The guardians of the Amazon

By Paula Bayarte

Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Sep 23 (EFE).- Mario Yumbato worked in an oil company for 20 years until he decided to return to his nature roots and become a forest ranger in the Peruvian Amazon. 

The 52-year-old, originally from Iquitos, a small port city and the gateway to the jungle villages of the northern Amazon, grew up in the forest. 

Today, he works as a forest ranger for Arbio, a Peruvian non-profit organization that takes care of 916 hectares of Amazon rainforest (2264 acres) in the Las Piedras River basin, Madre de Dios. 

Mario’s profession, which requires him to live in the middle of the jungle, combines ancestral knowledge with specialized monitoring technology to preserve the Amazonian flora and fauna far from civilization.

With a machete in his hand, he walks around the forest naming all kinds of plants, recognizing the sounds of the hundreds of different bird species and magically finding the almost invisible footprints of animals that have set foot in the forest.

Forest ranger Mario Yumbato walking in the Amazon forest holding a machete. EFE/Paolo Aguilar

Mario has inherited most of his knowledge from his childhood, which goes hand in hand with the technological tools he has been provided to safeguard the forest in which he grew up in. 

Mario and his partner Majo Canelón take turns to go once a month to the city of Puerto Maldonado, which is a four-hour journey away, to buy food and hygiene products. 

When one of them leaves, it is not the loneliness or poisonous snakes they are afraid of. 

“We are afraid of being kidnapped or of being killed. We are scared of being assaulted because they know that we are telling the truth or have filed complaints, that is our daily fear,” Majo tells Efe. 

The forest ranger is referring to the illegal gangs mining for gold in the Amazon forest. 

“You never know how these people might react,” she says, adding that they are often armed with weapons. 

“I only had my notes and my camera and they had guns, we had to explain to them that they couldn’t be there,” Majo says, referring to an episode when she met one of these criminal gangs in the middle of the forest. 

Forest rangers  Mario Yumbato and Majo Canelón in Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon. EFE/Paolo Aguilar

But for Yuri Caceres, who has been working as a forest ranger for ten years, the danger is worth it. 

“If there were no rangers, the whole area would be full of illegal activities and the new generations would no longer know of some of the animals,” he tells Efe. 

Yuri admits that he has tried to work in the city several times, but always ends up back in the forest. 

“I’m not much of an office person,” he says. EFE

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