Central Amazon Conservation Complex
The Central Amazon Conservation Complex comprises four nature reserves which together represent the most important ecosystems of the Amazon.
These include várzea and igapó forests, which are seasonally flooded by silty river water, and blackwater rivers, which slowly flow through forested swamps or wetlands. Furthermore, Anavilhanas is the second-largest river archipelago in the world with some 400 islands. The area is also known for its fish such as the giant Arapaima, many plant species, and endemic birds.
Community Perspective: the easiest to reach (but possibly also the least rewarding) of the four components is Anavilhanas, which can be done on a day trip from Manaus. Els covered Mamiraua, João Jaú NP, and Amana Reserve so far is unreviewed.
Map of Central Amazon Conservation ComplexLoad map
The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is a mostly contiguous area of parks and reserves in the northwest of Brazil, approximately in the center of the Amazon biome and the Amazon basin. You can dip your toe in with a one-day tour to Anavilhanas from the state capital of Manaus, but I opted for a more substantial visit to the sublocation ‘Mamirauá Reserve’. Situated over 500km west of Manaus, I first had to fly to Tefé. This is a bustling river port of 60,000 inhabitants with no road access. I was picked up for another 1.5 hours of travel by boat to the Uakari Lodge, where I stayed for 3 nights inside the Reserve.
The OUV of Mamirauá lies mainly in conserving a varzea forest, seasonally flooded by fertile “whitewater” rivers flowing from the Andes region. On our first day, we got to see which effect the floodings have on the local flora and fauna. We visited an island where the difference in water level can be up to 12 meters. The habitat is only suited to animals that can fly, swim or live in trees. You won’t find any tapirs or capybaras here…. Even the ants and termites build their nests high up in the trees instead of on the ground. Jaguars survive also up in the trees, but they are half the size of their cousins elsewhere.
The seasonal rise in water levels has an impact on the local people too. Mamirauá is inhabited by 14 small ribeirinho communities. To cope with the flooding, the people live in houses on stilts. They have floating gardens and floating solar panels to keep these amenities available throughout the year. At one village they told us that they yearly sell or eat almost all of their chickens before the rainy season begins (as the chickens can’t fly or swim). The floodings also deposit a lot of sand, so the beach gets bigger each year and the houses get situated further from the river. The local people use the beach to grow beans and watermelons. They also rescue the eggs of turtles and bring them to the restricted area of Lake Mamirauá after they have hatched.
Mamirauá also is a Fish WHS: its flagship species is the “pirarucu” (Arapaima), the largest freshwater fish in South America. Furthermore, there are two species of river dolphins: pink and grey. And there are 64 species of electric fish, “the strongest known diversity for this group unique in the world”. The dolphins are easy to see on the river between Tefé and the entrance to the Reserve – but hard to photograph as always. The arapaima were jumping up and down all day in front of my cabin at the (floating) lodge. Other guests at the lodge had come for a week of sport fishing and they apparently had a blast.
My main interest however was with the mammal life in the reserve, and I was not disappointed either. We did 2 hikes and 2 boat tours, which gave us sufficient time on the ground/on the water to see all main mammal species except for the very rare ones such as the jaguar. Mamirauá has two species of monkey that cannot be found elsewhere in the world anymore: the black squirrel monkey (similar to the common one, but with black hair on its head) and the intriguing white uakari. The uakari has fully white fur and a bright red face – it doesn’t look like any other monkey, it’s almost like an albino. We were lucky to see one during the boat tour to Lake Mamirauá, in the heart of the reserve. Although the sighting was short, the animal showed its fluffy body well by walking on a leafless branch. And it turned its head to show its red face. On the long walk on day 3, we encountered a group of uakaris in the forest, but there they were harder to see (just a white limb here and there).
Due to the seasonal nature of this site, a visit in May (right at the end of the rainy season when the water level is at its highest) will be totally different from one in November. In the dry season, the caimans and birds thrive on the fish that are then confined to a smaller area. In the wet season, you have a better chance of observing mammals as they have to resort to the trees.
The history of the Mamiraua Reserve and the Uakari Lodge is fascinating as well. The reserve started in 1986 to protect the uakari. Quickly however it became clear that the local people would have no space anymore to fish and cultivate the land to sustain their livelihoods. So the reserve was turned into a mixed-use area, where local people may extract resources on a sustainable basis and ecotourism has its place. It is governed by an elaborate community-based management system. People from the 14 communities work at the lodge and perform patrol duties on the river, and each community yearly receives a share of the income from the lodge to spend on projects. With this approach, they have managed to stop illegal logging and fishing.
A final thought: I wonder why this hasn’t been inscribed on cultural criteria as well. The people have adapted their lifestyle to the seasonal flooding too, as described above. Also, the area is clearly impacted by human use, ever since the rubber boom of the early 1900s attracted significant numbers of people from other parts of Brazil to work here. Brazil’s nomination file also describes its proposal as a cultural landscape, but there seems to have been no follow-up by ICOMOS. I recommend reading ‘Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon’ by John Hemming about the fascinating human history of Brazil’s Amazonia.
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Amazon, heart of the planet, you'd think it's an instant 5 star visit... Not so much. The inscribed areas are rather poor, especially the ecological centers where they feed dolphins as a tourist attraction. To truly enter protected areas you will need to take a boat cruise into Jaú National Park. That means taking a 3h drive from Manaus, then traveling further in for at least a day and finally reach the ranger station.
The cruises are also super tourist driven, so I can't recommend them. Macaw watching, cayman catching, piranha fishing, visit to ruins (read: rubber baron remains, not exactly native) and shopping with a local tribe: Portuguese immigrants, not indigenous at all. To get anything more you will need to find a deep trekking tour instead and while I'm sure the Amazon is great, other places to see them are much better visits.
During carnival this year, unlike most Brazilians, I opted not to party, but, instead, to reach Central Amazon Conservation Complex, the WHS Brazil dedicated to its largest bioma.
First stop is Manaus, a large 2-million people city situated in the heart of Amazon forest. After that, with a rental car one must drive 200 km (paved roads in good condition) to a town called Novo Airão, from where you can easily visit the Anavilhanas National Park (it is no longer an Ecological Station since 2008). Anavilhanas comprises an average of 400 river islands and islets, depending on the dry or wet season. All of them are located within the Rio Negro (Black River), the largest blackwater river in the world and one of the most important tributary rivers of Amazon River.
Truly amazing! Rio Negro has pure and tepid waters, black-tea-like coloured, very good for bathing. If you have luck, one might sight a "boto rosa" (pink freshwater dolphin), one of the symbols of Amazon forest.
From Novo Airão, one can also reach another protected area of the WHS: Jaú National Park. It is the largest national park in Brazil and one of the largest in the world. Jaú has approximately the same size of Belgium.
3 hours in a boat are necessary to reach the park entrance and prior visiting authorisation is required. I opted not to sleep withing the forest - which is what some people do to have more time to visit the NP -, but still, I could have a good idea of this enourmous and virgin slice of the Amazon Forest.
I was truly overwhelmed by this WHS.
Extension of Jaú National Park, to include: the Amana Sustainable Development Reserve, the Demonstration area of the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve and the Anavilhanas Ecological Station
2003 Name change
From "Jaú National Park" to "Central Amazon Conservation Complex"
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