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My Mission in Manu National Park

by Jason on October 14, 2012

I would like to share what my mission is in Manu National Park in the Amazon Jungle in Peru and how this mission came to be. Everything I am about to share is just what I experienced while leading the Men’s Adventure Group last month in August 2012 in Manu Park.

My mission is to generate a movement that creates global awareness around CONSERVATION AS A PRIORITY in humanity by giving people an experience of Manu Park through video and other forms of media from our excursions in Manu.

How this came to be. I wanted to see jaguars. I love animals and I never get tired of seeing them. I love encountering new species. On a visit to Peru in the summer of 2003, someone mentioned Manu Park to me. I got home and looked it up. Since that time, I had felt a calling for about 8 years to go back to Manu.

I finally made it to Manu National Park this year by creating a Men’s Adventure Group and bringing three other men along with me on a two-week adventure to experience wildlife. We had the adventure of a lifetime, and we saw hundreds of different species, including jaguars. I also served as a volunteer for 6 weeks with scientific researchers at the Cocha Cashu Biological Station setting up camera traps.

While experiencing the jungle for the first time, I had the feeling that I was on a different planet. I felt like I was on the planet Pandora from the movie, ‘Avatar.’ I couldn’t believe how many new species of plants and animals I was seeing every day. I also was awe-inspired by the sheer quantity of animals I was seeing. I had never experienced anything like this, and I had traveled to 5 continents, 28 countries and spent quite a bit of time in the wilderness in a number of different areas across North America, Thailand and more.

I soon learned why Manu felt so different. First, Manu National Park has some of the highest biodiversity of species in the world. Second, Manu is one of the last places in the world that has been minimally impacted by humans. I didn’t realize how big a deal that was.

The scientific researchers, many of them with Ph.D’s in biology, told me that there are less than a handful of places left in the tropics in the whole world that haven’t been impacted by humans. It took a bit for that information to sink in. What did that mean?

That means that almost everywhere in the world and in the tropics of the world has been impacted, exploited, utilized in some way by humans. And where humans are, animals are not. So even though there are a lot of trees left in the jungle, there are only a few small segments left on the earth that have the entire ecosystem intact, with all of the animals and all of the processes of the jungle interacting together.

And by few, I mean there is one place in Gabon, there is Manu, there is Cordillera Azul in Peru, one place in Bolivia and possibly a few places in either Ecuador or remote areas in Brazil that are completely untouched.

That’s why Manu felt so different. Because it was. Because whenever humans get involved, the remaining wilderness feels sterilized, a step removed from nature.

But Manu is pure. Manu is Mother Nature at her rawest, in all of her glory and splendor. And I experienced being overwhelmed by nature while I was there. The first few weeks were sensory overload. Nature touched me so deeply while I was there.

In the midst of that experience I also got how important CONSERVATION is in our world and much it is NOT a priority in our collective global awareness. Now I am not a tree hugger or about saving the rainforest. The idea of that makes me get a little vomit burp in the back of my throat.

But what I have experienced leaves me crystal clear that we cannot consume every last inch of earth and expect things to be fine on our planet. And I got that humanity is currently on course to consume, exploit, and utilize every last available inch of earth unless something we begin having conservation as a priority on a global level.

I heard Bill Clinton (I’m not a Democrat) speak twice in the last two years, once in Vancouver and once in Taiwan. There was one part of his message that resounded very clear to me both times. Humanity is on a record pace for growth and many third-world countries are progressing like never before. These are great times to be in. But…..our current patterns are NOT SUSTAINABLE. He said it so matter of fact.

And if I hadn’t experienced that I was on another planet in Manu because it is only one of a few remaining places left on the earth in its pure form, as nature intended, I couldn’t have understood what Clinton was talking about.

In addition, once I left Manu, I immediately felt the human impact just downstream and just adjacent to the park boundaries. I saw the illegal logging occurring on private lands of those living in the jungle who are focused on survival. I saw the hunting of animals occurring, which effectively leaves the jungle with few animals bigger than a squirrel.

I learned that a large American oil company had built more than 150 heliports in the Amarakaeri Reserve, adjacent to Manu Park. I learned from the natives that live there that they are stunned by the amount of destruction that has occurred from these heliports in the last 5 years alone.

I also saw the mercury flowing freely in the rivers from the illegal gold mining operations. The bare moonscape that has been created from this mining is large enough to see on satellite. While flying out of Puerto Maldonado, I also witnessed dozens and dozens and dozens of fires from the slash and burn methods of agriculture currently used down there.

Now I want to make it clear that I am not against any one of these things specifically. I am not a crusader against anything. What I am clear about, however, is that what I did not see was conservation as a priority or even in the awareness of the population occupying and utilizing the jungle. And that’s where I KNOW I can make a difference. Because I see the problems, and I see feasible solutions for each one of these problems.

And one more important thing. Uncontacted tribes. Uncontacted tribes? Yes. This was one of the unintended consequences of going to Manu. I left Manu with a much bigger purpose in life that I committed to taking on than I could have ever imagined going in.

So there are close to 100 tribes left in the world that have yet to be contacted by the outside world. Most of these are in the Amazon basin. And a good number of them are in Manu National Park in Peru. While I was there, I learned a LOT about them, specifically the Mashco-Piro tribe.

There is one tribe that is now regularly appearing on the Alto Madre de Dios River, right where we passed by in boat on our trip. In fact, members of this tribe appeared on this river the day that we passed by. A group of tribesmen appeared late morning around 11 am. We got there a few hours later after 2 pm in the afternoon.

Again, I felt like I was on a different planet, like on Star Trek exploring uncontacted worlds in one of the last frontiers known to man. So I gained a deep fascination for these uncontacted tribes.

I also learned that they face many threats and imminent extinction. I learned that a number of other tribes have been completely wiped out in the last twenty years by various threats. In a few cases, illegal loggers have massacred entire tribes so they could freely log the homelands where the tribes previously inhabited. In other cases, other tribes have been wiped out by disease.

These tribes are not immune to our common diseases, so when they come into contact with us, 90% of their population dies very quickly. In one case, an extreme Christian group contacted one of these groups against Brazilian law for proselytization efforts. Shortly thereafter, 90% of the tribe was wiped out from our common diseases.

Now for the solutions. Because there are feasible solutions to each one of these problems. Three ideas: Education. Awareness. Economy.

The natives and peoples living in the jungle are a big cause of the destruction because of slash and burn, hunting, illegal logging, trash disposal and more. And most of this is because of a lack of education or awareness around conservation.

However, there exist some solid organizations that are teaching these groups how to survive without destroying the jungle. They are teaching them sustainable methods of farming. But these groups need more funding and more resources to effectively teach more people in the jungle.

Awareness. Information in the media is HUGE for these larger companies that utilize natural resources. And this can be done through video, documentaries, influential people, social media and more. Information is HUGE. I cannot repeat that enough. Awareness about these issues and what is happening in Manu is critical to the conservation of Manu and the rest of the jungles in the world.

I remember the specific moments in Manu when I KNEW I had to get involved. This moment was during one of the MANY conversations I had with a number of different natives and people living and working in and around Manu Park. I learned from residents, boat drives, workers, lodges that they all had the same message about the uncontacted tribes.

Almost every one of them had seen and experienced the Mashco-Piro tribe multiple times. There had still been no contact, but they repeated similar stories of seeing them on the Alto Madre de Dios River. They talked about how these tribes are completely naked, except for a string they tie around their waist that they tie their penises to. They are big. Their skin is hard.

Many, many of the people and workers in and around Manu also have PICTURES of these tribes. That really shocked me. Because any pictures of these tribes are newsworthy. In the last year, a picture of these tribes came out and it was a major news headline and a big deal.

What is also perplexing about the whole matter is that the Peruvian government’s official position on these tribes are that they don’t exist. The government continues to reaffirm this position. What is also perplexing is that all of the boat drivers, guides and any other workers in Manu are afraid to post any pictures about the uncontacted tribes for fear of retribution and losing their licenses to enter Manu and effectively losing their livelihoods.

What happened in one case is that one of these people posted a picture online of the uncontacted tribes. The same day he received an email from the government saying he had 24 hours to take down the picture or he would lose his license. So none of these pictures or information about these tribes are getting out into the public.

Why is this important? Because these tribes face imminent extinction and need help from the government to remain protected from illegal loggers entering their homelands and also for vaccines and healthcare. The government can make a HUGE difference in the preservation of these people so they don’t go extinct.

And in order for the government to protect these tribes, which has happened in other cases, is through AWARENESS in the media. With the picture that came out earlier this year, for a short time the government did acknowledge the existence of these tribes and reluctantly asked for pictures of these tribes if anyone had them. But that didn’t last long.

What is needed is a greater array of evidence from a number of sources so the evidence is so abundant that the government decides to follow through and protect these tribes. And I have such evidence. I have been gathering photos from a number of different sources in Manu. I now have a number of different pictures of these uncontacted tribes.

Here is one of the pictures of the uncontacted tribes. I have at least 5 different original photos of them.

Here is also a brief video of our recent experience in Manu. The video speaks for itself.

MAG Trailer from Jason Westlake on Vimeo.

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