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A Bolivian Adventure in the far deep, unknown Beni


jeremie

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jeremie

 

I went on an exploratory trip in the Eastern Beni, Bolivia in last October. This is a new project prometed by Nick's Adventures and Conservation Loro Bolivia in a typical farm from the Eastern Beni grasslands. The idea is to replicate successful conservation project from the Pantanal, in order to compensate losses from the jaguar through eco-tourism.

The trip was very short, but I had great sightings and missed this time the jaguar. But Nick scored twice in two trips.

Here is the Facebook webpage of the new San Carlos Wildlife Reserve:

https://www.facebook.com/San-Carlos-Wildlife-Eco-Reserve-145250859563610/

 

Here is my flickr gallery with the best shots taken during this trip:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/40746420@N03/albums/72157689878444816

 

Here is the Facebook webpage of the Conservation Loros Bolivia foundation:

https://www.facebook.com/fclbolivia/

The foundation is working with the blue throated macaw and more recently launched a new project with the hyacinth macaw in the San Matias protected area in Eastern Bolivia. I had a short visit of their breeding center where I saw some captive macaws which chicks should be released in the wild. Unfortunately, I only had sightings of blue and yellow macaws and none blue-throated macaw in the field.

Exploration trip in Eastern Beni.docx

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jeremie

When I heard of a new conservation project in Eastern Beni, I didn’t wait long before organizing a trip with Nick Adventure’s who is currently promoting this fantastic area far deep inside the unknown Beni.

 

The project consists in compensating the losses due to jaguars attacks on wildstock through tourism. This farm is located in a pristine ecosystem with two seasonal rivers called Rio Negro and Rio San Carlos.

Different activities can be done depending on the season: horse riding, 4x4 safaris, walking safaris, boat safaris.

 

Dolphins are very common during the rainy season. Jaguars were seen twice this year on 5 trips. One giant ant-eater was sighted by a worker on the first morning not far from the farm. Tapirs are to be found inside the Rio Negro riverine forest.

 

Main sightings:

-        3 lesser anteaters during night drive.

-        Multiple sightings of six-banded and nine-banded armadillos, mostly at night.

-        Capybaras.

-        Black and spectacled caimans.

-        Agouti.

-        Two venomous pit vipers (Cascabel).

-        1 gray four-eyed opossum.

-        One great potoo.

-        Red and green macaws.

-        Blue and yellow macaws.

-        Chesnut-fronted macaw.

-        Howler monkeys.

-        Squirrel monkeys.

-        Capuchin monkeys.

-        Many grey brocket deers.

-        4 Marsh deers.

-        3 collared peccaries.

 

The highlight of the tour was the sighting of two giant otters, which are the first sighted in the region in the last 25 years!

 

I also visited the breeding center of Fundacion Loros Bolivia in Loreto, one hour South from Trinidad. The project consists in breeding blue-throated macaws from private collection, and release the chicks in the wild. They are still working on the execution plan. I hope some birds will go back to the wild in the next years!

Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the Hacienda Esperanzita, which harbors some breeding pairs of this critically endangered macaw. There is only an estimated 300 birds left in the wild, and about 1000 macaws in captivity.

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jeremie

The owners of the hacienda are Fenelon Roth and Marcela Calvo. Fenelon inherited the farm that was built by his grand father decades ago. Like in Pantanal, cattle ranching is the main economic activity in the Beni region. The Beni ecosystem is typically a savannah made of vast grasslands, riverine forests and forest islands. Most of the landscape is flooded during the rainy season, and very few places remain over the water level in the rainiest years.

 

The farm is a tradicional hacienda with rustic bedrooms and a lovely living / dining room. Blue and yellow macaw love to visit the real and totoi palms just being the living room.

 

Here are some Fenelon's pictures rom the farm located on the bank of the San Carlos river.

 

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During the dry season one can join the farm from bad dirt roads 2 hours South from San Ramon, which are very similar to the road from Aquidauana to Fazenda Barranco Alto or Bahia das Pedras in Southern Pantanal.

During the rainy season, the farm remains isolated and can only be reached by boat from San Ramon. It is about 3 hours boat riding on the Mashupo, Rio Negro and San Carlos rivers to get to the farm.

Another shorter alternative is to use the private airstrip, it cost 500 USD to charter an aircraft from Trinidad the way in, same for the way out at the end of the trip. This is a more confortable way to reach the farm and avoids the 3-5 hours drive between Trinidad to San Ramon. This road reminded me the Transpantaneira, with many ponds along the road where capybaras, caimans, water birds and raptors were almost everywhere.

 

Well, this trip aimed to explore and spot the fantastic wildlife from the Beni grasslands, but the farm also offer very interesting opportunities to discover the cowboys day to day life of the workers of the hacienda. They breed the same species of the cattle that one can find in the Brazilian Pantanal.

 

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Here are more pictures from the farm and the rustic bedroom and the dining room:

 

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I think Fenelon and Marcela plan to upgrade the bedroom the the short to mid term.

What can I say is that food was excelent, Marcela is actually a great cook. She tried to combine western gastronomy with local food (and fresh, organic beaf meat!) from the farm.

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jeremie

I planed to stay at the farm for a short 3-nights stay which would offer me to go for horse riding, game drive, night drives and boat safaris and the San Carlos river.

 

On first day I went on horse riding to the Rio Negro river an hour far from the farm. We quickly find some fresh giant ant-eater tracks nearby to the farm, and some ocelot tracks that seemed a bit older, probably from the day before. After crossing the pampa, we got inside the riverine forest and saw a small colony of curious squirrel monkeys. The guide showed me a very old burrow made by a giant armadillo, a very rare species of armadillo. We then reached the river which was almost dry (it was the end of the dry season) and spotted a pair of red and green macaws.

 

At the way back we crossed the grasslands to reach some wetlands where marsh deers are very common and saw them twice. We also found two dead cows, freshly killed by jaguars... This is the main reason why Marcela and Fenelon started tourism in the farm, they aim to compensate the economic losses due to the jaguar.

 

In the afternoon, we decided to go for horse riding to reach the San Carlos river bridge where one can go by boat. Fenelon was very excited because a couple of giant otters settled there some months ago. We spotted many yacaré caimans, some few rare black caimans, very few capybaras and... the giant otters! They were really shy and the observation was quite distant but I managed to get some few pictures. Along the riverbed fe also found some puma tracks.

 

After dinner, we went on a long night drive which proved to be very productive, with many armadillos and crab eating foxes.

 

On second day, we decided to go for game drive just after sunrise to find mammals in the forest islands. This was a very nice morning, we have a good sighting of collared peccaries, multiple grey brocket deers observations, and armadillos before entering the forest island.

These small islands of forests host most of the wildlife of the ecosystems. They offer perfect breeding areas for red and green macaws, we indeed saw different pairs form very close. We had sightings of capuchin monkeys, agouti, more brocket deers, and a colony of howler monkeys.

At the way back to the farm we found more armadillos and we had a fantastic sighting of a fully grown male marsh deer.

 

In the afternoon, we went back to the river to try to get better pictures of the otters. The river is literally full of life with the caimans and many birds such as hoatzins. It reminds me the Yacuma river in the Northern Beni, and is quite similar to the small Pixaim river in Northern Pantanal. The otters were still there. 

I spoke with Rob Wallace from WCS and he confirmed me that there was giant otters had no be sighted in the area since decades. There strongholds are located far from here, on the Itenez river and inside Noel Kempff National Park, closer to the brazilian borderline.

 

We stayed until sunset and extended the safari for a 3 hours long night drive. This drive was absolutely fantastic. As usual, we spotted half a dozen crab eating foxes, half a dozen gray brocket deers and a dozen of armadillos. The first amazing sighting was a armadillo facing a venomous  cascabel snake. We guess the armadillo got surprised by the cascabel when he tried to enter a small burrow the snake was using. Seconds later, I had to make the choice to follow the armadillo, the cascabel or a... grey four-eyed opossum that appeared in a palm on the other side of the road!

 

We then had a super combo of three lesser anteaters, including a pregnant female. These sightings are by far the best I ever had o this fantastic species by now, I have to say I am very happy with my pictures.

We disturbed a pair of two green and red macaws sleeping in a palm, and I saw my first great potoo. I had already see its smaller cousin, the common potoo, at Yacuma river (northern Beni) in 2013 and in Fazenda Barranco Alto in 2016.

 

Well, this last night drive was a complete success. I forgot to tell we tried to call the jaguar but it was not there. But when we got back to the farm, two workers were waiting for us and said they heard jaguar calls on the other bank of the San Carlos river 15 minutes before. Jaguar are there, but we missed them.

 

On the last morning, I decided to leave early, and only took few pictures of a young marsh deer calf that the workers bred after they found her with a leg broken. She is now much more autonomous and stay most of the day in the pampa, but still go back for her milk every morning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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jeremie
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jeremie

On my very first day in the Beni, I decided to visit the conversation center of Foundation Loro Bolivia, one local Bolivian NGO that works with the critically endangered blue throated macaw.

 

I visited their breeding center, which aims to breed and release some chicks in the wild. They are now working on their executive plan and have just finished a genetic study to analyze the better possibilities.

We also went on the field at Loreto, one small town a hour and a half South to Trinidad, very close to the Hacienda Esperanzita where few pairs are breeding, but only managed to spot 2 pairs of the more common blue and yellow macaw.

 

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jeremie

I am quite sure this is the very first trip report of this place here on safaritalk, I have already uploaded are shorter trip report on mammalwatching.com.

 

I hope some people will not be afraid to visit the lesser known Bolivia. This country is absolutely fantastic, I have already visited 9 times this country (including 5 times the lowlands). It is much cheaper than its neighbors Brazil and Peru, and offers fantastic experiences with wildlife.

 

I strongly recommend to visit Madidi National Park, either at Chalalan Ecolodge or at the more rustic Berraco del Madidi lodge.

Amboro National Park Volcanoe lodge is also a good place to combine with a visit of the Beni or the Santa Cruz region. Nicholas Mcphee from Nick's adventures offers different trips there, some of them are 100% focused on conservation of the jaguar such as San Miguelito or San Carlos trips, where Nicholas try to replicate good models from the Brazilian Pantanal to compensate losses du to the jaguar. I am quite sure San Carlos will work provided it's receive good marketing, and hope this short trip report will help some people who are not afraid to sleep in rustic rooms to give a hand to save the jaguar.

 

The place is really amazing, wildlife is everywhere. If tourism comes, the surrounding farm will probably stop to kill jaguars and to hunt wildlife, animals will get more confident and this place might offer amazing sightings of giant otters, jaguars, and river dolphins, some quite unique isn't it?

 

Bolivia's wildlife is sadly nowadays threatened by a massive development at an industrial scale led by the pro-chines Evo Morales government, unfortunately very little interested in biodiversity and conservation. With the Chinese financing the Bolivian debts, wildlife trafficking skyrockets in the last two years and the first victim appears to be the jaguar, with the Chinese looking for its teeth. Jaguars are now literally killed everywhere in the Bolivian lowlands and it is not sure if they could ever survive this crisis. Tourism might be one solution to this issue.

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Caracal

A fascinating report about a little known area @jeremie accompanied by some beautiful photos. Thank you.

 

I assume the eggs in #3 on the plains belong to a rhea.

 

Great photo of Southern Tamandua (I confess the name Tamandua is a new one for me!) in the first #5 photo but why's he standing?

 

Intrigued by the lovely colouring of the armadillo in #6 and can I assume that's a crab eating fox in #6? (another new one for me!).

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Thanks very much for alerting us to this unique place. Most of us make a quick trip to Salar de Uyuni from Chile and say that we have been to Bolivia. 

I couldn't agree more with your statement about Chinese economic influence and the disastrous effect on local wildlife. A very commendable conservation effort indeed in this tough situation. 

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Kitsafari

@jeremie what a wonderful TR about a less known but no less worthy of support area in Bolivia. astounding pictures of the anteater and that armadillo, as well as the pretty deer and birds. I do wish I live close to South America, else we would make a quick short trip to the ranch to support a worthy cause. i echo your sentiments on china's investments and the impact on wildlife and eco-systems. :(

 

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Thanks, @jeremie for this report, and for mentioning yet another highlight of Bolivia. Luckily the dry season (winter) is between May and October ... prime time for us to do longer trips.

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jeremie

Just upload more pictures form Fenelon, a fantastic sighting of a giant anteater in the pampa 500 meters away from the farm (on my first morning at San Carlos a worker reported a quick sighting in the same area).

 

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Alexander33

@jeremie

 

Thanks so much for posting this report. It serves as a reminder that there is so much more opportunity in South America for protection of what still are vast tracts of relatively undisturbed lands. 

 

You did very well with your nocturnal photos of the tamandua -- a species I still haven't managed to see. Actually, all your photos achieve a degree of excellence, as usual. It's also great to think that the giant river otters could become reestablisbed here.

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Treepol

@jeremiethanks for this TR from the little known Beni region. I do hope that Fenelon and Marcelo are succesful in their new venture as the wldlife sightings that you enjoyed were certainly very high quality with a diverse range of animals.

 

Sorry you missed jaguar, however the Tamandua sightings and the armadillo and pit viper interaction are very special. Beni looks a bit like how I imagine the Northern Pantanal looked about 30 years ago.

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