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Jaguar and red howler monkey (Photo: Rainforest Expeditions)
Observing the nature in a lagoon (Photo: Rainforest Expeditions)
Otter and anaconda (Photo: Rainforest Expeditions)
Tower on the top of the forest (Photo: Rainforest Expeditions)
Birdwatchers (Photo: Rainforest Expeditions)
Wildlife Observation in the Rainforest

Wildlife Observation  in the Rainforest

By: Rainforest Expeditions

Tambopata is one of the world's most diverse wildernesses. It is also one of the best preserved. However, the vast majority of the rain forest's diversity is in the form of insects. The world record diversities of birds and mammals, are mostly in the form of small, unspectacular species. Large spectacular species are rare, shy, unpredictable and very difficult to see, with few notable exceptions. So don't come expecting the wildlife densities of the African savannahs or the Antarctic peninsula. We aren't in Jurassic Park or Disneyland, either.

Nevertheless, Tambopata is diverse and it is well preserved and exciting encounters do occur on a regular basis. At Tambopata Research Center (TRC), you will have some of the Amazon's best chances of seeing jaguar, tapir, giant river otters, harpy eagles, macaws, etc. However, the Amazon's best chances for some of these species are very slim, but they do occur. From January to July of 1999, for example, we have seen 11 jaguars, perhaps the most difficult to see of the aforementioned species. For detailed descriptions of these and other species and our encounter rates, please check out the section on miscellaneous information.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that when you do encounter wildlife, you will not have the clear, ample field of view of the African savannahs or Antarctica, nor the reposed exhibits of a zoo. In all likelihood you will see the wildlife through branches, leaves, vine tangles and dense vegetation, scampering, stampeding, flying or leaping away from you, at heights of up to 40 meters for less than a minute. But wonderful encounters do happen. Of the 11 jaguar encounters mentioned above, one was of a jaguar eating a dead tapir, at 20 yards seen for 15 minutes by 8 people. Another one was of a jaguar sleeping on the beach in front of the TRC. Our driver did three return trips to show everyone at the lodge, including staff, the sleeping jaguar. It was even filmed by a crew from the BBC! The next day, it was there again.

So, do not expect wildlife to be encountered as it is found in North American parks. Come relaxed, with your eyes open and lots of curiosity. You will be in a place where every horizontal and vertical meter of forest probably has hundreds of species of organisms, different from one meter to the next. Just that thought should keep your sense of wonder alive throughout the trip. Then, all of a sudden, you will see that jaguar.

Wildlife Encounter Chart

The first column of the following table summarizes encounter probabilities for Tambopata's most spectacular wildlife species based on over 600 Tambopata Research Center guests who were surveyed in 1998 and 1999. Results for 2000 have not yet been processed, so we have no hard data for encounter rates at Posada Amazonas. The second column specifies Tambopata Research Center's wildlife encounter probabilities relative to five other lodges in the region based on a two year study conducted from 1997 to 1998. The number of times each species was encountered by the group of scientists was tallied and then compared to each of the other lodges’. The number in the column indicates TRC's position relative to the other five. This data was taken from Chirs Kirby’s preliminary unpublished report of the TREES-RAMOS project.

Species Encounter Rate Comparative Sightings vs. other Regional Lodges
Giant River Otter (from the Posada Amazonas oxbow lake) 64% n-a
Brown Capuchin Monkey 65% 1
Spider Monkey 48% 1
Squirrel Monkey 57% 1
Dusky headed Titi Monkey 50% 3
Night Monkey 14% n-a
Red Howler Monkey 53% 2
Saddleback Tamarin 30% 5
Blue and Gold Macaw (not necessarily on clay lick) 99% n-a
Scarlet Macaw (not necessarily on clay lick) 98% n-a
Red- and Green Macaw (not necessarily on clay lick) 99% n-a
Chestnut-fronted Macaw (not necessarily on clay lick) 97% n-a
Red-bellied Macaw (not necessarily on clay lick) 96% n-a
Harpy Eagle (from the Posada Amazonas nest sites) 35% n-a
Toucan 73% n-a
White-lipped Peccary 10% n-a
Collared Peccary 8% 2
Tapir 15% 1
Capybara 64% n-a
Tayra 53% 1
Jaguar 7% 1
Ocelot 5% 1
Brown Agouti 84% 5
Abundance of mammals in general n-a 1

Photography in Tambopata

The Amazon, with its magnificent scenery and diversity of fauna and flora is a photographer’s paradise. However it is a challenging environment for nature and wildlife photography.

The first challenge photographers will face is with their camera equipment. Even before the first wildlife encounter, you will have to deal with elements that can cause havoc with your camera equipment. The high level of humidity, the ever changing weather conditions and even plastic-melting insect repellent will be a challenge to even the most reliable equipment.

The second challenge comes in the form of the wildlife. Even though many tourists/photographers have left the lodges with some very good images of macaws, river otters and even the extremely rare jaguar, we feel that it was because of good luck and being at the right place on the right time. Photography in the rain forest is a painstaking process and a game of long waits and Zen-like patience. Most people arrive at Posada Amazonas and the Tambopata Research Center after having viewed documentaries of the Tambopata area produced by the Discovery Channel or the BBC and have seen the pictures taken by famous professional photographers like Tui De Roy, Franz Lanting, Andre Bartschi or Heinz Plenge. These photographers visit the area on many occasions and spend months working to capture their images relying on climbing gear, tons of scaffolding, laser sensitive devices to detect movement and the expert help of teams of Rainforest Expeditions’ staff and guides. It is a natural but unrealistic reaction to believe that a person with a good camera and some powerful zoom lenses can achieve the same results in a visit of a few days.

In general, you will require lenses above 300 mm to produce good wildlife photography. ASA 200 film or above is recommended for the rain forest where it tends to be dark. For macro photography, a flash will be required often. To make sure your equipment is protected from the elements, we recommend the use of river bags or waterproof camera cases. The use of dry bags and silicon gel are highly recommended to alleviate the problem with humidity, rain and the occasional water splashing in the canoe during the trips on the river. The use of a tripod at the clay lick is recommended and lenses ranging from 500 mm to 1000 mm are necessary for the clay lick. The use of flash is not recommended when photographing the macaws at close range. With the large amount of visitors trying to photograph the "chicos" at the lodge, the strong light from the flash will damage their vision.

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