After this discovery, demand for rubber trees ran high, and Manu, with its rich bounty of rubber trees, became the perfect source for satisfying this need.
Also crucial to Manu's rubber trade was baron Carlos Fitzgerald's ("Fitzcarraldo") crossing of a divide between the Upper Mishagua and Upper Manu. This divide, eventually called the "Fitzgerald Pass," provided an accessible travel route to the Madre de Dios River. In 1880, approximately 8,000 tons of rubber were exported from Peru, but by 1900, the number of exports climbed to an amazing 27,000 tons of rubber. In 1914, Manu's rubber trade collapsed, suffering from competition from Southeast Asian rubber suppliers and deforestation.
Manu's landscape has changed since its pristine early years, and several animal and plant species have become endangered since the rubber boom. In 1967, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with other American countries to establish national parks to promote conservation of regional flora and fauna. This agreement specified that the park "covered more than half the country... contained the greatest number of Peru's wide range of animals and birds...be in a virgin state, uninhabited and unaffected by the operations of hunters, lumbers, or colonists...[and] included every biotope from the riverside forests of the Amazon's main tributaries." In 1968, Manu was declared a National Reserve, and five years later, it was upgraded to a National Park.
Today, the entire region of Manu -- a total size of 7200 square miles (1,881,200 hectares) -- is considered a Biosphere Reserve. The Manu Biosphere Reserve is composed of three parts: the Manu National Park, a region protecting the natural flora and fauna; the Manu Reserved Zone, an area reserved for research and tourism; and the Manu Cultural Zone, a place used for human settlement. With these recent conservation efforts, life in Manu flourishes. Presently, scientists and researchers are learning more about the indigenous Indians that still inhabit Manu, as well as of the regional flora and fauna.
The people of Manu
Glenn Shepard Jr.
Glenn Shepard Jr. has been conducting ethnobotanical and anthropological research among the Machiguenga and other native groups of the Manu for the past twelve years, as documented in the Emmy award-winning films, "Spirits of the Rainforest" and "The Spirit Hunters." Shepard was also a consultant for PBS's award-winning Living Edens special "Manu, Peru's Hidden Rain Forest." He will receive his doctorate from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1998. In addition to his long-term work in Peru, he has pursued anthropological research and documentary filmmaking among the Maya of Chiapas, Mexico, and the hill tribes of Thailand. Shepard speaks a dozen languages, including the native languages Machiguenga, Yaminahua and Piro of Peru, the Tzeltal and Tzotzil Maya languages of Mexico and a Bedouin Arabic dialect.
Shepard recently returned to the United States after 18 months of fieldwork in Peru from 1995-1997. During that time he was accompanied for short periods by a number of colleagues, including tropical biologists, conservationists, doctors and writers. Shepard trained a number of native people as ethnobotanical assistants, especially Mateo Italiano (pictured at right). Together, they collected more than two thousand herbarium specimens of plants that are currently being catalogued and identified by botanical specialists in Peru and the United States. These are the only herbarium collections of the medicinal plants of Machiguenga people in Manu.
Who Are The Machiguenga?
The Machiguenga are an ethnic group of the Arawakan linguistic family. They are distant linguistic relatives of the Arawak tribes who once inhabited the Caribbean at the time of Christopher Columbus, but have since been wiped out by diseases and assimilated. The Machiguenga live in the upper montane rain forest of Southeastern Peru, mostly in the Urubamba river drainage and the Madre de Dios river drainage, including Manu. The Machiguenga practice long-fallow swidden agriculture, growing manioc, bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, cotton, peanuts, chili peppers and a variety of other crops in small gardens cleared out of the forest. They supplement their diet with fish, game, fruits and other foods gathered in the extensive forests and small streams of their environment.
The Machiguenga live in dispersed settlements clustered according to a matrilocal pattern of residence: a man marries out of his home village and goes to live with his wife's family. Villages sometimes maintain a loose political integration under traditional leaders called curacas. The word curaca was apparently borrowed from the Quechua language during pre-Hispanic contact with the Inca empire. As the Catholic Church, the Peruvian nation, and more recently, Evangelical missionaries have penetrated into the hinterlands, Machiguenga villages have tended to gravitate toward mission outposts or government school houses. These serve as centers not only for evangelization and education but also for highly valued Western trade goods and medicines. Machiguenga people in more accessible areas have taken up the extraction of timber and the cultivation of coffee, cacao, achiote, peanuts and other cash crops.
Flora and Fauna
Often seen swooping up its prey with its large talons, the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is the most powerful bird in the Amazon. This eagle can have a wingspan as long as seven feet (2 m) and weigh as much as ten pounds (4.5 kg). It is considered a top predator that feeds on large to small mammals including monkeys and sloths. An adult harpy can grow talons up to seven inches long. This eagle can also be identified by its black chest, white underside, and plume of gray feathers that crowns its gray head.
The harpy eagle nests in tall trees in the Amazon, such as the Brazil nut tree. Pairs mate every other year producing one to two chicks. Parents raise their chicks in nests built of sticks.
Appropriately named after the yellow streak of feathers on the back of its head, the yellow-tufted woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus) is an omnivorous bird that drills into trees and vines to find insects and build nests. This woodpecker's entire body is built for boring holes. It has a resilient sharp bill used to chisel out holes and a barbed tongue that helps it eat woodboring insects.
In addition, the yellow-tufted woodpecker has strong claws and tail feathers that provide a secure and well balanced hold to a tree. Its neck muscles even absorb the shock created by the repetitive back and forth motion used in drilling. Aside from insects, the yellow-tufted woodpecker feeds on nectar and fruits in the Amazon. This bird is also very social and is often seen traveling in pairs or in group of five.
Widely recognized for its festive plumes of rainbow-colored feathers, the macaw (Genus: Ara) is the largest and most endangered long-tailed parrot in the world. This bird of the tropical rain forest can measure up to 39 inches long (100 cm), has a strong beak, and is adorned with bright red, yellow, green, or blue feathers.
Macaws are extremely social birds and are often seen gathering in large, noisy groups on clay licks, exposed cliffs of hardened clay, in the Amazon. In addition to serving as a community center, the clay licks provide the macaw with essential minerals used to neutralize toxins of seeds and leaves that the macaw eats.
Like beavers and swans, macaws are monogamous and mate for life. They are finicky nesters and will only raise their young in dead palm trees or in the holes of other canopy trees. Finding a place to nest is often difficult, considering that, on average, only one nesting site per 62.5 acres (25 hectares) of land is suitable. Compounding this problem is the macaw's low reproductive rate. Scientists in Manu have observed that only 20% of adult mated pairs actually attempt to nest and of that group 30% fail to raise a chick.
Unfortunately, human admiration for this visually-striking parrot has ironically endangered eight of the eighteen species of macaws. The macaw population has suffered from international demand for exotic pet birds as well as from loss of habitat. Despite these pressures, the macaw still persists, and on occasion, a traveler in the Amazon might be lucky enough to see a flock of macaws fly over the canopy like a rainbow shooting across the sky-- a dazzling site to behold indeed.
In Manu and other regions of the Amazon, the black skimmer (Rynchops nigra) is frequently seen "skimming" the surface of waters in search of fish. This black-bodied bird with a white face and chest has a unique beak that helps its catch its prey. The lower mandible of the skimmer's black and orange-striped beak is longer than the upper one. As the black skimmer coasts along the water's surface, it drops its longer lower bill into the water. By doing so, it is able to quickly snap up fish and other crustaceans for a meal. During the dry season in Manu, the black skimmer nests along beaches and sandbars. The black skimmer is one of only three species of skimmers that exist.
The hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), pronounced as "watson," is an unusual chicken-sized bird that has a remarkable capacity to digest fiber. This bird has red eyes, blue patches of color on its face, and a prominent headdress of long, reddish-brown feathers. It emits a distinct manure-like smell, which has given it the nickname, "the stink bird." The movements of this avian are awkward and clumsy. Therefore, the hoatzin prefers a sedentary life and sits for long periods of time, a strange behavior for a bird. Occasionally, it will move by hopping from branch to branch.
Most plant-eating birds excrete most of the fiber they ingest, but the hoatzin is able to digest 70% of the fiber from its diet of marsh plants. This reddish-brown bird is able to do so by fermenting food it eats with its enormous foregut, which is 50 times larger than its stomach. This special "second" stomach also enables the hoatzin to eat plants containing toxic alkaloids. This avian does not feed often, usually only eating twice a day.
Because of the quirky behavior and morphology of this bird, the genealogy of the hoatzin is a mystery to many scientists. Some scientists believe that the hoatzin is primitive bird, a relative to the Archaeopteryx, an unusual feathered dinosaur. The two creatures have been linked because of similar functional claws they have on their wing joints. Unlike the Archaeopteryx, these claws eventually disappear in the hoatzin. Other scientists believe that this bird is more modern and a relative to the cuckoo.
Leaf Cutter Ant
The leaf cutter ant (Atta rodona) is a fungus-growing ant that inhabits tropical regions like Manu. Groups of these ants are often seen at night dismantling area vegetation leaf by leaf. During a night "raid," a worker leaf cutter ant precisely cut leaves of bushes or trees into tiny pieces with its mouth and then carries the cut portions back to the colony's underground nest. When carrying a cut leaf, the worker ant holds it above its head, giving these insects the nickname of umbrella or parasol ants. The leaf cutter ant does not eat the leaves, but actually feeds them to a mold-like fungus hidden in the depth of its nest. The fungus digests the leaves, producing "knob" that the ants can eat.
Leaf cutter colonies typically number two million worker ants and have one queen whose main purpose is to lay eggs. Before laying eggs, the queen takes a pellet of the fungus to prepare a nesting area for her eggs. She cultivates the fungus with her own body waste. Once the nest is ready, the queen lays approximately 30,000 eggs each day.
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest and most powerful cat in the Americas. This cat can weigh up to 350 pounds (159 kg) and grow to a length of six feet (1.8 m) from head to tail. The jaguar is a top predator who feeds on tapirs, deer, peccaries, sloths, caimans, turtles, fish, and giant otters, and its only natural predator is the Anaconda snake.
Jaguars typically hunt alone and at night, attacking their prey by pouncing onto their back and quickly severing the neck vertebrate with a powerful bite. In fact, their name is appropriately derived from the Indian word "yaguar" meaning "he who kills at one leap." These cats are live in the tropical forests of Central and South America and Mexico.
As solitary animals, male and females live together only during mating season. Pregnancy lasts for 95 to 110 days, and mothers typically bear two to four cubs. Cubs stay with their mother for their first two years and learn to hunt. By their fourth year, jaguars are considered fully grown adults.
In the Manu region, the Inca Indians deeply respected these fierce cats. The jaguars symbolized power, strength, and beauty. Incas in Cuzco used the jaguar image in their coat of arms and even named a respected captain, who explored the southeastern Peruvian jungle, Otorongo (Jaguar) Achachi.
The jaguar population is threatened by humans. They have been overhunted for their attractive black-spotted golden pelts as well as driven out of their natural habitat as a result of human development and expansion. Despite many misconceptions, jaguars rarely attack humans unless provoked. If you encounter a jaguar, it is better to stand still and make a large sound than to run away.
As the colors of the macaw are unmistakable in the Amazon, so is the roar of the howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus). Reddish in body color and black in face, the howler monkey cautions other animals to stay away by sounding terrifying howls at both dawn and dusk. These noises alert other howler monkeys of the location of their troops and thus reduce potential conflicts between troops. The male howler monkey has an enlarged goiter-like hyoid bone that allows it to create its unique, voluminous roars.
The howling ritual usually begins with a single male making several low grunts. To increase the volume and length at which its noise carries through the rain forest, other males in the troop join in and begin to howl. The howling eventually culminates in one long thunderous roar. The higher pitched females of a troop also participate in this practice.
Though their roars are intimidating, howler monkeys are, in fact, quite lethargic and benign animals. Like the sloth, the howler monkey feeds on tree leaves, a low source of energy, and therefore are not as quick or active as other Amazon animals. A troop of howler monkeys, usually consisting of one adult male, one or two reproductive females, and up to four younger howlers, prefers to lounge in the canopy during the day, frequently sleeping and eating.
Nicknamed in Spanish "lobos de rio" or "the river wolves," the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is the largest and most formidable otter in the world. This member of the weasel family can grow up to seven feet long (2m) and weight up to 70 pounds (32 kg). The giant otter hunts in packs of four to ten adults and has a remarkable predatory instinct and unusual feeding habits. Though primarily feeding on fish, the giant otter has been seen attacking and devouring Anaconda snakes and caiman in Manu. Even stranger, it eats all of its fish prey, including the bones. Using its wolf-like teeth, water current-sensing whiskers, and strong webbed forehands, the giant otter is quite an effective water hunter.
As illustrated in their hunting practices, giant otters are extremely social animals and prefer to stay in familial groups. During the day, they often groom one another, which according to scientists, promotes group unity. At night, they retire to communal dens, dug ten feet into the ground along cocha shorelines. The dens provide safety as well as warm birth quarters for new pups. Usually, only one pair of giant otters breed within a pack, producing on average four pups.
Overhunting of giant otters in the mid 1900's has significantly diminished their population. From 1946 to 1973, 24,000 otter skins were exported from Peru, while in the 1960's 20,000 skins were exported from Brazil. From a population of thousands, only 100 giant otters now inhabit the Manu River. In 1974, a law protecting the giant otter was enacted, but even so, giant otters are rare sights and found only in isolated jungle regions. Scientists are currently studying the giant otter's ecological niche to help better protect their species from extinction.
Often found foraging for a meal of leaf cutter ants, the giant anteater (Myrmecophagidae tridactyla) is among three species of anteaters that inhabit the Manu River region. The giant anteater is a toothless mammal that feeds on ants and lives on the ground. It has a small head and a long, pronounced snout. Coarse gray hairs, accentuated by white and black stripes running from its throat to its back, cover most of its body. To protect its claws, this creature walks with its front feet turned on their sides.
Using its keen sense of smell, the giant anteater is able to effectively track down ant nests on the forest floor. Once a nest is found, the mammal usually rips it open with its sharp fore claws to expose its delectable contents. The anteater then proceeds to catch and eat the ants by repetitively flicking its long sticky tongue in and out of the nest. The giant anteater's unique tongue can measure as long as two feet (60 cm).
The silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) and the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) are two other species of anteaters found in Manu. They are smaller and lighter in color than the giant anteater, can live in trees, and have prehensile tails used for climbing.
The tree sloth is an unusual-looking mammal that has a slow and unique way of moving about. It has a small flat head, a short and rather non-existent tail, stubby teeth, and dark coarse hair. Using it hook-like claws, this tree-dwelling animal travels through the rain forest by hanging from the limbs of trees and walking upside down from branch to branch. The tree sloth moves extremely slowly, and this behavior is due, in part, to its very low metabolism rate. Needing only low energy sources, this creature feeds on leaves, flowers, and twigs. There are two types of sloths that exist: the two and three-toed sloth. The brown-throated three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and the Hoffman's two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) inhabit the Manu Biosphere Reserve.
The Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is a herbivore related to the horse and rhinoceros and lives deep within the Amazon rain forest near watering holes. This pig-like looking animal has a stocky body with four front toes and three hind toes. In addition, the Brazilian tapir has a moveable nose that it uses to sniff out food. This creature usually feeds on leaves, fruits, vegetables, and twigs.
The collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) is a pig-like animal that inhabits a broad area, including regions of southwestern United States and South America. This dark-haired creature has four hooves on its forelegs and only three on its hind legs. The collared peccary feeds on plants, insects, and frogs. This mammal is often seen traveling in single file herds, sometimes in groups as large as twenty. Indians in the Manu region often hunt the peccary for its meat.
Related to the extinct dinosaurs of the Mesozoic era 200 million years ago, the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) is a top predator in the Amazon. The back caiman resembles the alligator and can grow as long as 20 feet (6 m) in length. This reptile often hunts animals drinking water along a cocha's shoreline. Once an animal is targeted, the black caiman will typically grab the prey by its head or legs and proceed to drown it by pulling the unfortunate creature into the water. The caiman's diet includes fish, capybaras, deer, and other mammals in the Amazon region.
Male and female caimans mate in water. A female then lays as many as 60 eggs in a nest mound located on the shoreline. With the help of their mother, baby caimans hatch in three months and start feeding on insects. As they grow larger, the young gradually begin feeding on fish and later mammals.
The black caiman was nearly hunted to extinction for its skin. In fact in the last century, hunting has reduced the caimen population by 99%. This creature is now found only in remote regions of the Amazon, such as in the Manu River. Other variations of caiman that live in Manu include the smaller white caiman (Caiman crocodilus) and the rare Schneider's dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus).
The tree boa (Corallus enydris) is a rain forest-dwelling snake that has excellent climbing abilities. In the Amazon, this reptile is frequently seen on the move, slithering among tree branches. Warm-blooded animals, such as bats, compose much of the tree boa's diet. To track its prey, this boa uses special heat sensors, located under its nostrils, in addition to its sight. The tree boa kills its prey by suffocating the animal with its powerful coils. Unlike other snakes, the female tree boa actually gives birth to live young rather than lay eggs. This reptile is considered a primitive snake because it has a pelvis and vestigial hind limbs.
Found in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon, the anaconda snake (Eunectes murinusis) one of the largest snakes in the world. This aquatic and arboreal reptile can grow as long as 30 feet (9 m) and weigh as much as 400 pounds (181 kg). The anaconda snake feeds on almost anything, eating capybaras, agouti, other snakes, and crocodiles. When stalking its prey, this powerful snake usually lurks beneath the surface of waters or watches from overhanging branches, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
The brown agouti (Dasyprocta variegata) is a rodent scavenger that lives on the ground of dense rain forests. This small-eared animal feeds on fruits, leaves, and roots. It can grow to a length of two feet (61 cm) and weigh up to four pounds (1.8 kg). Using its long legs, an agouti moves with a jumping motion, not unlike a deer. Agouti couples usually bear two young. When born, the young are fully capable of taking care of themselves, but remain with their parents for as long as 20 weeks. Jaguars often prey on the agouti.
The paca (Agouti paca) is a large nocturnal rodent that lives in the tropical rain forest. The paca's stout body is covered with dark hair and has four rows of white spots on each side of its body. This animal can weigh as much as 40 pounds (18 kg) and grow to a length of 32.5 inches (83 cm). This large rodent also has large cheeks that help the animal make noises.
Pacas are frequently preyed on by other Amazon animals such jaguars. They avoid many of their predators by using their excellent swimming ability to flee danger and by foraging for food at night. These solitary-living rodents typically feed on plants, roots, seeds, and fruits.
The capybara (Hydorchaeris hydrochaeris) is the largest rodent in the world. This semi-aquatic animal resembles a large guinea pig, can weigh as much as 140 pounds (65 kg), and can grow to a length of four feet (1.25m). The capybara, which feeds on aquatic plants, travels in small familial groups of up to six members. This animal is frequently eaten by other Amazon animals, such as the jaguar. If a capybara senses dangers, it will typically sound a click-like noise warning its group and then run into the water and swim away. With its webbed feet, this animal is an effective swimmer.
Machiguenga Name: Kamarampi
Botanical Name: *Banisteriopsis caapi* (Malphigiaceae Family)
Pronounced as "EYE-a-wasca," the ayahuasca vine is a tropical climbing vine best known for its psychoactive properties and use in Peruvian shamanic rituals. Sometimes called "the vine of the dead," this thick-rooted plant grows long leaves and small flowers. The ayahuasca receives its psychoactive properties from the chemical harmaline, a compound that stimulates the nervous system, produced naturally in the vine.
The common name for this plant comes from Quechua, the language of the Incas, and means "vine of the soul." The Machiguenga name Kamarampi means "medicine of vomiting" due to the powerful purgative properties of this bitter plant. It is used in the preparation of a powerful hallucinogenic beverage, called ayahuasca or yage, taken by shamans throughout the Amazon. This beverage is prepared by cooking ayahuasca vine with the leaf of chacuruna (*Psychotria*, of the coffee family). Neither of the two plants have an hallucinogenic effect when taken individually. Yet when cooked together, the beta-carbolines found in the ayahuasca vine potentiate the dimethyl tryptamine (DMT) found in chacuruna leaf, creating powerful visions and the sensation of visiting another world, the world of the spirits. Machiguenga shamans take ayahuasca to gain healing power, hunting skill and new agricultural varieties from the spirit world.
Piri-piri, Medicinal Sedges
Machiguenga Name: Ivenkiki
Botanical Name: *Cyperus* spp. (Cyperaceae, Sedge Family)
Native people throughout the Amazon cultivate numerous varieties of medicinal sedges to treat a wide range of health problems. The Machiguenga, for example, use sedge roots to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentery and wounds as well as to ease childbirth. Special sedge varieties are cultivated by Machiguenga women to improve their skill weaving and to protect their babies from illness. The men cultivate special sedges to improve their hunting skill.
Since the plant is used for such a wide range of conditions, it was once dismissed as being mere superstition. Pharmacological research has revealed the presence of ergot alkaloids, which are known to have diverse effects on the body from stimulation of the nervous system to constriction of blood vessels. These alkaloids are responsible for the wide range of medicinal uses assigned by the Machiguenga. Apparently the ergot alkaloids come not from the plant itself but from a fungus that infects the plant.
Machiguenga Name: Kepishirori
Botanical Name: *Curarea toxifera* *Chondrodendron* spp. (Menispermaceae, Moonseed Family)
Curare includes several species of bitter-tasting vines used to make the powerful poison applied to the darts of blowguns. The Machiguenga name for the plant means "bitter leaf." Traditionally used by indigenous peoples of the Amazon as a poison for hunting animals, curare is the natural source of the drug d-tubocurarine, a muscle relaxant that revolutionized modern surgery. The Machiguenga do not hunt with blowguns, nor do they use curare as arrow poison. Instead, they use curare as a medicine for treating certain severe skin infections.
Tohe (TOE-HEY), Deadly Nightshade
Machiguenga Name: Jayapa, Saaro
Botanical Name: *Brugmansia aurea* (Solanaceae, Tomato Family)
Tohe is a small tree with a large, bell-shaped white flowers that give off a strong perfume at night. Related to the European herb Belladonna (Datura), this plant is a natural source of atropine and scopolamine. Atropine was used by Italian beauties of past centuries to dilate their pupils, creating the mysterious, wide-eyed look such as found in Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." However, excessive use often led to madness, and the fashion trend went out of style. Atropine is used today to control muscle spasms, for example when setting broken bones, and is found in medicines such as Lomotil. Scopolamine, also found in this plant, was once given to women during labor to produce the so-called "twilight sleep."
The Machiguenga grow tohe in their gardens, and use it in the treatment of broken bones, sprains and difficult childbirth. For severe illnesses, the Machiguenga sometimes drink a very small amount of the steamed plant to induce a prolonged sleep with healing dreams. However, they must be very careful in administering the plant, for a slight overdose can be damaging or fatal.
Machiguenga Name: Konyori; Santonka
Botanical Name: *Hevea brasiliensis* (Euphorbiaceae, Poinsettia Family); *Castilla elastica* (Moraceae, Fig Family)
Rubber is produced from the white sap (or latex) of several rain forest trees. The rubber which fueled the so-called "rubber boom" and its related atrocities in the Amazon came from the *Hevea* tree, very common in the upper Manu and known as Konyori in Machiguenga. An alternative source, so-called "black rubber" is *Castilla*, known in Machiguenga as Santonka. This is botanically related to *Ficus elastica* or "India rubber," a native of the Far East that many Americans grow as a house plant.
The Machiguenga use certain species of rubber to make impermeable rain ponchos out of their woven cotton tunics or cushmas. Other species of rubber are cooked with red achiote seeds to make a durable latex paint for adorning the body. The golfball-sized seeds of *Hevea* are cooked and eaten by the Machiguenga.
Manioc, Cassava, Yuca
Machiguenga Name: Sekatsi
Botanical Name: *Manihot esculenta* (Euphorbiaceae, Poinsettia Family)
Also known as cassava or yuca, manioc has a starchy tuber with a taste somewhat like potato. The natural source of tapioca, manioc is the most important staple crop of lowland South America. The Machiguenga name for manioc, Sekatsi, means literally "food," reflecting the importance of this plant in their diet. First domesticated by Amazonian peoples thousands of years ago, manioc is now cultivated in tropical areas throughout the world. There are two main kinds of manioc: bitter manioc and sweet manioc. Bitter manioc has high concentrations of cyanide-producing compounds, and it must be first pounded, rinsed and strained several times to remove these bitter poisons before it can be converted into edible flour and tapioca. Sweet manioc has no such bitter compounds, and can be eaten boiled or baked like a potato. The Machiguenga Indians of Manu use only sweet manioc. In addition to using it as food, the Machiguenga ferment mashed manioc into a beer known as ovuroki or masato, which they drink in communal celebrations.
Machiguenga Name: Kogi, Shimaaro
Botanical Name: *Tephrosia toxicofera* (Leguminosae, Bean Family)
Barbasco is a vine whose roots are the natural source of rotenone, a biodegradable pesticide used throughout the world. The Machiguenga and other native people of the Amazon have cultivated barbasco for thousands of years as a fish poison. When large amounts are pounded with stones and put into a stream, the milky sap of the roots interferes with the respiration of fish, leaving them stunned and floating at the surface. When the toxin wears off, stunned fish that are not captured may come back to life. Native people use barbasco only during the dry season, when the rivers are low, so the toxin will not be too diluted in the water.
Machiguenga Name: Potsoti
Botanical Name: *Bixa orellana* (Bixaceae, Annato Family)
Achiote or annato is a small tree that produces a spiny fruit with waxy reddish-orange seeds that are used as natural colorants in foods and cosmetics around the world. The Machiguenga and other native peoples of the Amazon first used achiote as a bright red paint for adorning the face and hair. Achiote is cooked with sap from the rubber tree to make a durable latex paint that sticks to the skin for several days. The Machiguenga believe that different varieties of achiote can be used to paint the face for different purposes: as a disguise to dispel illnesses, as makeup to attract a girlfriend or boyfriend , as snake repellent, or as war paint to be fierce in battle.
Machiguenga Name: Shimantyonaro
Botanical Name: *Passiflora* spp. (Passifloraceae, Passion Fruit Family)
Passion fruit grows wild as a flimsy vine with a colorful flower and an egg-shaped fruit. The Machiguenga eat several species of passion fruit, which is full of crunchy seeds with sweet, slightly tart pulp. There are also inedible species, which the Machiguenga refer to as "passion fruit of the capybara." Machiguenga children love to play with the beautiful flowers, plucking off the petals one by one.
Machiguenga Name: Shamento
Botanical Name: *Uncaria tomentosa* (Rubiaceae, Coffee Family)
Known in Spanish as "Una de Gato," this vine has been used throughout the Amazon of Peru to treat inflammations, colds, arthritis and other conditions for hundreds of years. The Machiguenga, for example, drink the water from the thick vine to treat coughs and colds. Until recently, educated urban Peruvians rejected the medicinal values of the plant as superstition. In the past few years, the plant has been subjected to pharmacological tests and shown to have activity both as an anti-inflammatory and as a booster for the immune system. Peruvian researchers are now studying the possible benefits of "Cat's Claw" for AIDS and cancer patients. An Austrian company has patented the standardized extract. This plant is now being exported on a massive scale from Peru to the world herbal market in the form of medicinal teas.
Strangler Fig Tree
The strangler fig tree (species: Ficus) is a fruit bearing tree that depends on an unusual symbiotic relationship with Amazon rain forest animals and trees to survive. Monkeys, macaws, bats, and other animals who eat the tree's sweet fruit distribute the strangler fig's seeds throughout the canopy by defecating in the tree tops. Once a seed germinates in the high canopy, a single root grows down to floor of the forest and swells to a large diameter. This root provides the first secure anchor to the host tree and life line to the nutrient rich soil and water below. More roots grow downward and wrap around the host tree's trunk. Meanwhile, strangler fig branches and leaves begin to grow skyward, gradually overshadowing the host tree. In a period of 200 years, the strangler fig will effectively cut off all vital water, sunlight, and nutrient sources of the host tree with its constricting weave of roots and branches. The strangler fig will eventually kill the host tree by "strangulation," and win the battle for survival.
Brazil Nut Tree
Tree Often the home of harpy eagles, Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa) are tall evergreens trees that are found in the Amazon forest. Sometimes called para nut trees, these evergreens have long, straight trunks that can grow as tall as 150 feet (46 m). Its leaves are leathery and green and can measure 15 inches (38 cm) long by 6 inches (15 cm) wide. The Brazil nut tree produces round, woody fruits. Within the tough shells of the fruit are usually 12 to 24 seeds (nuts). The fruits, which are ripe from November to June, have been used by humans in a variety of ways. The Brazil nut oils are often used in cooking and to make soap.
Named after a word meaning "food of the gods," the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is a wide-branched evergreen that is frequently cultivated for its seeds to make cocoa and chocolate products. This tropical evergreen can reach heights up to 25 feet (7.7 m) and bears large, yellow-red fruits. These hard-shelled fruits develop from small, reddish flowers that grow on the tree. One cacao fruit holds as many as 60 seeds (beans).
Ripe cacao seeds are easily identified by shaking the fruit. If the shaking produces a rattling noise, the fruit is ready to be picked. Before extracting the seeds, cacao cultivators cut the fruit open and let the seeds ferment for a period. Fermentation makes the beans easier to separate from the shell. Once the seeds are isolated, they are dried in the sun or in a drying shed. The beans are then ready to processed into various products.
To make cocoa or chocolate, cacao beans are ground into a paste and mixed with sugar and starch. Fat content differentiates the two products; fat is left in chocolate, while mostly extracted from cocoa. Another product made from the cacao bean is cacao butter, or the oil of theobroma, which used in cosmetic products and coatings for pills.
Cochas are oxbow-shaped lakes formed when portions of rivers are cut off and isolated from the main stream. Several cochas are located around the Manu River and provide a nutrient rich habitat for animals and plants to flourish. Otters, black caiman, and fish are among the Amazon animals that live in cochas.
Why Manu is Unique
Only nine-tenths the size of New Jersey, Manu protects a greater number of plant and animal species than any other such South American park (with the exception of remote Madidi in Bolivia). The list includes 1,000 species of birds, more than 200 species of mammals (100 of which are bats), and 15,000 species of flowering plants. These high numbers come from Manu's location on the eastern slopes and foothill forests of the tropical Andes, in the extreme western Amazon basin. The advantage of this location is simple; nutrient-rich soils wash down from the highlands, giving rise to a much higher biodiversity than one finds in more easterly portions of the Amazon watershed. No other protected area offers a visitor so much wild nature in such a relatively small region -- a region covering such a wide altitudinal range.
The National Park
In 1973, the Peruvian government created the Connecticut-sized Manu National Park (3.7 million acres). Then, in 1980, it declared the previously unprotected lower half of the Manu River a "reserved zone." Though much smaller than the park proper, the Reserved Zone contains seven out of the 12 glistening, 200-yard-wide oxbow lakes created by the meandering Manu River.
None of the 2,500 tourists who visited the Manu area in 1997 entered the park, for tourism is prohibited there. Rather, they visited even better wildlife viewing sites in the Reserved Zone and the enormous wilderness area of the Blanco watershed, immediately east of the mouth of the Manu River. Paradoxically, the most scenic lakes and tamest wildlife are not found in the park, but rather, in this latter area. The wildlife is tamer within these areas because there has been no significant hunting for several decades, and there are few or no uncontacted Indians. In contrast, 95% of the park is inhabited by a total of a few thousand recently contacted and, in most cases, out-of-contact (and consequently quite dangerous) Machiguenga Indians. These Indians bowhunt monkeys, tapirs, and other game species, rendering them scarce or skittish.
Though the "reserved zone" status is only temporary under Peruvian law, to date there have been no moves to create a permanent status for the Manu Reserved Zone. Thus, conservationists must be vigilant to protect this region. Since 1980, the "reserved zone" has prohibited hunting, allowing the wildlife populations to recover and to become progressively tamer and more accustomed to tourists.
Wildlife: a draw for tourists
Macaws provide a great incentive for tourism in Manu. While pursuing the ingestion of clay on the riverside clay licks, they congregate in large numbers, providing visitors with a spectacular display of color and sound. The clay licks alone, discovered within the last few decades, are a great boon to Manu's fame.
Also of interest to tourists is the giant otter, the world's only social mustelid. My research has shown that when systematically accustomed to the presence of human observers, giant otters are very viewable from close range for hours each day. The big cats are more prevalent in the Reserve Zone. Manu Wildlife Center reports that over 10% of their guests are able to observe jaguars, a percentage unrivaled elsewhere in the Neotropics.