Tambopata Research Center

Tambopata Research Center is a comfortable, rustic jungle lodge designed to maximize wildlife observation in the surrounding forest. This world-famous lodge and research center is located in the heart of Amazonia's richest area of biodiversity, the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve. Over 500 bird species make Tambopata one of the world's top areas for bird diversity. Friendly resident scientists, naturalist guides and staff, and the small scale of the lodge lend to an informal, congenial atmosphere, where visitors can learn a great deal about rain forest ecology.

Tambopata Research Center was built to provide lodging for tourists and researchers, and to study and protect the adjacent macaw clay lick. TRC is located in uninhabited, protected lowland rain forest, seven hours by boat from the nearest town, and five hours from Posada Amazonas Lodge. The lodge sits in a half-hectare forest clearing, 50 meters from the Tambopata River and 300 meters from the macaw clay lick. The design of the lodge's four interconnected, thatched-roof buildings is based on traditional low-impact native architecture. All buildings and interconnecting corridors are raised on four-foot palm trunk or hardwood stilts. The 13 double rooms are basic, well-ventilated, and equipped with two single beds, mosquito netting, a night table with a kerosene lamp, a small lockbox, and a table and chair. Most of the lodge looks out over waist-high verandas that provide open views of the forest for easy observation of birds and mammals passing through the clearing. Covered passageways connect the central main lodge with the dining hall on one side, and on the opposite side to shared bathrooms containing 5 flush toilets and 5 shower stalls. Night time lighting is by lamplight, creating a romantic jungle atmosphere. Semi-domesticated Scarlet Macaws often visit the lodge, perching on the verandas within an arms length of delighted visitors.

The pristine rain forest surrounding Tambopata Research Center presents a mosaic of seven distinct forest habitats, with transition zones, crisscrossed by a network of trails covering an area of over 5 square kilometers. Thus, within a half an hour's easy walk from the Tambopata Research Center you find 4 types of ecosystems: floodplain forest, terra firme forest, bamboo forest, and palm tree wetlands. By traveling upriver in motorized canoes, visitors can have access to many more trails, including those around a wildlife-rich oxbow lake. While leading exciting hikes through the protected reserve, expert naturalist guides provide visitors with a fascinating education in tropical ecology, wildlife behavior, medicinal plants, and native Amazonian culture. Their abilities to find wildlife and identify species are amazing.

The Tambopata Macaw Clay Lick and Macaw Rescue Project
Without a doubt, one of the world's greatest wildlife spectacles is the macaw clay lick located less than 300 meters from the TRC lodge. The clay lick, or "collpa" in Quechua, is a huge, 50 meter tall cliff of reddish clay that extends for about half a kilometer along the west bank of the Tambopata River. It is not only the world's largest known clay lick, but also the only one where Blue-and-gold macaws are known to descend to eat clay. On most clear mornings of the year, literally hundreds of parrots and macaws flock to the lick.

Six species of macaws and nine species of parrots, as well as guans, tapir, capybara, howler monkeys, and pigeons come to the clay lick to obtain hard-to-find minerals present in high concentrations in the soil. It is thought that macaws and parrots eat the clay to neutralize the effects of toxic fruits and seeds in their diets. Some scientists hypothesize that macaws and parrots also socialize and exchange information as they gather around the clay lick. As they congregate in the surrounding crowns of trees, parrots spend hours at a time screeching, squabbling, and gurgling at each other before they descend to eat the clay. Even though perching on the cliff exposes them to danger, hundreds of parrots visit the lick, creating an avian clamor audible for hundreds of meters. If an eagle or other raptor soars into view while the parrots and macaws are at the lick, either the large macaws will mob it, or more often, all the parrots will depart simultaneously in a spectacular explosion of color and sound, circling the area and returning when conditions are safe.

A list of the Psittascine (parrot) species that have been seen at the Tambopata clay lick includes the following: Red-and-green, Blue-and-gold, Scarlet, Red-bellied, and Chestnut-fronted Macaws and Mealy, and Yellow-crowned Amazons; Blue-headed, Orange-cheeked and White-bellied Parrots; Dusky-headed, White-eyed, Cobalt-winged and Tui Parakeets, and Amazon, Dusky-billed and Manu Parrotlets. Of these, you can expect to see between ten and fifteen species.

Since 1989, TRC has served as headquarters for the Tambopata Macaw Project, a research and conservation project financed jointly by the Wildlife Conservation Society and private Peruvian enterprises. The project, directed and implemented by scientists and local staff, studies reproductive biology and population recovery techniques for Blue-and-gold, Red-and-green and Scarlet Macaws.

During macaw nesting seasons (October through March) in the early 1990's, over 17,000 person-hours were spent searching for and observing nests from the ground, and climbing nest trees to measure nestling growth. Variations of rock climbing techniques were utilized to climb the 30 to 40 meter tall trees. It was discovered that nesting sites were naturally scarce, and that due to this only 10 to 20% of adult macaws attempt to breed on any given year. Also, it was found that of those that did attempt to breed, only one of every four eggs laid resulted in a fledgling, because of egg loss to predators, embryo death from low quality nesting sites, and high chick mortality from predation and malnutrition. Thus it was determined that the productivity of a population of wild macaws is naturally very low.

In order to offset the natural scarcity of nesting sites, over 52 artificial nests of three designs were placed in tall trees. To minimize chick mortality, the youngest chicks of any given 2 to 4 chick brood were rescued and hand-reared at TRC. Increased reproductive output resulting from the combination of these two techniques was impressive. Scarlet macaw chicks fledging into the 3 square kilometers around TRC by the end of the 1993 season increased from the one that would have survived with no intervention to ten, a 900% increase. Increased productivity of Red-and-green macaws in riparian forests went up by 300%. Finally, the macaw project teams created a concentration of Blue-and-gold macaw nesting sites at a palm swamp where none had existed previously by adapting dead palm trees to work as nests. These techniques are now being used to propagate critically endangered macaw species elsewhere.