The delights and dangers of Sierra del Divisor National Park

Written by Daniel Matthews, Eco-social Justice Director of Alianza Arkana, on his first visit to the National Park ‘Sierra del Divisor’ and the nearby Shipibo community, Nuevo Saposoa.

When Mauricio Babilonia began to pursue her like a ghost that only she could identify in the crowd, she understood that the butterflies had something to do with him. Mauricio Babilonia was always in the audience at the concerts, at the movies, at high mass, and she did not have to see him to know that he was there, because the butterflies were always there. (Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude.)

Yellow butterflies really do exist. But they don’t just follow Mauricio Babilonia. In reality, they follow whoever enters Ucayali in search of Sierra del Divisor National Park. The park is home to more than 300 species of butterfly, the highest number of species of monkey in Peru, numerous waterfalls, springs, flocks of beautiful macaw parrots, river sources which flow down to both the Ucayali river, Peru and the Yurua river, Brasil.

Sierra del Divisor is the only park where you can find the Acre Antbird (Thamnophilus divisorius), named after the neighbouring Brasilian region where a sighting of the bird was registered for the first time in 2004 (although it had previously been spotted in Peru). The park spans some 1,354,485 hectares. One of the main entry points is found at Nuevo Saposoa.

The Park’s beauty is not the only story however; there are also dangers here. Coca farmers, illegal loggers, farmers that appropriate lands that aren’t theirs, in all: lots of different types of predators have their eyes set on the Park. The Environmental Officer Jose Guzman, accompanied by Teolfio Magipo, leader of the Nuevo Saposoa community came across a deforested area. In place of age-old trees they found a coca crop: the very lands of the community had been taken over by farmers.

Flooding at the community of Nuevo Saposoa

The forestry engineer Homer Sandoval told the team at Alianza Arkana and the young people from Santa Clara – they were all at the community of Nuevo Saposoa for a workshop on leadership and personal development – that he had to fight against everyone and everything, including ‘Superman’. (Strangely, this is the name of one of the many illegal loggers.)

Group of young men from the community of Santa Clara at Nuevo Saposoa. For nearly all of them, this trip was the first time they had experienced virgin jungle.

On the other hand, the situation in the nearby Nuevo Saposoa Shipibo community, which borders the park, doesn’t help protect the Park either. Farmers capable of making significant investments carry out large-scale illegal logging. But smaller scale illegal logging also takes place, easily explained by the community members’ lack of money. In essence, there are no jobs. Of course, the most logical solution would be to create them.

The community is asking, for example, for the installation of solar panels so they have electricity. In this way, life in the community would improve – not only would it mean that community members could have access to some of the comforts of this day and age, but also it would mean that they wouldn’t just be limited to the extraction of prime materials. They could instead process them too – instead of logs, they could sell timber, which would be of huge economic benefit.

Electric energy would also allow the community to boost their non-extractive industries, like tourism for example. As the entry point to the Sierra del Divisor park, having a communal shelter where whoever needed accommodation could stay might be interesting. Of course, care would have to be taken to ensure that any influx of tourists didn’t weaken traditional Shipibo culture.

Ultimately then, there is lots of work to be done and, at Alianza Arkana, we have started to accompany the community in this journey, talking about how we can support them in their projects for solar energy and the development of ecotourism, actually better called ‘rural community tourism’. (It sounds better in Spanish – ‘turismo rural comunitario’)

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