Notes from the field: Walter H. Wust’s expedition to Quinillal in 2020


A narrow canoe chops through the waters at the delta of the Manatay River, cutting through the reflection of the semi-submerged forest that is mirrored on its surface. The craft slides gently between the large trunks of the catahuas and renacos as flocks of wattled jacanas and purple gallinules make their escape, squawking loudly as they fly toward the floating grasslands. The canoe carries a group of researchers and their destination is the Quinillal campsite, which is situated a few kilometers into these flooded forests. The team is manned by biologists from the Center of Ornithology and Biodiversity CORBIDI, who have traveled to Ucayali to conduct the first assessment of the biological diversity of the forests that are conserved by Bosques Amazónicos BAM, which serve as a line of defense against the constant threat of invasion by rice farmers and land brokers.


A well-conserved forest is a valuable asset anywhere in the world but BAM’s protected area constitutes a rare gem on an increasingly populated planet: it is located near the city of Pucallpa, the fastest growing area in the Peruvian Amazon, where the current population stands at 330 thousand inhabitants.

Over the next few days, the team, which is comprised of ornithologists (bird specialists), herpetologists (specialist in amphibians and reptiles), mastozoologists (mammal specialists) and experts in hydrobiology (aquatic environments), will work to unlock the secrets of these jungles and record the creatures that make up the complex natural structure of the forests that are dispersed throughout the property’s 24 thousand hectares.

The project is part of the Science Program that BAM has launched to assess the value and ecological importance of the ecosystems located on its lands. The objectives of this effort include: conducting an on-going inventory of the natural biodiversity, which focuses specifically on the most valuable species and communities in ecological terms (threatened species or species in danger of extinction, varieties with restricted distribution, new organisms for science and others); conducting an ecological characterization  of the natural communities living within the property (primary and secondary forests, lowlands and intervened areas), which will facilitate zoning processes to ensure conservation and subsequent sustainable use; and last but not least, restoring, to the extent possible, the property’s most valuable natural environments to propitiate the return of species of wild fauna; foster natural processes such as pollination; reestablish the  balance of ecosystems; drive ecotourism, among others.



Restoring ecosystems damaged by over-exploitation by humans can be one of the most efficient and cheapest ways of combatting climate change while conserving entire populations of wild flora and fauna. “If a third of the planet’s most degraded areas were restored, and protection was thrown around areas still in good condition, that would store carbon equating to half of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution. The changes would prevent about 70% of predicted species extinctions”, according to research published in the magazine Nature.

“Returning forests, grasslands, lowlands, wetlands and other ecosystems─ which were largely replaced by planting lands─ to their natural state would allow 465,000 million tons of carbon dioxide to be restored and would save the majority of the species of mammals, amphibians and birds in danger of extinction,” according to a report generated by 27 researchers and 12 countries under the direction of the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain  (ICTA-UAB).

Researchers remain in the forest until daybreak. Armed with binoculars, tape recorders and directional microphones, Sherman traps, fog nets and laboratory paraphernalia, they walk along the flooded trails in search of points of observation and collection. The rain comes, hits hard and vanishes. The creatures of the jungle show themselves only for an instant but reveal their presence through songs and calls, footprints in the mud and flush flights among treetops.

Just six days into the assessment, which was conducted at the height of the rainy season, the team registered 223 bird species. “Considering that the sampling time was brief, this represents very interesting diversity, which we hope to complement when the dry season comes,” said Thomas Valqui, one of the Peru’s best-known ornithologists. Mr. Valqui presides over CORBIDI and is an associate researcher for the Museum of Natural Sciences of the University of Louisiana.

“Given the variety of the birds found and the proximity to the city of Pucallpa, we recommend exploring the possibility of using the location for birdwatching tourism,” he added.

Peru has the second largest number of bird species in the world but is also one of the countries with the least knowledge of avifauna. The number of species that are correctly documented for Peru has increased by 200 in the last 12 years. There are areas of Peru where, for different reasons, limited ornithological research has been conducted. “The forests managed by BAM are in an area that has not been studied much, which creates a gap in the avifauna information available for Peru. This provides a significant opportunity to conduct long-term ornithological research to value birds in a context of ecosystemic services and develop ecotourism.”

Valqui added that “the proximity to the city of Pucallpa represents, on one hand, a major challenge in terms of conservation, and on the other, logistical facilities that provide a great opportunity to conduct scientific research and take advantage of avifauna for ecotourism.”


“Of the species registered in Quinillal, 36 are included in the CITES appendixes; 34 of this number are in appendix II. Birds such as the tuyuyo (Jabiru mycteria) and the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) are included in appendix I, which lists the most threatened species.”

“One of the most interesting bird species found during the assessment was the paujil or razor-billed curassow (Mitu tuberosum), which is the size of a large turkey. This species prefers the alluvial plain of the forests, which is odd given significant hunting pressure in the area. The registry is also interesting because anthropic pressure has either eliminated the species or reduced numbers to rare sightings in a large portion of the area’s geographic range. The presence of this bird indicates that these forests are well conserved.”

Luis Alberto García Ayachi, a herpetologist and associate researcher at CORBIDI, says that “in just six days we registered a total of 23 species of amphibians and 19 species of reptiles. According to the results, we estimate that a total of 61 species of amphibians and reptiles exist in the Quinillal sector. This means that this area has a high level of diversity.”

“The species registered in Quinillal represent 33.82 % of the total number of amphibian fauna and 18.27% of the reptile species present in Ucayali. The Quinillal sector is propitious for the conservation of species of amphibians and reptiles in the area and their potential inherent genetics,” says García Ayachi.


“This high diversity of species is threatened by agricultural activities, logging or deforestation and livestock production. Additionally, MINAM (2020) reported that between the years 2001 and 2018, the Ucayali region lost 384,474 ha of forest. The hardest hit provinces, where the largest extension of forest was lost, were Coronel Portillo and Padre Abad,” García Ayachi said, and added: “it is urgent to ensure the preservation of the  forests in the Quinillal sector and to protect the communities of amphibians and reptiles in these areas from the high level of deforestation occurring in the province of Coronel Portillo.”

Javier Barrio Guede, mastozoologist and associate researcher at CORBIDI, estimates that there are 25 species of mammals in the area being studied, “a high number for an area so close to a city like Pucallpa. By using nets to capture bats, we expect the number of species of mammals registered in the area will increase substantially.”


“We found traces of animals that tend to disappear quickly in areas close to cities in the Amazon, including the amazonian tapir, a large herbivore that is threatened and included in the Vulnerable category of both Peru’s and UICN’s Red List.”

“The forests that BAM preserves are ripe for conservation efforts, biological studies and tourism given that they are so close to the city. This makes the area attractive to students of the natural sciences and tourism who arrive in Pucallpa.”

Finally, Gustavo Hiromoto Medina and María José Deza B., who were in charge of the hydrobiology area of the expedition, commented that “the Ucayali river basin is one of the four largest biographical units of fresh water in the Peruvian Amazon. This biographic unit, separated from the basin of Madre de Dios and Purús by the Fitzcarrald Arch, and from the Marañon basin by the Pasco Knot, covers more surface area than any other unit of its kind in Peru and is one of the most biodiverse. This region also registers more human intervention and its aquatic environments are at higher risk due to the intensity of changes in the territory (intensive agriculture); a proliferation of projects for hydric resources; and road development.”


The importance of continuing efforts to discover the diversity and value of wildlife in the forests of Ucayali is more than evident. The scientists at BAM will keep going back to the forest to unlock its secrets and, with the help of science, set the bases for its conservation and sustainable use.


Walter H. Wust




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