The best thing any organization can do for conservation is to help educate the community. Some areas around the Amazon are very poor and this is true for the communities around Panthera. When communities make their living off the land, they want the quickest return possible even if it’s not the best return in the long run. This mentality is understandable, given the circumstances.
Farmers in the area will clear their forest land to raise cattle or one to two basic crops. This offers a quick financial return; however, it strips the soil of the small amount of nutrients it contains. You see, the rainforest soil only has nutrients in the first few inches of soil as the rain continuously washes it away. Without a variety of plants to continue to replenish this nutrition, through the decomposition of plant material, the soil dies.
Panthera is working to create a tropical agroforestal system to serve as a model for community engineers to use when working with farmers. An agroforestal system is a garden that encompasses a wide variety of crops purposely planted using the shade of some and the need of shade of others. Different crops are planted next to each other to complement the nutritional needs of all of the crops. This allow for a large variety of crops to be planted in a smaller footprint, all while maintaining a nutrient rich soil base. Not only is this model better for the environment, it is more financially lucrative in the long run for the farmers and community.
(Views of the agroforestal system in its infancy. In a few years it will be producing bushels and bushels!)
The biggest threat to the forest is gold mining. For obvious reasons, gold mining is a very attractive business as it can be extremely lucrative relatively quickly. However, the act of mining destroys the forest. First, the equipment tears down all of the flora and thus the fauna habitat. But, secondly, and worst of all, the act of mining brings more mercury to the surface than the environment can manage. The mercury pollutes the soil, which prohibits regrowth after the mining has stopped.
(Gold mining rig on the bank of the Rio Madre de Dios)
There exists an ecological reserve adjacent to Panthera. This land is potentially coming up for grabs in the near future. Panthera has a single goal – to not allow this land to go to the gold miners or to any for-profit industry. Panthera is currently working to make a case for the land by demonstrating the existence of several endemic species on the land. If Panthera is awarded the land, it will be protected by Pierre, Milena, and the volunteers indefinitely. I’m certainly hopeful they win their case.
(The lake we hike to in order to observe the rare black Cayman. The hike is around 6 miles round trip through lots of knee-deep mud. It can be a doozy, but it’s so beautiful…)
(Wild macaws flying over the lake.)
As for more specific tasks this past week, well, it was fairly cool and we worked a lot on building the new nursery. This building will house recovering animals as needed so it’s a great addition to the camp and the mission. I’m so grateful, now more than ever, for all that I learned growing up from my dad when he would include me in building projects. I’m able to take those skills and knowledge and apply it to a great passion!!