The Amazonian forests of Loreto, Peru are situated in the western Amazon basin and harbour some of the greatest mammalian, avian, floral and fish diversity on Earth. Operation Wallacea is joining a series of projects in this area that have been running since 1984 organised by Fund Amazonia and various conservation groups, universities and government agencies. The vision of these projects is to set up long-term biodiversity conservation using a combination of community-based and protected area strategies. The research and conservation activities use an interdisciplinary approach to find a balance between the needs of the indigenous people and the conservation of the animals and plants.
The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Peru spanning over 20,000 km2 of tropical rainforest and is a truly exceptional wilderness area. Situated deep in the rainforests of the western Amazon basin, at the point where the Amazon River begins its long journey to the Atlantic Ocean, the reserve teems with aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. The two major rivers that bind the reserve are the Ucayali and Marañon, and they join to form the Amazon proper right at the point where the reserve begins. The huge floodplains of these majestic rivers have produced the low-lying flooded forests (varzea) of the reserve, much of which is accessible on foot during the dry season surveys. The core areas of the reserve with no exploitation permitted are at the most upstream end. At the downstream end, there are communities of Cocama Indians who are involved in reserve management and managing resources in non-core zone areas sustainably. The Samiria River that runs through the heart of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve has a particularly large population of river dolphins and is the last remaining refuge for the Amazon manatee. Giant river otters are also returning and every year more are sighted in the rivers, lakes and channels. There are 12 species of primates in the reserve, many of which are commonly sighted on the terrestrial and aquatic transects.
The flooded forests (varzea) of the reserve are particularly susceptible to global climate change which appears to be increasing the frequency of extreme flooding events and low water periods. During the height of the annual floods, 92- 94% of the reserve is flooded but this can be as high as 98% in extreme flooding events, confining land based mammals (agouti, deer, peccaries, armadillos) to small areas of land and thereby significantly impacting their population levels. In times of extreme low water, fish populations and their associated predators (dolphins, river birds) are under stress. The data set managed by Fund Amazonia for this reserve, which is based on the annual surveys completed by the Opwall teams and others, is the most extensive in any of the Peruvian reserves and is showing the impact of global climate change on a range of taxa and on the livelihoods of indigenous people. This information is being used to make management decisions for the reserve and policy decisions for conserving the Peruvian Amazon.