Recently I came across a newspaper story about myself written when I was 15 years old. In it, I say I would like to work to preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect its animals (and help poor people who don't have houses or food, but that's for another story). Well, thanks to Andrew Beath, I've been given the opportunity to protect MILLIONS of acres of virgin rainforest in the Amazon! Other Donuts are involved -- and there is room for more!
(A few pictures accompany this article on the "Worldwide" album page!)
Several of us Donuts, along with an international coalition of rainforest-protection professionals, bought an eco-lodge in the Amazon jungle of eastern Ecuador, 3 years ago. Andrew put this together, in partnership with John Seed, "Grandfather of the Rainforest Protection Movement." We purchased a strategic corridor between the Cuyabeno and Yasuni preserves, on the Rio Napo (downstream from Sandy Ross' BUTTERFLY LODGE, itself a wonderful place to visit and a great contribution to rainforest protection). Our place is called "Pañacocha" which means "Piranha Lakes," and it is a very special place (you can visit the website www.rainforestinfo.org.au/projects/panaprop.htm) There are 2 species of dolphins and 9 species of monkeys; the variety and abundance of wildlife is awe-inspiring! "Uncontacted" tribes of people live nearby, beyond the reach of the roads.
We gathered the first week of June in the Amazon to "vision" the next steps. Some of the donor/investors had never been; this was my third visit to Pañacocha. The coalition is composed of John Seed's Australian Rainforest Information Center, Andrew Beath's Earthways (which is involved in amazing projects all over), the British Rainforest Concern, and Ancient Forests International (Humboldt). We have an Ecuadorean partner, the Center for Investigation of Tropical Forests. It's a pretty impressive group of professionals, and I am proud (yet humble, as always!) to part of this consortium. Harriet C., Marion and Alan H-B, Sam & Mary M., Ron C. and Toby J., as well as other Threshold donors from informal funding, are among the others involved. MG almost joined our expedition this time.
Accompanying us on this adventure was Atossa Soltani, head of Amazon Watch (who just got a grant from Threshold in Santa Barbara) -- she is one of the most amazing people I've ever met. Of Persian extraction, she speaks 14 languages and is "the oil companies' worst nightmare." (At the Rainforest Bash in May in San Francisco, it was announced that pressure by RAN and others -- notably Amazon Watch -- has caused Occidental Petroleum to close down their operation in the territory of the UWA people of Colombia. It was there that 3 activists were murdered, known to Threshold members, a couple of years ago, for their involvement in the issues of justice for the environment and the indigenous people. "Oxy" Petroleum is one of the main culprits in the threats to Pañacocha. Exploration for oil in the Amazon takes a huge toll on the environment, putting roads into previously trackless wild places and causing the destruction and pollution of the fragile eco-systems.) "Oxy" is putting a pipeline across Ecuador through sensitive and pristine areas. Julia Butterfly Hill, famous for "tree-sitting" in an old-growth redwood tree for 2 years, was just arrested and thrown out of Ecuador for witnessing and protesting this pipeline. Oil companies have extracted several billion dollars in oil from the forest, yet put almost nothing back for development and the communities of the forest are among the world's poorest people.
Judith Kimerling was also present for our trip and meetings: she is an attorney who is the world authority on defending the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon from the rapacious oil companies who wreak such havoc on the virgin rainforest. Her book "AMAZON CRUDE" is the definitive text on the topic. Atossa said that she spends so much time in degraded areas that is was a real treat to be experiencing the "WHY" of her work: what we're trying to protect, WHY we're doing this. It seemed like the forest really responded to our visit -- all the animals were out to see us! On one morning river trip alone, several pairs of blue-and-gold macaws flew over, 5 species of monkeys showed themselves, and a huge golden anaconda swam right in front of our canoe. And the dolphins! They were very present for our whole visit. We even got to swim near them early in our stay.
We met in Quito, Ecuador, in time to leave together on 31 May by air from the town of COCA, the nearest place you can come by road or air. The rest of the way is by boat for a full 8-12 hours down the Rio Napo and up a tributary, the Pañayacu ("Piranha Water") River. There is a primitive lodge there presently, which might eventually be augmented with state-of-the-Art bungalows in bamboo designed by Emerald Starr (you can check out his artistry on-line at the Sacred Mountain Sanctuary in Bali, www.sacredmountainbali.com). Some of our most important work on this trip was participation in community meetings with the small village of Pañacocha nearest the protected area. The main points of discussion were how to minimize the impact of the oil companies in the area, while finding ways to make conservation of the forest sustainable, such as eco-tourism. It was agreed during our meetings that community leaders would be taken to degraded areas to witness first hand the destruction caused by oil exploration, and also to successful eco-tourism projects. Harriett C. agreed to fund this.
It was a joy for me to get to spend more time with Harriett. I am convinced that she is truly responsible for preventing World War Three. She founded ISAR, the Institute of Soviet American Relations, hosting Gorbochev in his first visits to the USA, and planed crystals around the Kremlin and the White House. While in the Amazon, she gave a great boost to a new program aimed at stooping the illegal trafficking of wildlife from the jungle. The police are getting involved in confiscating wild animals from poachers who sell them, and prosecuting these people, and setting up a system for rehabilitating the confiscated wildlife and returning creatures to safe places in the wild (like Pañacocha). At one point she had 3 baby monkeys in her hotel room -- and her roommate Rosa had an ocelot! (Rosa runs a program for Andrew in another part of Ecuador to protect spotted cats of all sizes up to Jaguars.) A 10-foot-long boa constrictor was released at Pañacocha during our stay which had been confiscated by the local police in Coca.
Alex Noboa whose family owns the Hotel El Auca in Coca hosted us royally, not charging the 10 activists for their rooms nor most of their food. He had previously been my guest in Hawaii and Asia and returned any kindness I may have shown him in multiples! He is a good friend and brother, and we are grateful for his support of our efforts.
A bigger vision which emerged during our time together in the Amazon is an "International Peace Park" stretching from Pañacocha all the way to the border with Peru, and encompassing forest in Peru and Colombia as well.
After watching Atossa and Thomas of AMAZON WATCH in action, I am thrilled that they got some Threshold money. They are THE BEST! Also, I am proud of our own Jonathan Frieman and Andrew for being on the board of such an excellent endeavor.
We are especially interested in finding people who might want to get involved financially to help take this place to the next stage. A research station and operating eco-lodge is part of the plan, empowering the native communities to withstand pressure from logging and oil interests and colonists to encroach upon this pristine ground. If anyone finds themselves moved, please contact me or Andrew and let's explore getting you along on this adventure.
Love and blessings, for the Earth, Daniel
(*) "Donuts" are members of the Threshold Foundation (www.tides.org), committed to "social-change philanthropy" and personal growth, pooling their money and talents to support projects getting "the most bang for the buck" from the charitable dollar. Threshold as a foundation and the individuals involved have been very supportive of my own work in Cambodia over the years.