This month, after 15 years of anticipation, the Peruvian government has finally created Güeppí Sekime National Park and two communal reserves, Airo Pai and Huimeki. This is a massive conservation win – not just for WWF-Peru and the government department for protected areas (SERNANP), but for the Putumayo river basin and, most importantly, the 30 indigenous communities who live in Güeppí. It will help protect their way of life, culture and natural resources.
I have a personal connection with Güeppí, having visited the area during a three-month sabbatical with WWF-Peru. It was a trip of a lifetime and one I’ll never forget.
Güeppí is incredibly remote. The journey involved a flight from Peruvian capital Lima to Quito in Ecuador, an eight-hour bus trip down a dirt road to the jungle port of Coca and then 10 hours in a boat, crossing the border back into Peru to reach our destination.
Güeppí is an area of almost 6,000 square kilometres of incredibly rich biodiversity in the northernmost tip of the Peruvian rainforest, nestled between the borders of Ecuador and Colombia. I saw some of this amazing wildlife first-hand – and one encounter with a pink river dolphin was particularly memorable…
My colleague Johana and I had decided to explore the river in a wooden canoe. Within minutes I could sense we weren’t alone. It wasn’t just the ripples in the water that the dolphin created, but the unique sound of its breathing as it surfaced.
Dolphins are very inquisitive creatures, and soon it had swum alongside our canoe to check us out. Even though I didn’t have my camera with me (typical!), those memories are still clear in my mind.
The pink river dolphin is one of 56 mammals found in Güeppí, along with the giant river otter and jaguar. There are also 550 species of bird, 300 kinds of fish, 4,000 species of plant, 90 amphibians and 60 reptiles.
The indigenous communities in Güeppí have a deep respect for nature and understand the need to manage the resources, like the fish and timber, in a sustainable way.
We also visited the Puerto Estrella community, who are part of the Secoya ethnic group. It was fascinating to learn about their lives, deep in the forest, hours from the nearest shop and clinic. I was invited to eat with the community and tried ‘casabe’, a bread made from cassava and a local fish, which certainly had a kick to it. The Secoya are proud of their traditions and keen to maintain them.
The Secoya community rely on the freshwater fish for income – in particular the biggest Amazon fish, the ‘paiche’. It’s important for the communities to manage the fish stocks sustainably, and this is one of the projects WWF-Peru has been supporting.
The creation of the new national park and protected reserves has also reduced the threat of oil companies coming in to explore Güeppí. This was one of the biggest concerns for the community, who’d seen the irreparable damage that oil spills can cause to the rivers in other parts of the Peruvian Amazon, and how it’s caused environmental and social problems for other indigenous communities.
The latest protected areas are also the final pieces in the jigsaw of a ‘conservation corridor’ that runs through three countries – neighbouring Ecuador and Colombia had already created protected areas along the Putumayo river basin. And with an EU-funded initiative called ‘Putumayo Tres Fronteras’, supported by all three national governments, there’s now protection for a huge part of this region. ”
The world is up against so many environmental problems – as we know all too well – so when we get a fantastic conservation win like this, we need to celebrate it.
And we need to use it to demonstrate that, despite the challenges we face, our work is vital to conserve the world’s biodiverse hotspots – and that motivates us to work with even more passion and energy.