Glimpses of Eden: the Pongos Basin of Peru

Well, I’ve had some ‘feedback’ from some of my professional peers regarding my blogs: ‘Gee Dan, so good of you to sell out on your research in favor of war stories from the trenches!?’  OK – well, I guess the blogs were just a lot of fun to write so far (and hopefully just as much fun to read?)  So here is one a little bit different from my prior blogs, that highlights a recent manuscript that was published by my colleagues and I.

Photo by N. Dauphine

Photo by N. Dauphine

Imagine a pristine and lush rainforest that has been virtually un-infiltrated by post-Colombian civilization.  Does such a place exist? And if so, how has it maintained its unexploited state after all this time?  Such a region in fact does exist.  In the Department (state) of Amazonas, Peru, the territory north of the vast Marañon River is perhaps one of the few, if not only, final frontiers remaining on our planet.  A true ‘Garden of Eden’ where people and wildlife live in harmony and the pristine habitat remains relatively unmolested.

The indigenous Aguaruna are perhaps one of the last indigenous communities to be ‘transitioned’ by Missionaries, despite years of attempt.  Indeed, the Aguaruna are one of the groups that tend to be more reactionary to transition, resorting to rituals such as making Tsantas (shrunken heads) of their conquered adversaries.  Remarkably, these ‘noble savages’ are at total peace with nature.  While many indigenous cultures manage their natural resources in a highly sustainable fashion, the Aguaruna go one step further, revering the wildlife with which they share the region, with much of their folklore and culture revolving around birds.  In fact, the Aguaruna even practice the art of taxidermy with birds, using kapok (Ceiba pentandra) fiber instead of cotton.  

blue-eyed beauty
Creative Commons License photo credit:

My colleagues and I have recently published a timely monograph on the incredible diversity of birds inhabiting the land of the Aguaruna: the Pongos Basin.  We found an overwhelming number of more than 450 species representing over 50 different avian Families.  It is highly probable that the incredible avian richness in the 66 plus sites sampled north of the Marañon River is in part due to the ‘noble savagery’ displayed by the Aguaruna, preventing development from encroaching upon their lands.

Care to check out the manuscript?  Click here.

– DB, 5/14/08

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About Dan

As curator of vertebrate zoology, Dr. Brooks has more backbone(s) than anyone at the Museum! He is recognized internationally as the authority on Cracids - the most threatened family of birds in the Americas. With an active research program studying birds and mammals of Texas and the tropics, Brooks advises several grad students internationally. At HMNS, Brooks served as project manager of the world-renowned Frensley-Graham Hall of African Wildlife, overseeing building by an incredibly diverse array of talent by some 50 individuals. He has also created and/or served as curator for various traveling exhibits, including "Cracids: on Wings of Peril".

4 thoughts on “Glimpses of Eden: the Pongos Basin of Peru

  1. My imagination was fired with the tinder of culture and biology. Great list of birds in the manuscript. Thank you for your contributions to the conservation of birds. Great reading!

  2. Dan,
    I sure am glad I didn’t have to meet one of the “transitioned” guys. You all sure cataloged a lot of birds! But the best part of all this is quite simply that all of us laymen now know that you really do work for a living!
    Great work!

  3. Sounds great, when can we go? Wait just reread the part about the natives shrinking heads, think I’d like to keep mine normal size. But seriously, where did they find a Golden-Plover out there?

  4. Kind thanks to all of you for your great comments! Mayes – that Golden plover (LSU 91633) was collected at La Poza (locality 34 on the map) along the on the Río Santiago on 22 November 1979 by P. Felix Dominguez.

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