20 for 20: Celebrating Wayqecha, the Only Cloud Forest Research Station in Peru

Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Station part of 20 for 20 Years of Conservation Wins by Amazon ConservationAmazon Conservation’s Wayqecha Research Station and Conservation Hub, the only cloud forest research station in Peru, officially opened its doors in 2006. Located at 2,900 m of elevation in the cloud forest region of Cusco and just 175 km from our Los Amigos Conservation Hub in the Amazonian lowlands, these research sites together provide a full panorama of the biodiversity and climate changes in the Andes-Amazon region.

Wayqecha Research Station protects the cloud forest’s biodiversity and facilitates research that leads to a better understanding of this ecosystem. Cloud forests receive hundreds of inches of rain every year and their trees, mosses and soil work as giant sponges capturing the abundant rainfall and then releasing it slowly into a network of small streams and creeks that represent the smallest tributaries of the vast Amazon drainage.

Cloud forests are of critical conservation value for many reasons, including containing a vast storehouse of species, many of them narrowly endemic, and also serve as natural corridors for plant and animal species pushed uphill by global warming.

Canopy Walkway at Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Station and Conservation HubAdditionally, three years after opening, we added the first-ever canopy walkway in an Amazonian highland cloud forest. The canopy walkway provides access to the upper parts of the forest, which is where a lot of natural activity is, including an amazing diversity of bromeliad, orchids, birds and butterflies. It consists of four aluminum towers connected by a 146-meter-long network of suspension bridges that pass under, through, and above the forest canopy. Another important feature of the canopy walkway is a rigid truss bridge through a small rock canyon that leads to the base of a waterfall passing through an area with a completely distinct climate and Cloud Forest Canopy. Other bridges lead visitors across forested slopes that cover eight distinct eco-zones, providing a view from more than 10,000 feet in elevation down to the Amazon basin.

This is part of a series commemorating our 20th anniversary protecting the Amazon. We’re celebrating this milestone with a look back at our 20 biggest conservation wins over the past 20 years. Click here to support protected areas and research stations around the Amazon.

Wayqecha Comes Alive During the Rainy Season

   During the low tourist season of Wayqecha flowerNovember–January, Wayqecha is a magnificent wonder of flowering plants, curious animals, and diverse birds seldom seen at other times of year. Story by Wayqecha intern Laura Morales.

When I first arrived to work at Wayqecha in July 2009, I was struck by how relatively dry this cloud forest was. The forest itself was green, but the transition between the upper cloud forest and the puna grassland was dry as a bone. In September I kept hearing from my co-workers the promise of rain. Well, we waited … September and October passed and we worried that the rains wouldn’t come. Finally, in November we had abundant rain, and the change in the cloud forest and puna was amazing. Many plants produce their fruit at this time of year in greater abundance than during the austral winter, attracting many animals.Wayqecha rainbow

On my rounds of the trails, forest, and puna, and through the reports of researchers working at the station, I noticed an increase in the presence of animals, sighting them and finding their tracks more often. We sighted a resident fox several times and even saw a long-tailed weasel right at the door of the station. Birds, the most visible of animals at the station and always relatively abundant, seemed to explode with new varieties during this period. There was a noticeable change in the demographic of the hummingbird population.

Aside from the boreal migrants that come at this time of year, many more local birds come to feed on the newly abundant fruits, shoots, and insects. Of insects, butterflies in particular appear in new shapes and colors – for example, the spectacular Morpho sulkowskyi makes its first appearance. Of course the butterflies are preceded by an abundance of caterpillars, some so large and Wayqecha shrubfull of bristles as to strike fear into the heart of the most experienced biologist lest he put his hand on one accidentally. And of course the myriad orchids in Wayqecha begin to bloom more abundantly at this time of year.

Everything seems to take on new life with the change in seasons and coming of the rains. Unfortunately this change and contrast is something that few visitors and researchers at the station get to experience. In contrast to the animals, most people flock here during the dry season of May through August. However, the few researchers who do brave the constant drizzle, cloudy weather, risk of landslides and falls along slippery trails, are rewarded by witnessing this greening of Wayqecha.

(Photos by Trond Larsen)

Keeping Students’ Heads in the Clouds

Students at WayqechaACA has been working hard to ensure that students living near Manu National Park learn how to protect the majestic cloud forest in their back yard. The cloud forests where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands constitute one of the world’s greatest conservation priorities, and with the support of the Sea World & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, we’re doing our best to protect this area.

Through this project, we have created an interpretive trail at our Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Center and have already organized 6 school field trips for 124 students to the Research Center. Since demand is so high for these field trips, ACA organized a drawing competition on the theme of “Protecting and valuing our natural and cultural environment.”

Student Art at WayqechaOver 300 students submitted drawings and the winning classrooms from each school will be participating in the first field trips to Wayqecha in 2009.

In addition, ACA has led two workshops about how to include environmental themes in the school curriculumfor 97 teachers from Paucartambo and Kcosñipata. Many of these teachers have now committed to lead an environmental service project with their students. We are seeking support to expand this program in 2009, so please consider us in your end-of-year giving!

Drawing: One of the winning submissions by student Max Raúl Cuentas Apaza of Challabamba. Visit our photo gallery to see more submissions.

Wayqechas Research Station Begins Construction!

Wayqechas Research Station Begins ConstructionAs ACA’s premier Amazonian biodiversity research station, CICRA, continues to grow, ACA’s new Wayqechas (why-key-chas) Cloud Forest Research Station is under construction at full speed. Jorge Herrera, who successfully administered CICRA in previous years, is now taking the reins as the new administrator at Wayqechas. He plans to have the first three cabins available this April 2006. Three teams are working busily on the cabins, competing among themselves to deliver the best product. The station will receive its first visitors in April.

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