Published: April 22, 2020

Protecting One of the Amazon’s Last Free-Flowing Rivers

Alert

“How do we make sure the Putumayo corridor continues to thrive for the next 10,000 years?” asks the Rapid Inventory 31 team.
A river at sunrise or sunset, with the yellow and blue sky reflecting on the water.

The Putumayo is one of the last rivers in the Amazon that’s not regulated by a dam. And as a group of Field scientists experienced firsthand, it’s a corridor that’s full of life, both biological and cultural. 

In November 2019, our rapid inventory team traveled to Colombia and Peru, two of the countries that border the Putumayo River. Their aim was to both document the wildlife that lives there, and also learn how people in the region are working to protect it. Within the vast Putumayo region, the team surveyed sites across an area about the size of Massachusetts. 

 
7 million acres studied
1706 species of plants and animals recorded
12 of the landscape could be protected as a result of this trip
250 people from Peru and Colombia participated in community meetings

A first look at trip highlights 

Scientifically, the Putumayo River corridor is one of the most poorly known places on the planet. That’s where our rapid inventory team, a group of biological and social scientists, comes in. They spent three weeks in the region gathering as much information as possible: talking to people, collecting samples from over 1,000 plants, and snapping photos of hundreds of animals. They shared a few of their initial findings—a rare jaguar caught on candid camera!—and gave us a sense of this collaborative effort. 

 

What’s next for the Putumayo 

Though the Field has conducted 30 previous inventories over the years, the team said this trip was one of the most complex. It was not only the biggest space they’ve been to—nearly seven million acres—but also involved working with dozens of groups. The river is bordered by four countries (Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador), meaning that many people are invested in this area’s future. 

 

People in the region have deep knowledge of their territory and culture. Their use of natural resources is guided by this knowledge rooted in culture, customs, and traditional ecological knowledge.

Carolina Herrera

Rapid Inventory 31 ended on a hopeful note, with a meeting between representatives from indigenous groups, government agencies, religious groups, businesses, and others who live or work in the region. The ultimate goal? To find a way for everyone living in and relying on the Putumayo corridor to work towards the same conservation goals. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this was a major milestone as the Field’s first-ever binational inventory. The team is continuing to work on research that can ultimately contribute to the future protection of this unique landscape.

From bathing in the river to sleeping in hammocks, learn more about how our scientists work and live in the jungle during rapid inventories.