Manu is the heart of Peru's Amazon and the world's top biodiversity hotspot, attracting wildlife enthusiasts from across the world for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Five birding journalists – TV producer and writer Stephen Moss, scientist and writer Joanna Wimpenny, writer Kyle Carlsen, and expert birding guides and writers Neil Glenn and Brian Egan – journeyed deep into the heart of Manu National Park with Crees for rare wildlife sightings.
Brian from the Rare Bird Alert, the UK's leading bird news service, described Manu as: “One of the most extraordinary places on the planet”, while Stephen said: “Of all the many trips I have done abroad, our visit to Peru comes right at the top! Great company, amazing locations, spectacular wildlife.”
The tour started with the rich marine life of Lima's coast, then up to the dizzying heights of Cusco in the high Andeas, before plunging down the famous Manu Road through cloud forest, until arriving in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon – Manu National Park, the world's top biodiversity hotspot.
Peru's flamboyant national bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, was a highlight while travelling down the Manu Road; a famous destination for keen birdwatchers as it harbours an impressive diversity of species.
“The Manu Road is revered by birders around the world,” said Brian, “for all those who haven’t been it's a bucket list destination and for those who have, all they talk about is wanting to go back. The excitement comes from not knowing what species you are going to find next; it could be a drop dead gorgeous colourful Tanager or a brown and elusive woodcreeper. It doesn’t matter, it's the thrill in not knowing.”
The birds were undoubtedly showstoppers, but the mammals of Manu didn't disappoint either; watching a playful family of Giant River Otters and comical looking Emperor Tamarins were rare, intimate experiences. Manu is one of the few places in the world where these species can be seen in the wild.
Despite travelling across the world on wildlife watching trips, Manu offered the group of journalists a huge variety of species that they'd never seen before. The catchphrase from the trip was: 'That's another lifer!', as more new species were ticked off the list every day.
“When I travel a lot watching birds and wildlife it is sometimes easy to forget what I have seen where,” said Brian, “but not with Manu National Park. Visiting there and experiencing all it has to offer creates memories that are so vivid I will take them with me forever. It has already become the place I will judge all others against - 'it's good but it's not Manu' is something I suspect I will be saying to myself for many years to come.”
The trip wasn't all about wildlife watching though, as the writers were also keen to learn about the conservation issues impacting Manu rainforest.
Logging, farming and mining are threatening the biodiversity of the Biosphere Reserve, which forms a protective border around the strictly protected National Park.
Poverty and population growth drive people to destroy the rainforest, as there are few job opportunities and parents struggle to provide for their children. To continue protecting Manu, sustainability has to be a realistic choice for impoverished communities.
Despite the challenge, communities are taking action to find sustainable livelihoods, such as agroforestry, that allow them to move away from these environmentally damaging activities.
At the Manu Learning Centre, a research and educational hub run by Crees Foundation, the press group met Peruvian and international researchers to discover how they are conserving the rainforest for rare and threatened wildlife.
Carefully managed and responsible tourism in Manu could be a crucial part in protecting the rainforest long-term.
The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism: a year dedicated to making tourism a global force for good.
The UNWTO states that the travel and tourism industry provides one in 10 jobs globally and accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP. It’s one of the world’s fastest growing industries.
Sustainable tourism in Manu could have a positive impact by helping combat poverty while protecting the environment. If well designed and well managed, the tourism sector can be used as a powerful and transformative force for good: economically, socially and environmentally.
Manu offers unique and rare wildlife watching experiences that can attract and delight tourists from across the world. “I was lucky enough to be shown one of the most extraordinary places on the planet,” said Brian, “super abundant with wildlife and where you can go days and not see another person, a combination that makes it paradise for a birder and wildlife enthusiast.”
By visiting Manu, ecotourists can help support conservation and communities – helping create a thriving rainforest for people and nature. But it has to be done right.