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July 21, 2011 17:39:41 | in Tambopata

Project has made Tambopata's lodges eco-friendlier

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Squirrel monkey. All photos by author. 

By David Dudenhoefer

Ox-bow lakes crowded by exuberant foliage, multicolored macaws squawking in the treetops, squirrel monkeys skittering along branches – the Tambopata National Reserve, in the Madre de Dios region, brims with such varied and abundant wildlife that it’s easy to forget how many of its species are threatened. Yet the region’s spectacular biodiversity faces pressure from mining, hunting, deforestation and even poorly managed tourism.

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Mario Troncoso of the Wasaí Tambopata Lodge
The good news is that lodges in and around the Tambopata Reserve have been working hard to decrease their negative impacts, while contributing to conservation and the sustainable development of local communities.

Over the past three years, 15 hotels in the Tambopata area have implemented sustainable tourism practices, cutting their energy consumption, reducing pollution, improving worker conditions, and taking an array of other positive steps.

They’ve done it with the help of the international conservation organization Rainforest Alliance, as part of the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon, a project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“I’m much more efficient. In the energy area, I’m saving a lot of money,” said Mario Troncoso, owner of the Wasaí Tambopata Lodge.

Troncoso explained that since joining the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable tourism program, he has installed solar panels, replaced kerosene torches with solar lamps, and purchased four-stroke boat motors, which consume less fuel and cause less pollution than two-stroke engines, among other improvements.

The Wasaí Tambopata Lodge protects almost 10,000 acres (approx. 4000 hectares) of rainforest near the Reserve that is home to everything from red howler monkeys to white-faced toucans, but Troncoso lets local people collect Brazil nuts, fruits and other goods in the Lodge’s forest, as long as they alert him to hunters, or other destructive activities.

Posada Amazonas – a nature lodge managed jointly by the Ese-Eja indigenous community of Infierno and the company Rainforest Expeditions – has implemented ample improvements, from replacing septic tanks with bio-digesters to improving staff facilities.

Most of that lodge’s personnel are from Infierno, which receives 60% of its profits, and it is sequestered in the community’s 5,000-acre (approx. 2,000-hectare) rainforest reserve.

“I though that the program was going to be easy for a company like ours, but it wasn’t, because there were a lot of little problems that we hadn’t dealt with,” said Kurt Holle, co-owner of Rainforest Expeditions. He explained that even though lodge owners like him want to do the right thing, they often need outside assistance to bring their operations up to international standards.

"The Rainforest Alliance originally focused on Madre de Dios because of the region’s biodiversity, but we’ve been impressed by the commitment to sustainable tourism that the region’s lodge owners and staff have demonstrated," said Luz Aida Ochoa, who runs the organization’s sustainable tourism program in Peru.

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A scarlet macaw

According to Cynthia Kalinowski, administrator of the Sandoval Lake Lodge, which sits at the edge of the Reserve’s most spectacular ox-bow lake, sustainable tourism has not only improved that lodge’s environmental impact, it has extended into the homes of its personnel.

She explained that her family has cut its electricity and water bills, and she plans to replace their septic tank with a bio-digester.

“I’m very satisfied because we’ve made a lot of changes for the better,” said Kalinowski. “We’re doing our part to help the planet.”

For responsible travel options from the Rainforest Alliance, visit www.sustainabletrip.org

David Dudenhoefer is a freelance journalist and consultant who provides communications support for the Rainforest Alliance. He lives in Chaclacayo.

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