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Malaria, infections and one incredible Park
In the local Apalaí and Wayana languages, Tumucumaque means “the rock at the top of the mountain,” a place that formed the battleground in a mythical war between the medicine men and the spirits. Today things are quiet again in Tumucumaque, but can they stay that way?
Waterfall in Tumucumaque Mountains National Park, Brazil © Zig Koch

At 38,800 km², Brazil's Tumucumaque Mountains National Park is equivalent in size to Switzerland, and is the world's largest tropical forest national park and the second largest national park overall. Threatened species there include jaguars, macaws and harpy eagles, animals that all require large areas of rainforest for their survival.

WWF was instrumental in facilitating the extensive and sometimes difficult negotiations among federal, state, and local stakeholders that ultimately led to a consensus in favour of establishing the park and administering it in close collaboration.

Now, WWF is helping to carry out biological surveys and is working to ensure that an effective park management plan is adopted. Under the Amazon Region Protected Areas programme, we are providing support to state and national partners for park planning, installation of basic park infrastructure, scientific research, and personnel training.

Claudio Maretti, WWF staff and Programme Director for the Amazon Region Protected Areas (AREAS) programme, talks about his participation in an expedition to the National Park.

How do you assess the results of the expedition?
CM: We have achieved the expected results, including getting the necessary support to obtain knowledge on this important area, and promoting contact between IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) staff and the Wajãpi Indians who live in the area. We have also helped to control gold mining in the park.

Also, we promoted dialogue between local communities, Indians and staff from the Park’s Conservation Unit. We have also documented the expedition and we had the opportunity to increase the visibility of WWF-Brazil's efforts to protect the Amazon, especially through ARPA.

I believe each member of the group was happy with the results, the adventure and the contact with the stunning nature that we help to protect through the creation and the implementation of this very important National Park. Furthermore, it is great to know that the conservation of this park adds to the quality of life, including that of local and indigenous communities.

What is the importance of the expedition to the management of this park, which is almost the size of Switzerland?
CM: The creation of protected areas is the main tool to protect nature – even though it should not be considered the only one.

In the case of the Amazon, when the Conservation Unit is public domain – that is the case of national parks in Brazil – the effect is almost immediate: it helps prevent illegal occupation of state-owned land, the main motor of deforestation.

However, one should not believe that creating the Park is enough, since there are other threats, and the increase of pressure from the surroundings requires an effective implementation. [For Tumucumaque] the area is huge and access through the Jari river (that was the case in this expedition) is very difficult.

We had to cross river rapids, drag the boats by land to avoid waterfalls. We navigated for almost three weeks to get closer to the northern edge of the park [bordering with French Guiana].

Now that we have finished the expedition, we might provide support to the IBAMA team that manages the Park, allowing them to focus the work. They can now consider access by air to bases that would be used to help control land invasion, above all from gold-miners.

There is illegal mining in the area. Have you found any within the Park? What is the environmental impact of this activity on the area?
CM: Once conservation units [e.g. Parks] are created in the area, mining is possibly the main threat. Brazilian mines and miners are widespread in an area that comprises the states of Amapá and Pará, and also in the Guianas. There are still big mines, such as in the Indigenous Territory of Tumucumaque, in northern Pará and in the Southeast and Southwest of the French Guiana.

The impact is usually very negative, since they dig without care in areas close to rivers and streams. They also cause damage to more distant areas by discharging mud and mercury in the water, which has an indirect impact on wildlife and causes diseases.

Luckily, during our flight and visit, we realized that the damage to the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park is smaller than predicted, considering the situation of the region. But anyway, such activity should not exist in a National Park.

There are many water rapids and waterfalls along the Jari river. Would you point out the most challenging stages of the expedition?
CM: We thought that going up the river would be difficult (it had prevented the Park staff to go through that area) and we were well prepared for the expedition. But it was more difficult that predicted.

The logistics was comparable to that of a war, including eight boats and more than 40 people, thousands of litres of fuel, hundreds of kilos of food and difficulties with the flights. There were three fuelling stations and even new engines were necessary to replace broken ones.

Even with three different types of communication equipment – satellite phones, satellite Internet and communication cases provided by Sipam, the Amazon Protection System – communication was not always easy and it was also costly.

At least four people returned from the expedition with medical problems: two with infected wounds on the feet and two with malaria.

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