On November 24, we made the long transfer from Sani Lodge to Shiripuno Lodge deep in the heart of Yasuni National Park. Our journey began with a 3-hour boat ride up the Napo River to the town of Coca. From here we were driven by a taxi to a ranger checkpoint on the Shiripuno River. We met Randy, our guide for the duration of our stay at Shiripuno. The first order of business was to attend a briefing about the park and we were ushered into a conference room where there was a large map of the Reserve.
|Map of Yasuni Biosphere Reserve|
The entire Yasuni Biosphere Reserve region is the ancestral territory of the Waorani People, extending from the Napo River on the north and west, down to the Curaray River in the south and eastward into Peru. The Waorani were hesitant to enter the modern world and when 5 missionaries first tried to contact them in 1956, they were killed. In 1959 a missionary named Rachel Saint (yes, that was really her name) gained access to a Waorani (also spelled Huaorani) settlement. She had been taught the Waorani language by Dayuma, a Waorani woman who had left her people after a dispute and was sheltered by missionaries.
I noticed large hash-marked areas on the map and asked Randy what they were. He said they were areas set aside for two uncontacted tribes the Taromenane and the Tagaeri living in the Reserve. It’s estimated there are 150-300 Taromenane still maintaining a nomadic lifestyle in the rainforest and maybe only 20-30 surviving Tagaeri. It’s hard to imagine that there are still people living on this planet in voluntary isolation with no contact with the outside World. Imagine living in the rainforest with no access to modern medical care, schools, shopping malls, the internet or cellphones. I noticed that Shiripuno Lodge was on the edge of their territory and was intrigued. Randy said that you wouldn’t want to meet them in the rainforest. They don’t take kindly to strangers and have been known to kill outsiders with spears.
I couldn’t wait to enter the Reserve to see what natural wonders waited for us and to get some semblance of what it’s like to live deep in the rainforest. We boarded our motorized canoe for the 4-hour trip downriver to reach the Shiripuno Lodge. Randy said that recent rain had caused the river to rise over 4 meters so the canoe journey may take less time. We dropped a Waorani woman and her son off at a village about 30 minutes downriver and continued on our way.
|Our Canoe on the Shiripuno River|
We arrived at the lodge around 5:00 and were formally introduced to our crew: Bolivar our cook, Patricio our boat driver and Leo who cleans the rooms. We were the only guests staying at the lodge. Our room was very basic with just a double bed under a mosquito net, a twin bed and a wooden table in between. We did have a bathroom with a flush toilet, sink, and shower. There was no electricity but solar lanterns were provided. Compared to how the Taromenane and the Tagaeri were living, this was pure luxury. We would be very comfortable in our rainforest home.
The following morning we went to explore an oxbow lake that was now accessible due to the high level of the river. White-bellied Spider Monkeys had been spotted around the lagoon recently and this was the last primate species we hadn’t seen. On the way, many macaws, Blue-and-Yellow, Red-bellied, and Chestnut-fronted flew overhead with loud squawks. A pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws had just emerged from their nest cavity in a broken off Moriche Palm Tree.
To enter the oxbow lake we had to hack our way through a narrow channel, past a protruding log with roosting Proboscis Bats and into the main lagoon.
We could hear the White-bellied Spider Monkeys in the distance but they were too far to get a good look and a photo. Prehistoric Hoatzins huffed in the low bushes surrounding the lake and flocks of Greater Ani flittered from branch to branch.
We returned to the lodge to explore some of the adjoining trails. Not far along the path was the track of an Ocelot. These secretive felines are almost impossible to see but it’s nice knowing they are around. We decided to set up our trail cam at the junction of two trails to see if we could capture these elusive cats on video. To see if we were successful check out the following link:
Back at the lodge, we were waiting for lunch when I noticed a lone monkey in a tree by the river. It was a Red Titi Monkey. Randy said they rarely come to the lodge but this individual hung out the entire afternoon affording us great views and closeup photos.
|Red Titi Monkey|
Later that afternoon we went off to explore upriver. Randy heard what he thought were White-bellied Spider Monkeys. When we went to investigate we found two groups of White-fronted Capuchins, one on either side of the river, squabbling back and forth.
The next morning we hiked the Colibri and Bates Trails. I spotted a Saki monkey high up in a tree. It turned out to be a mother with a young baby on her back. A large male was nearby. Randy said these were Napo Sakis (Pithecia napensis) a different species than the ones we saw in the Cuyabeno Reserve further north. This species was originally described as a subspecies of the Monk or Miller’s Saki but it was raised to full species status in 2014. Data is deficient to determine the conservation status of this new species.
Further up the trail, Randy heard Grey-winged Trumpeters and Marc went ahead to photograph them. To his surprise, a Giant Anteater crossed the trail and disappeared into the forest. Marc saw its back and tail only but I missed it completely. Later that afternoon we set off upriver to the trailhead of the Puyuno Trail which leads through Moriche Palm swamps back to the lodge. We were hoping to get a better look at the White-bellied Spider Monkeys. With all the recent rain, the river had risen and flooded the lower reaches of the trail. Randy got out to scout and located the trail. It was difficult to follow at this point and Randy kept losing the trail and had to go ahead to find it again. I must admit I was uneasy about continuing. It was getting late and at this pace, we’d reach the lodge after dark. Marc had his GPS which showed that we were very close to the trails behind the lodge so we continued. Finally, we reached the main trail after crossing a swamp and I could relax some.
We glimpsed a Saki Monkey and Woolly Monkeys but didn’t have time to linger as it was getting dark. We pulled out our lights and continued, flushing Great Tinamous off the trail startling us at every encounter. We reached the trails behind the lodge and I saw a light ahead. The staff was already looking for us and when they saw our lights they turned back. We arrived back at the lodge well after dark at 6:40. The experience gave me a better appreciation for the Taromenane and the Tagaeri who live in the rainforest without headlamps, GPS’ and trail signs.
After dinner, we took the boat to spotlight along the river. We picked up the eyeshine of a Spotted Paca hiding under a log. It was frozen in place and did not move even when approached closely. I could see in my binoculars that it was wounded.
|Injured Spotted Paca|
When Randy later inspected the photo he said that the wounds looked like they had recently been inflicted by a jaguar. There was no blood because the paca was wet and had probably jumped into the river to escape. It remained frozen under the log unwilling to return to the rainforest where the jaguar may be waiting.
We also saw two Smooth-fronted Caimans, the second-smallest species of the family Alligatoridae, along the waters’ edge.
The next day we set off to hike the entire Colibri Trail in the hopes of finding the White-bellied Spidered Monkeys. Our path was blocked by an "X" made from vines. Randy told us earlier that the Taromenane and the Tagaeri put "X's" across a trail when they don't want outsiders to enter. He laughed stating that my imagination was running away from me. This "X" was naturally made, not the work of the Taromenane or the Tagaeri.
|Enter at Your Own Risk|
We didn’t locate White-bellied Spidered Monkeys but encountered a large troop of Silvery or Poepiggi’s Woolly Monkeys who entertained us with their antics. Two young males wrestled and when another young male started throwing large sticks down on us, it was time to leave.
|Silvery Woolly Monkeys|
For our final night at Shiripuno Lodge we were treated to a glorious sunset over the river and surrounding rainforest.
The next day we returned to the park checkpoint with a better understanding of the many challenges that the wildlife and uncontacted tribes face. Yasuni National Park is also home to an estimated 846 million barrels of oil. Despite its protected status, Chinese and Ecuadorian energy companies have been drilling in the park since the 1970’s. A protection proposal called the Yasuni-ITT Initiative was launched by president Rafael Correa at the U.N. General Assembly in 2007. The Initiative would have kept the park untouched if international donors paid half the expected revenue of oil extraction ($3.6 billion) into a trust fund set up by the United Nations Development Program. It sounded like a fair deal to me considering the biodiversity found in the region and the rainforest’s ability to sequester CO2 to help combat climate change. Sadly, the international community pledged around $330 million, but only deposited $13 million into the trust fund, causing Correa to formally end the initiative in 2013.
For us, Yasuni National Park is an exciting place to visit but for the Tagaeri and Taromenane, it is home. They are totally dependent on the rainforest for their food, medicine, shelter, and clothes. Not to mention that Yasuni National Park is arguably the most biologically diverse spot on Earth. The park is at the center of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal, and vascular plant diversity all reach their maximum levels within the Western Hemisphere. Hopefully, the Ecuadorian Government will come to appreciate this treasure trove of life and commit to protecting this special place. The International Community also needs to step up and do their part to protect an area that’s critical to the health of the entire planet. I hope that our visit will encourage the local communities living within the park to look toward ecotourism for income rather than selling out to the oil companies who offer only short-term employment while destroying the rainforest. I’m optimistic that it’s not too late to save one of the last unspoiled rainforests and the uncontacted people who live here. The time is now to put greed and profits aside and protect our dwindling natural world!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc
Shiripuno Mammal List:
|1||White-bellied Spider Monkey||Distant View from Lagoon #1|
|2||Colombian Red Howler||Heard from the lodge|
|3||Red Titi Monkey||One @ the lodge & two @ Lagoon #1|
|4||Common Squirrel Monkey||Lagoon #1 & @ the lodge|
|5||White-fronted Capuchin||Along the river & @ Lagoon #1|
|6||South American Coati||Two @ Lagoon #2|
|7||Giant Anteater||Seen by Marc & Randy on Bates Trail|
|8||Spotted Paca||Two along the river @ night|
|9||Proboscis Bat||Ten roosting on a log in Lagoon #1|
|10||Brown Fruit-eating Bat||Seen from a night boat ride|
|11||Napo Saki||Seen along the river & Bates Trail|
|12||Red Brocket Deer||Along Puyuno Trail, only Randy saw|
|13||Collared Peccary||Heard & smelled on Puyuno Trail, trail cam|
|14||Black Agouti||,||Caught on trail cam|
Shiripuno Final Bird List:
- Blue-and-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna)
- Black Caracara (Daptrius ater)
- Red-bellied Macaw (Orthopsittaca manilatus)
- Many-banded Aracari (Pteroglossus pluricinctus)
- Southern Mealy Amazon (Amazona farinosa)
- Violaceous Jay (Cyanocorax violaceus)
- Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua)
- Crimson-Crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos)
- Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
- Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla)
- Neotropical or Fork-tailed Palm Swift (Tachornis squamata)
- Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severus)
- Greater Ani (Crotophaga major)
- Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)
- Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)
- Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris)
- Scaly-breasted Woodpecker (Celeus grammicu)
- Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
- Lesser Kiskadee (Pitangus lictor)
- Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela)
- Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus)
- Swallow-winged Puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa)
- Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus)
- Ivory-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus azara)
- Green-backed Trogon (Trogon viridis)
- Cream-colored Woodpecker (Celeus flavus)
- Drab Water Tyrant (Ochthornis littorali)
- White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris)
- Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus)
- Magpie Tanager (Cissopis leverianus)
- Blue-throated Piping-Guan (Pipile cumanensis)
- Grey-capped Flycatcher (Myiozetetes granadensis)
- Masked Crimson Tanager (Ramphocelus nigrogularis)
- Spix’s Guan (Penelope jacquacu)
- White-throated Toucan (Ramphastos tucanus)
- Grey-winged Trumpeter (Psophia crepitan)
- Great Tinamou (Tinamus major)
- Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)
- Golden-headed Manakin (Ceratopipra erythrocephala)
- Red-necked Woodpecker (Campephilus rubricollis)
- Gould’s Jewelfront (Heliodoxa aurescens)