Satellite Images of “Rivers of Gold” Raise Awareness of Major Deforestation in the Amazon

Image by International Space Station

An image provided by the International Space Station has been circulating around the internet showing an aerial view of cascading ‘rivers of gold’ in the Peruvian Amazon. These fascinating ‘rivers’ are in fact destructive and toxic pits that form as a result of illegal gold mining activities. Though these pits are a common sight for our GIS team, many media companies and the subsequent public were shocked by this unusual sight, inspiring a wave of recent news articles from around the world.


With the increase in illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon come deforestation, mercury poisoning to community water sources, and social conflicts including prostitution and forced labor. As the demand for gold continues to increase, this illegal practice has expanded farther and farther into sensitive Amazonian ecosystems.


However, we’re keeping an eye on these activities from above, and then use this information to aid authorities working on the ground down below. Satellite imagery company Planet published an article about how we were using data from satellite imagery to crack down on illegal gold mining. “The vastness of the Amazon can be a major challenge to its conservation, but technology, especially satellites, have emerged as an extremely powerful tool,” says Dr. Matt Finer, our Senior Research Specialist and Director of their Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).  “With the latest generation of satellites and related algorithms, we have been able to go from annual to more real-time monitoring. And it is this real-timeness that makes all the difference in linking this technology with effective policy action on the ground to reduce and avoid deforestation.”  


MAAP aims to document the most urgent deforestation cases in near real-time and identify the direct causes of deforestation in the Andean Amazon. In doing so, MAAP is able to better understand larger-scale deforestation patterns, hotspots, and drivers. With this information, MAAP is able to improve policy and conservation action based on this cutting-edge technical information. 


“Publishing this imagery is a new way to show the problem”, Matt Finer told Spanish news giant Agencia Efe. “It allows more people on a global scale to see it.”



“Paco” Fish Farms Advance Aquaculture in the Peruvian Amazon

Photo of paco fish farm Amazon ConservationThis February saw the installment of a fish farm that will help generate sustainable livelihoods in the Peruvian Amazon and act as an important food source for local people. Located in the small district of Inambari, Madre de Dios near major conservation areas like the extensive National Tambopata Reserve, this initiative contributes to the development of aquaculture activities by offering low-cost fish feed for the different stages of cultivation of the Piaractus brachypomus fish – commonly known as “Paco” -, as well as other omnivorous Amazonian species. Paco are an important food source for local communities as it has a high protein content. The feed has been put through an ‘extrusion’ method, which means that it has gone through a cooking process that uses high temperatures and pressure for a short period of time.

The idea for this initiative began with a local association of aquaculturists (called Asociación de Acuicultores de Primavera Alta y Primavera Baja) when they saw the need to lower the costs of running sustainable fish farms to make them better alternatives to other forms of livelihoods that may destroy the rainforest. Thanks to financing by Amazon Conservation and the Peruvian government’s National Program for Innovation in Fisheries and Agriculture (PNIPA), this association is now able to feed their paco fish farms at a lower cost, also showing their neighboring communities that conservation and sustainable living can be done.

This is one of the many ways our Alliance is promoting sustainable livelihoods and food security for people who call the Amazon home. 


New Biodiversity Monitoring Projects at Los Amigos Conservation Hub

Camera trap photo of a white lipped peccary by Amazon ConservationResearchers Dr. Andy Whitworth and Dr. Henry Pollock from Osa Conservation began a new research project at our Los Amigos Conservation Hub to assess how many white-lipped peccaries are present in the world’s first conservation concession.  This species has a vulnerable status with the IUCN red list and was recorded to have almost disappeared in this region of Peru for 12 years until we began to see it again at Los Amigos with prior camera trap photography efforts.

The team has already installed 30 camera traps in a grid covering 3.7 square miles (6 square km) to monitor this type of peccary and try to understand how healthy the local population is. This continued effort to learn more about this species will help guide our conservation efforts to keep it from moving closer to extinction.

Not only are we tracking peccaries at Los Amigos, but during the next few months researchers led by our co-founder Dr. Adrian Forsyth,  Dr. Alejandro Lopera-Toro, and scientists from the local University of San Antonio Abad Del Cuzco will be conducting studies on the diversity of beetles in the different types of forests around this Conservation Hub. They will also conduct ecological and behavioral studies around beetle species, helping improve our knowledge of these important supporters of the rainforest’s ecosystems.

We are looking forward to the new discoveries of our researcher friends!


MAAP #133: Deforestation Continues In National Parks Of Colombian Amazon

Base Map. Deforestation 2020-21 in the National Parks of the Colombian Amazon. Data: MAAP.
Base Map. Deforestation 2020-21 in the National Parks of the Colombian Amazon. Data: MAAP.

As we have indicated in previous reports (MAAP #120), there is an “arc of deforestation” in the northwest Colombian Amazon, impacting numerous protected areas and indigenous reserves.

Here, we emphasize that this deforestation currently impacts four National Parks: Tinigua, Macarena, Chiribiquete and La Paya.

In the Base Map, the red circles indicate the areas most impacted by recent deforestation within these parks.

The letters (A-D) indicate the location of the high-resolution satellite images (Planet) below.

While Tinigua and Macarena continue as the most impacted National Parks, below we focus on the new deforestation fronts in Chiribiquete and La Paya.

Specifically, we show the most recent and urgent deforestation, since September 2020 to the present (February 2021).



Chiribiquete National Park

Chiribiquete National Natural Park lost more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) in the last six months, in six different areas of the park (see Base Map above). Much of this deforestation appears to be associated with the conversion of primary forest to illegal cattle pasture. The following satellite images show deforestation in three of these areas (A-C) between September 2020 (left panel) and February 2021 (right panel). *It is important to note that immediately prior to this publication authorities carried out a major intervention to crack down on the illegal activity within the park (see news here).

Image A. Deforestation in Chiribiquete National Park, western sector 1. Reference coordinate: 1.05497 ° N, 74.26465 ° W. Data: Planet, MAAP.
Image A. Deforestation in Chiribiquete National Park, western sector 1. Reference coordinate: 1.05497 ° N, 74.26465 ° W. Data: Planet, MAAP.
Image B. Deforestation in Chiribiquete National Park, western sector 2. Reference coordinate: 1.57990 ° N, 73.78689 ° W. Data: Planet, MAAP.
Image B. Deforestation in Chiribiquete National Park, western sector 2. Reference coordinate: 1.57990 ° N, 73.78689 ° W. Data: Planet, MAAP.
Image C. Deforestation in Chiribiquete National Park, northern sector 1. Reference coordinate: 2.00975, -73.45541. Data: Planet, MAAP.
Image C. Deforestation in Chiribiquete National Park, northern sector 1. Reference coordinate: 2.00975, -73.45541. Data: Planet, MAAP.


La Paya National Park

La Paya National Park lost more than 150 hectares (370 acres) in the last six months, in the northwest sector of the park (see Base Map above).
The following image shows an example of deforestation in this sector of the park between September 2020 (left panel) and January 2021 (right panel).

Image D. Deforestation in La Paya National Park, northern sector. Reference coordinate: 0.39677 ° N, 75.48505 ° W. Data: Planet, MAAP.
Image D. Deforestation in La Paya National Park, northern sector. Reference coordinate: 0.39677 ° N, 75.48505 ° W. Data: Planet, MAAP.

Fire Season

In addition, the fire season has started in the Colombian Amazon. Interestingly, now (February to March) is typically Colombia’s peak deforestation and fire season, in contrast with Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, whose seasons peak between June and October.

The following very high-resolution images (Skyat) reveal the burning of recently deforested areas within Chiribiquete National Park.

Fire inside Chiribuete National Park (February 11, 2021) burning recently deforested areas. Data: Planet (Skysat).
Fire inside Chiribuete National Park (February 11, 2021) burning recently deforested areas. Data: Planet (Skysat).
Zoom of fire inside Chiribuete National Park (February 11, 2021) burning recently deforested areas. Data: Planet (Skysat).
Zoom of fire inside Chiribuete National Park (February 11, 2021) burning recently deforested areas. Data: Planet (Skysat).


We thank R. Botero (FCDS) and G. Palacios for their helpful comments on this report.


Finer M, Mamani N (2021) Deforestation Continues in National Parks of Colombian Amazon. MAAP: 133.


Conservation Goes Virtual During Pandemic

Conservacion Amazonica ACEAA Virtual Conservation TrainingDespite the challenges of not being able to enter conservation areas and regularly meet with the communities that we partner with due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been able to adapt our conservation training programs to be delivered through online.

Recently, our sister organization in Bolivia, Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA, hosted a series of webinars on sustainable forest products. This included a webinar on açaí, a very important fruit that grows in the Amazon Rainforest. Families harvest these berries and sell them at local and regional markets as a key source of income. Because açaí cannot survive in a monoculture environment, that is, it can only grow in wild forests, local communities have the incentive of protecting their forests so that this valuable berry can thrive.

Additionally, from February 9 -11 Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA led a series of workshops on ways to improve how ecological data is used in Bolivia, in partnership with NatureServe and iDiv Biodiv Research. These virtual forums brought together nearly 90 experts from public and private organizations that specialize in the generation of biodiversity data and its applications to  conservation in the country as part of the TAO (Tropical Andes Observatory) Project. 

The groups aimed to find solutions for how biodiversity data is generated, integrated and delivered to decision makers in critical biodiversity points such as the tropical Andes so that they can be taken into consideration when policies are developed around conservation. Results and best practices developed in the workshop are now being compiled and will be distributed to partners in Peru, Ecuador, Spain and Germany for knowledge sharing and implementation in other areas. 


Celebrating our Incredible Women in Science 

Putting science at technology to work for conservation is one of our three core approaches to protecting the Amazon, and our conservation hubs serve as important research centers for scientists from around the world to conduct studies in rainforest environments. But according to data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and environmental conservation has historically been known as a male-dominated field. This #WomenInScience Day, we highlight some of the impressive scientists in our organization that are reinforcing this career path for future young researchers interested in conservation.  


 Ruthmery Pillco, originally from a small village outside of Cuzco, Peru, is the coordinator for the Andean spectacled bear research project at our Wayqecha Biological Station. She is a trilingual speaker of Spanish, English, and Quechua, and has extensive experience as a field biologist, having written an undergraduate thesis on woolly monkeys and working on a master’s one about Andean plants and climate change. When asked why she chose biology as a career, Ruthmery replied that, “From a very young age I have always been curious, and wondered why things are [the way they are] and how to solve problems,” and cites her greatest scientific accomplishment as the propagation of the Costa Rican Pleodendron, which is an extremely rare tree species considered a “living dinosaur”. Only 5 mature trees are known in the world, and the seeds that she was able to plant is helping prevent the species from becoming extinct.  Regarding her Andean spectacled bear research at Wayqecha, she most looks forward to learning more about the ecology of this species and how it will be affected by climate change, telling us that, “Peru and the planet have an incredible biodiversity of plants and animals, many of which are disappearing due to human activity. As people, we have a considerable responsibility to preserve this great legacy, nature, and as a researcher, I want to support this important commitment.”


Over at our sister organization Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA in Bolivia, we highlight researcher Lucero Hernani Lineros, who coordinated with the Amazon University of Pando to conduct research on primates at our Tahumanu Biological Station in Bolivia. Lucero cites this experience as the start of her passion for studying primates, though her inclination towards a career in science began in her childhood. With science, she says, “I was able to follow my curiosity and desire to promote to greater society the vision of unity between humans and nature.” When asked about what she thought was her biggest achievement, she highlights a research project she conducted over a span of two years studying the effect of anthrophony on the behavior and physiology of grey titi (Plecturocebus donacophylus),a project that will be shared in the International Congress of Primatology of IPS – SlaPrim in Ecuador next year.


Lucía Castro, the Science Projects Coordinator at Conservación Amazónica – ACCA in Peru, recalls that since she was little, she was drawn to nature as it piqued her curiosity. “Over time,” she says, “I wanted to work to protect it.” As a Science Projects Coordinator, Lucia is always in contact with researchers, working together to implement technology that assists conservation studies. She also helps with forest conservation initiatives, assuring the local populations in Cusco and Madre de Dios have sustainable livelihoods. When asked about what her goal was, Lucia replies, “My intention is to help make available the scientific information compiled by Conservación Amazónica – ACCA in the tropical Andes, so that together with researchers and scientists from around the world, we can seek solutions to the environmental problems of today and tomorrow.”


Finally, Judith Westveer is our Science Director at Conservación Amazónica – ACCA and currently lives in Madre de Dios, Peru, which is a long way from her home in the Netherlands. Judith helps drive conservation forward by developing the science vision for our three conservation hubs in Peru, and wants to make sure that the Andean Amazon ecosystem is studied so that it can be better protected. Judith was drawn to pursuing a career in science because in addition to being naturally talented in math and biology in school, she believes that “nature is infinitely interesting, especially how all the plants and animals live together and depend on each other.” This, in part, led her to the field of conservation. She tells us, “I witnessed with my own eyes how nature is being destroyed on a large scale. The subjects I studied during my bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD were in sensitive areas that may no longer exist. I feel called to counteract this destruction, by the intrinsic value of nature.” Additionally, Judith feels her greatest scientific accomplishment is not her various publications on wetland restoration during her Ph.D, but the presentations and conversations she had with local communities, provincial working groups, and the Dutch government based on her scientific results. With this, “they understand how the results of my research could lead to action, and thus rivers and streams are now better managed and protected.”


Scientists like these incredible women take on important initiatives to protect forest, research critical conservation topics, and advance our knowledge of the Amazon. We are grateful for all the incredible work they do!