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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

City Wildlife Snapshots: Puerto Maldonado

I'm away for May, accompanying a natural history tour to tropical Queensland.
I don't have time to set up full postings for the time I'll be away, but in the hope
of keeping you, my valued readers, while I'm absent, I'm going to post a few brief
perspectives - snapshots perhaps - of some wildlife I've come across in cities.
I
often leave my camera behind when I go out in towns, so I can think of many possible subjects
for this series that I can't offer you.
In particular I can't offer a posting on an Australian city!
(My home town of Canberra doesn't count, as it's known as the Bush Capital, and it'd be too easy...)

Puerto Maldonado is not a particularly attractive city, though it is in the Amazon basin of south-east Peru and on the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers. But it is a sprawling, dusty (or muddy), aggressively growing frontier town. In the last twenty years it has grown from less than 30,000 people to over 100,000 and it's still expanding rapidly, faster than infrastructure can keep up. It was a logging town but all the readily accessible timber in the immediate vicinity has been cut and last I heard there was only one mill still operating. On the other hand there are reputedly 30,000 small-scale gold miners based there, using mercury to extract the metal, to the great detriment of themselves and the environment. Insidiously too the gas industry has been sniffing around in recent years, as elsewhere in Amazonia, and the government is sympathetic, irrespective of the fact that much the land under exploration is world-class national park, and land supporting indigenous people who don't want to have contact with 'civilisation'. The controversial big bridge across the river at Pto Maldonado, and the associated new Intercontinental Highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, smashing through formerly pristine primary rainforest, are both further causes for concern and facilitators of further growth of the city.
Puerto Maldonado streetscape; this is near the city centre where things are more established,
and in the relative quiet of early morning.
The reason that so many outsiders pour through the airport and waterfront every year however is that Pto Maldonado is the gateway for many tourists to the rivers, parks and lodges of southern Peruvian Amazon basin. And despite all the real problems spelt out above it is still surrounded by rainforest remnants at least, and wildlife is not at all uncommon in the city.

Even the central plaza supports various species, especially before the traffic really gets going.
Curious Ruddy Pigeon Patagioenas subvinace, town centre.
Tropical Pewee Contopus cinereus.Like the Ruddy Pigeon this little monarch flycatcher is widespread but it is always good to see
native birds in the middle of busy cities. It too is at home in the central plaza.
Streaked Flycatcher Myiodynastes maculatus ornamenting a Puerto Maldonado roof line.
Like the pewee it is a member of the huge monarch flycatcher assemblage, a group of the ancient sub-oscine
passerines which elsewhere in the world comprise only a few species, but which dominate in South America.
Palm Tanager Thraupis palmarum.Common and widespread but welcome as a reminder of what was here before the city.
The most remarkable example of wildlife I saw in Puerto Maldonado however was in a tree in the hotel grounds near the river - it was very much a case of 'welcome to Amazonia'!
Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus with the city visible behind.
The species is known to adapt to disturbed habitat, but I never expected to see one somewhere this disturbed.
And the fact that she has a baby (visible on her belly) is a good indicator that she's not alone here!
A closer view of the same animal. This really was a thrill.
So, as with the other cities so far featured in this series, you probably wouldn't even go to Puerto Maldonado as a visitor other than as a means to being somewhere else; but if you do, it's definitely worth keeping your eyes open...

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