Another one of Amazon Holidays customers has written about his adventures in the Amazon Rain Forest.
Over to Richard!
Take a look around your local aquatic shop and you will see hundreds of different species of tropical fish in dazzling colours from many parts of the world. You will probably be interested to know what their water requirements are, the size they grow to and whether they will live peacefully in a community set-up. But have you ever stopped to think where these fish come from and how they get from all parts of the globe to your aquarium? Many of the most common species of fish are now bred in captivity and this is a thriving industry mainly centred on Singapore, Malaysia and other countries of the Far East.
However many species are still captured from the wild either because they are difficult to breed in captivity or to ensure a supply of unrelated individuals. South America is probably the source of the largest number of wild caught aquarium species and is home to some of the all time favourite tropical fish such as Neon and Cardinal tetras, Discus and Oscars amongst many others. I was recently fortunate enough to travel to the north of Peru and was able to see at first hand these fishes’ natural habitat and learn more about their journey from rain forest to suburbia.
Accompanying me on the trip was Steve Mcalear from Amazon Holidays. A specialist organiser of escorted holidays to the Amazon, Steve has extensive contacts in the area and was easily able to arrange boat trips and visits to local aquariums. The base for our trip was the city of Iquitos, capital of the northern Peruvian province of Loreto and a two-hour plane flight from the capital city of Lima. Before arriving in Lima we had already “enjoyed” a six-hour flight from Birmingham to New York and a further eight hours to Peru.
Iquitos is known as the gateway to the Amazon rainforest and sits right alongside the river with easy access to the Amazon itself and many large tributaries. As well as the chance to see for myself just how the fish are collected and learn more about their natural environment, it was an opportunity to realise a long standing ambition to visit this vast area of outstanding natural beauty.
First priority was a proper meal, where you can actually identify the food instead of playing guess the ingredients with the airline food. After a good meal and the luxury of sleeping horizontally instead of wedged in a plane seat, we were ready for an early start next morning.
First call was at a local aquarium to inspect the stocks and see if any rare fish were available. This supplier only had a small number of fish at the time we visited but there were still several tanks of Corydoras, tetras, wood cats, and leaf fish amongst others. This was also a chance to get some local info on the best areas to visit and the availability of various species. Next stop was a small aquarium at Santa Clara on the banks of the Nanay River. The shop was just a front room with a few tanks and we looked at samples of fish that were placed in bowls on the front porch for viewing. This sort of tiny business is typical of many of the small aquariums we were to visit, with just two or three family members working together.
Walking out of the shop we strolled the few hundred yards to the banks of the Nanay River for a brief look at one of the regions major rivers. Although the near bank was quite desolate looking with processing of timber underway, the far bank appeared to be unspoilt jungle. Some of the local children were fishing from the bank with line tied to short sticks and had caught a selection of Leporinus and Silver Dollars
From here we travelled to Belen a market town right on the banks of the Amazon. The trip along rutted dirt roads in the local three wheeled taxis is a jolting affair that certainly dispels any lingering jet lag. These “Motokars as they are known locally are by far the most common means of transport and hundreds of them patrol the town and surrounding areas at all hours of the day and night. After several miles of bumping along we reached Belen and set off to visit some of the local traders. The town is an interesting spectacle in its own right, the houses are built on tall stilts or on a floating base of balsa wood to deal with the high water conditions in the rainy season. At this time of year the water level is falling rapidly and reaching the houses entailed a walk along precarious looking walk ways standing 20 or so feet above the muddy floor.
Although the area is undoubtedly poor and the living conditions fairly primitive the local people are unfailingly friendly and we were greeted with warm smiles (, as we were every where on our visit). Each dealer is only a small business with typically a couple of rooms of shallow tanks and stacked plastic bowls each holding two or three species of fish. Among the species we saw were Corydoras trilineatus, ……, Brochis Cats, small Stingrays, Shovel Nose Catfish, and at one dealers half a dozen large electric eels up to around three feet in length. One of the smaller dealers had a stunning Stingray of around 18 inches diameter, its bright orange spots showing clearly even in the dim light.
The larger “Aquariums” consist of a wooden frame around 6 inches deep lined with plastic and aerated by on or two lazily bubbling airstones. No filtration is present but of course water changes are easily performed with water of just the right chemistry straight from the river, no need for dechlorinators or reverse osmosis here!
Moving along the walkways we moved down to the river itself and into a low canoe to visit dealers in the middle of the river. At one small premises perched on a platform above the river there were several large Albino Knife fish that neither of us had seen before. In a selection of shallow aquariums were several small Redtail Cats and more stingrays of various sizes along with several species of corydoras and tetras. In a wooden canoe moored alongside the platform were two impressive looking Panaques of around 12 to 14 inches in length happily swimming in a pool of water in the bottom of the canoe itself.
Over the next fortnight we were able to visit several other aquariums each with a slightly different selection of fish and also to enjoy several boat trips along the Amazon and Nanay. Using a boat means it is easy to travel many miles from the town and experience the majestic beauty of the rainforest at first hand without having to walk through miles of jungle. The other plus point is getting back to town at night and being able to hit the local bars and night life, ideal if like me you want a bit of luxury on your holidays. Of course you can always stay at one of the jungle lodges many miles from civilisation. These are more basic and it is possible to experience the type of conditions normally only seen on adventure programmes featuring men in large hats and even larger machetes.
In addition to the main rivers the whole area is criss-crossed by small streams and ponds many only a few inches deep but the majority containing a large assortment of fish from tetras and Killie fish to various types of cichlids. We were able to travel along the main highway out of Iquitos and stop every half-mile or so to scoop a net along the roadside streams catching a few fish at virtually every location.
The commercial collection of fish starts in a very small way with individual fishermen catching the smaller species in nets and some of the larger specimens by hook and line, some of the species such as Peckoltia catfish are even collected individually by hand. This entails swimming to the bottom and rooting around to locate the fish, not an easy task in several feet of water! The fishermen will transport their catch back to a local aquarium in plastic bowls or maybe even in a pool of water in the bottom of their canoe. The next step in the chain comes from an exporter who will travel around many local aquariums to purchase the fish he needs to make up a shipment. Generally he will have a list of varieties required and will be compiling a shipment a few weeks in advance in order to fulfil his orders. Once the order has been completed the fish are carefully packed into plastic bags and polystyrene boxes and then on to the airport.
The journey from Iquitos to the UK involves a circuitous route via North America or Europe.……as there are no direct flights. Upon arrival safely in the UK the fish are allowed time to settle in the wholesalers’ aquariums and if necessary treated for any parasites they may be carrying before being distributed to shops across the country. All in all the journey from wild to your aquarium will have involved dozens of people in three or four countries with extensive airline flights and hundreds of miles by road.
Of course some people will object to the principle of removing fish from the wild, but the export of ornamental fish constitutes a very small part of the numbers taken from the rivers, with most of the catch being eaten locally. The value of the catch may in fact help to give an incentive to preserve the habitat, which is under constant threat from development. Properly monitored and sustainable collection for the ornamental trade can be a valuable source of income for the local people for a long time to come and of course offers us a rich source of colourful and fascinating fish for the home.
If you want to experience an Amazon rain forest tour for yourself on a fully escorted Amazon trip contact Steve McAlear on + 57 313 872 3207 (Leticia) +44 7921 040889 UK ENGLISH or