When one thinks of Ecuador, what often comes to mind are the stunning Sierra landscapes of the Andes Mountains or the Galapagos Islands and their endemic species made famous by Darwin. What travellers often overlook is Ecuador’s Amazonian region, known as the Oriente, which runs along the east of the country at base of the Andes and borders Colombia and Peru. In north-east part of the Oriente lies the Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno (Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve) which was created in 1979 and is one of Ecuador’s largest reserves, encompasses over six thousand square kilometres of rainforest. The area is populated by Amazonian indigenous tribes including the Kichwa, Cofán, Secoya, Siona and Shuar who were semi-nomadic and lived by fishing, hunting and gathering. Now all have settled in riverside communities, grow crops and receive limited income mostly through eco-tourism activities in the area
Throughout the Amazon region, most protected areas are only accessible by travel along the very wide branches of the Amazon River. What makes the Cuyabeno unique is its landscape of navigable, but narrow rivers which snake their way through the jungle, yet periodically open up into beautiful lagoons. With all the rain that “rainforest” implies and endless volumes of water draining off the Andes, these rivers often flood into the surrounding forest. This allows the dense and impenetrable jungle to become accessible for travel by boat and gives the traveller the ability to spot great numbers of wildlife from the water.
As one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, the reserves boasts more than 165 species of mammals, including 10 species of monkeys, Tapirs, 2 species of deer, Jaguars and Pumas, Manatees, Giant Otter and the famed Pink River Dolphin. With over 580 species of birds and counting, 96 species of amphibians, more than 12,000 species of flora and seemingly countless insect species, make the Cuyabeno an unforgettable place to visit.
Ecuador has a long history of environmental disasters caused by past oil drilling. Texaco (now a part of Chevron) is still in litigation over oil drilling in Ecuador beginning in 1964. Indigenous communities and settlers allege that the documented high rates of cancer and miscarriages that they are suffering are direct results of the intentional dumping of 68 million liters of crude oil into the rainforest. In 2011, an Ecuadorean court ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion for oil contamination caused by Texaco. In addition, oil extraction is still causing problems through toxic waste and spills that have drained into the Cuyabeno basin. Roads built into the jungle by the oil companies, also bring indirect effects such as illegal deforestation and the poaching of wild animals
But oil is Ecuador’s top export, providing one third of its revenue in a country where close to 30% of the people live below the poverty line. Currently the government of Ecuador, headed by newly reelected President Rafael Correa plans to sell off oil development rights in the Pastaza and Morona Santiago provinces located in the southeastern region of the Amazon. The area up for grabs is almost entirely pristine, covers nearly 10,000 acres, and is home to seven indigenous nationalities. Known as 11th Round Oil Auction, it is currently opposed by all at the indigenous groups in the affected region who have long resisted oil drilling on their ancestral lands, fearing that the arrival of extractive industries would damage their water supply and threaten their traditional way of life.
To learn more about the Ecuador Amazon and the efforts being taken to protect the it and the indigenous communities who live there visit Pachamama Alliance and Amazon Watch. Both are NGO's who are currently running campaigns to prevent 11th Round Oil Auction from taking place.