot in the world but it also has cougar, tapir, peccaries, capybara, giant armadillo, cayman, anaconda, and a host of smaller rare carnivore and herbivore species. Primate researchers are often there because of the multiple monkey species. An important camera trap program initially funded by National Geographic but now supported by NESA is documenting the diversity of wildlife biology. Some animals have never been seen except in very rare photos from this system. Very interesting canopy walks are available in this Amazonian paradise.
Hats off to the staff and management of Tiputini for preserving a special part of our earth!
Michael J. Manyak, MD
VP National Eagle Scout Association
Author, Lizard Bites and Street Riots, Travel Emergencies and Your Health, Safety, and Security
October 30, 2015