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Ecotourism Adventures in Ecuador’s Amazon Enhanced by Scientist’s Summer 2014 Discoveries

Story by Tropic Journeys in Nature

Posted: October 1, 2014
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Huaorani Lifestyle Found to Have a Beneficial Effect on Species Biodiversity 

Working with South American ecotourism leader Tropic, a research scientist from the UK spent several weeks this summer with an indigenous tribe in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. In cooperation with the remote Huaorani community, Etienne Littlefair logged and identified 48 species of amphibians and 40 species of reptiles, some of which had not been registered as present in this region of Yasuni National Park that is considered the most bio-diverse region of the world.

Huaorani in the rainforest

“While I don’t think there were any groundbreaking surprises, we did find several species the Huaorani weren't familiar with, including two snakes and three or four frogs,” said Littlefair, explaining that conducting a baseline wildlife survey was the main objective.

“Some of the species we came across were quite unusual. Our knowledge of their habitat and range was limited. Some species are difficult to detect in rainforests because of colorations and patterns,” he said. “I was very optimistic and impressed by the number of species encountered in two weeks. This site has massive diversity. I found that the way the Huaorani temporarily farm tracks of land close to the river and then vacate these areas that then regenerate creates extra opportunities for amphibians and reptiles to exploit. The Huaorani lifestyle has a beneficial effect on species biodiversity.”

Littlefair worked with a team from Sussex University in the UK who were also studying large mammals. The study was created and supported, in part, by Tropic, Ecuador’s leading adventure and nature tour company.  Tropic’s diverse options for visitors welcomes guests to this region to interact with the Huaorani, stay at the Huaorani Ecolodge, a facility owned by the community and managed jointly with Tropic, and, if guests wish they can participate in herping and wildlife identification explorations under the guidance of experienced naturalists. Jaguar and tapir are among the large mammals found here.

“I am optimistic about the tourism potential here,” concluded Littlefair. “It’s an educational experience for a tourist to go into the reserve and encounter its biodiversity and enjoy the hospitality of the Huaorani. People who emerge from the forest having seen that will come away feeling the importance of conserving the site and preserving the Huaorani culture.”

Some members of the tribe assisted his research. “They have high potential as para- biologists and already serve as nature guides,” he said. There were discoveries he made that the Huaorani had not seen before, including several species of snake, lizard and frog. “As a herpetologist I was able to discuss with them whether or not the snakes were venomous. It was a mutually beneficial experience.”

In addition to work in the jungle, he explored the river system here with the Huaorani who he described as “skilled boatmen. They are a very friendly people, very enthusiastic to get involved and learn things about insiders as well as to pass on their culture to outsiders. This experience has certainly inspired me to take a more active role in Ecuadorian forest conservation. When you go into the Huaorani area you hear a lot about the oil extraction going on along the road. I would like to say that as a biologist I really hope that the Huaorani land can be safeguarded from oil exploration and exploitation.”

For at least a thousand years, the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador has been home to the Huaorani. They consider themselves to be the bravest tribe in the Amazon. Until 1956, they had never had any contact with the outside world. In 1994 a cooperative program between Tropic and the Huaorani began to help the community preserve its culture and lifestyle through the introduction of ecotourism. Huaorani Ecolodge was opened to the public in August of 2007 with comfortable cabin accommodations for 10 guests.

Four ($730 pp) and Five ($906 pp) Day Huaorani lodge packages immerse visitors into the culture and life of the community. The Huaorani serve as hosts and guides on their ancestral turf, a rainforest region considered the world’s most biologically diverse and where explorations take place.