Pisatahua: a wildlife lover’s dream
By Shalynn Pack
By trade, I am a wildlife conservation scientist – I study species of birds, mammals, and amphibians to understand how we can ensure their survival into the future in this human-dominated world.
By soul, I am a spiritual seeker – I search for ways we can deepen our connection to the planet, to the Divine, and to our communities. The union of these two sides of myself have brought me to Pisatahua Plant Medicine Retreat.
My husband and I first met Erik and Sasha 7 years ago in Cochabamba, Bolivia when we volunteered within their organization Sustainable Bolivia. It’s been incredible to see what they’ve accomplished in those short years – moving to the Bolivian Amazon, creating the non-profit Fundación Amazonia, creating a community-based nature reserve 3x the size of Manhattan (Area Protegida Lago Aquicuana), and founding Pisatahua Plant Medicine Retreat. We stayed at Pisatahua with Erik and Sasha for 2 weeks, with my goal being to document all the wildlife species in the Reserve, and photograph the elusive jaguar using motion-sensor camera traps (for the jaguar story, see my other blog “Searching for Jaguars in Aquicuana Reserve & Pisatahua”).
Pisatahua is located within the northeastern Bolivian Amazon in the department of Beni. It’s a wildly diverse region within the tropical lowland rainforest ecosystem. The deep and sinuous Beni River and its countless oxbow lakes and wetlands are home to over 900 species of fish, dozens of which provide sustenance to local indigenous and campesino (rural) communities.
The region’s dense tropical forests are incredibly rich in wildlife. They’re home to over 250 species of birds – to provide context, the entire United States only has about 450 species!
I’m an avid birder, and I was in heaven! In just 12 days I spotted 55 species of birds (see the species list at the end of the blog for details). Over the lake, Black-collared hawks fly away with their catch of fresh fish, Large-billed terns swoop and dive, Snail kites search for prey in the reeds, and Striated herons and Hoatzins rest in the overhanging branches.
In the forest, long-tailed hermit hummingbirds buzz above the red Heliconia flowers, while White throated toucans, Black caracaras, and Roadside hawks stare down curiously from the forest canopy. On a camera trap, I caught a photo of the rare Razor-billed curassow, a heavily hunted bird whose presence implies that this area is pristine.
From my cabin’s hammock, I could watch chestnut-fronted macaws fly loudly overhead, greater anis hop around and bicker with each other, and crimson-crested woodpeckers forage in a tree hollow.
Chestnut-fronted macaws (left) are incredibly social birds, usually mating for life, and can live up to 80 years! Crimson-crested woodpeckers (right) have thick skulls that allow them to peck through trees without brain damage.
Black-capped squirrel monkeys visited the lodge daily, the three-toed sloth hung lazily nearby, and the jet-engine howls of the Red howler monkey boomed over the sunrise harmony of bird song. We were lucky to spot the weasel-like Tayra climb down from a giant strangler fig tree – surprised by our presence, he bounded down a nearby vine just 2 meters from us. While hiking on Pisatahua’s trails, I spotted tracks of the world’s largest rodent, the capybara, the scurrying agouti, the lumbering black caiman, and…the JAGUAR!
Each of these wildlife encounters brought me so much joy, in knowing that their current existence here is thanks to the sustainable living of the local communities and the care and forethought of Erik, Sasha, and all the contributors to Pisatahua and Aquicuana Reserve. Because, just an hour’s drive away lies the largest city in the Bolivian Amazon: Riberalta, a growing city of 150,000 people and the world’s capital of the Brazil nut trade (here, they call them Amazon nut, a more fitting name). Yes, 64% of the world’s Brazil nuts are harvested from wild trees and processed in the Riberalta region…so the next time you crunch a Brazil nut, give thanks to the Bolivian Amazon! With this growing local economy, improved road access, and a local birth rate of over 6 children per woman, this city is indeed growing. In the last 10 years, 400,000 hectares of Bolivia’s Amazon forest – an area the size of Rhode Island) – has been converted to pastureland. Brazil’s forests just to the east are also suffering from heavy logging and human development.
As local demands on the forests and lands increase, the Aquicuana Reserve and Pisatahua will become evermore important to conserve, providing a home for vulnerable species such as the jaguar. By visiting Pisatahua, you are directly protecting these forests and creating a sustainable future for local communities – and this is not a hyperbole! Pisatahua provides vital funds for the Reserve and was integral to its founding. Within the local communities of Warnes and San Jose, Pisatahua has founded ongoing projects for reforestation, clean drinking water, local artisans, and community ecotourism.
Pisatahu helps ensure the future of these forests, birds, and animals. And, as I experienced firsthand, they open hearts, minds, and souls to healing, creating a better future for all of us with beating hearts on this planet.
Wildlife species observed during 2 weeks at Pisatahua
|Rufescent tiger heron
|White throated toucan
|Black-capped squirrel monkey
|Red brocket deer
|Red howler monkey
|Oso perezoso, perico
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