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Peruvian jungle: General indications

The different types of Peruvian rain forest - the Amazonas feeding rivers

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

Jungle climate and national reserves

Over 50% of Peru are rain forest - destruction of the rain forest

The Amazon, the rainforest, the selva, the jungle, the green hell (el inferno verde) - all attempt to name this huge, vibrant area of Peru. Few people think of Peru in terms of jungle, yet well over half the country is covered by dense tropical rainforest, with its eastern regions offering unrivaled access to the world's largest and most famous jungle, the AMAZON.

Whether you look at it up close, from the ground or a boat, or fly over it in a plane, the Peruvian jungle seems endless. In fact, it is disappearing at an alarming rate. Campaigns raising awareness of its importance as a unique eco-system and as a vital component of the global environment (not to mention the wealth of wildlife and sheer beauty of the vegetation) have brought the issue into the international spotlight.

Tropical climate and animals in the rain forest

Of the Amazon's original area, almost four million square kilometers (around 75-80 percent) remain intact, fifteen percent of which lie in Peru, where they receive over 2000mm of rainfall a year and experience average temperatures of 25-35°C (77z-95°F). It's the most biodiverse region on Earth, and much that lies beyond the main waterways remains relatively untouched and often unexplored.

Jaguars, anteaters and tapirs roam the forests, huge anaconda snakes live in the swamps, toothy caimans (of the South American Alligatoridae family) sunbathe along riverbanks, and trees like the enormous shihuahuaco, strong enough to break an axe head, rise like giants from the forest floor. Furthermore, there are over fifty indigenous tribes scattered throughout the Peruvian section alone, many surviving primarily by hunting, fishing and gathering, as they have done for thousands of years.

The different National Reserves of the Peruvian selva

The Peruvian rainforest cover is not uniform tropical woodland; mainly due to the influence of the Andes at the jungle's western edge, Peru's selva possesses a wide a range of ecological niches, each with distinct protected areas and offering different possibilities to the visitor. In the north, the main access point is the city of Iquitos in the heart of Peru's largest chunk of lowland jungle where the trees are tall, the Amazon River already enormous and the flat land along the river banks regularly flooded.

Further up the Río Amazonas, closer to the Andes but still lowland forest you find the immense Pacaya Samiria Reserva Nacional (National Reserve), a little visited wildlife haven; and south of here, in the central selva, the city of Pucallpa which is also in lowland forest, but unlike Iquitos, is accessible by bus from Lima and the coast. At the southeastern limit of Peru's territory, close to and accessible from Cusco and the road-connected jungle city of Puerto Maldonado, you'll find the greatest biodiversity in three globally important protected areas:

-- the Parque Nacional de Manu, which runs from cloudforest on the slopes of the Andes down to relative lowland forest

-- the Reserva Nacional de Tambopata, located at the foot of the Andes (p.497) but in a predominantly lowland eco-niche

-- and neighbouring this the relatively newly formed protected area of the Parque Nacional Bahuaja-Sonene, still rarely visited but home to an exceptional variety of wildlife.

The different types of Peruvian jungle

At about six times the size of England, or approximately the size of California, it's not surprising that the Peruvian Amazon possesses a variety of ecotypes.

Jungle type: Amazon basin

Since it's easier to access than many other South American jungle regions, increasing numbers of travellers are choosing to spend time here, and the tangled, sweltering and relatively accessible Amazon Basin never fails to capture the imagination of anyone who ventures beneath its dense canopy.

In (p.498) the lowland areas, away from the seasonally flooded riverbanks, the landscape is dominated by red, loamy soil, which can reach depths of 50m. Reaching upwards from this, the primary forest - mostly comprising a huge array of tropical palms, with scatterings of larger, emergent tree species - regularly achieves evergreen canopy heights of 50m. At ground level the vegetation is relatively open (mostly saplings, herbs and woody shrubs), since the trees tend to branch high up, restricting the amount of light available.

Jungle type: high land jungle with oil

At higher altitudes, the large belt of cloud forest (ceja de selva) that sweeps along the eastern edges of the Andes has been the focus of significant oil-prospecting during the last decade and has revealed some of the world's largest remaining fossil-fuel reserves.

Rising Andes - Río Amazonas changing the direction - the different rivers forming the Amazonas

the biggest river in the world, the Río Amazonas originally flowed east to west, but when the Andes began to rise along the Pacific edge of the continent around 100 million years ago, the waters became an inland sea. Another 40 million years of geological and climatic action later saw this "sea" break through into the Atlantic, which reversed the flow of water and gave birth to the mighty 6500-kilometer river.

Starting in Peru as an insignificant glacial trickle on the Nevada Misma, northeast of the Colca Canyon, the waters swell as they move down through the Andes, passing Cusco before gaining the name Río Tambo and cascading down through the cloud forest, passing through the Toto, Santiago, Apurimac, Ene and Tambo valleys until they reach the Ashaninka tribal territories in the Gran Pajonal.

At this point, the Río Tambo meets the Río Urubamba, the major sacred river of the Incas that rushes past Machu Picchu down through rocky canyons. When these two already massive headwater meet, in the rainforest more or less directly east of Lima in the heart of Peru, they form the much larger Río Ucayali, which is already less than 200m above the level of the Atlantic Ocean, still many thousands of miles away.

After their merge point, at the insignificant jungle town of Atalaya, the river and its tributaries - still the basis of jungle transport - are characterized by slow, wandering courses. Erosion and deposits continue to shift these courses, and oxbow lakes are constantly appearing and disappearing, adding enormous quantities of time and fuel to any river journey in the lowlands. In fact, as it languidly meanders past Iquitos, an isolated, land-locked, but passionate and vibrant city, on its way towards Brazil and eventually the Atlantic, it's still at least a two-week journey by boat to the mouth of a river which, at any one moment, carries around twenty percent of the world's fresh water. (p.499)

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