Podonecmis unifilis – the scientific name of taricaya turtles – is winning another noteworthy fight: recovering from its near-extinct status in the Nanay River region near Iquitos, in the heart of Peru’s tropical jungle.
They are not mutants and they don’t live in the sewers of New York, they don’t star in films or television series. Yet the task Taricaya turtles is as ambitious and worthwhile as that of a superhero: saving the Amazon.
The mission to save the forest and its flora and fauna was “handed” to these little turtles, as part of a public-private initiative run by several Peruvian public institutions and the Grupo AJE.
Grupo AJE is promoting the reinsertion and recovery of the animal in areas where it has disappeared, thus helping to reestablish the natural ecological balance in the jungle zone.
The turtles are the linchpin of an action plan, the critical juncture for which came this past week in the Nanay River region with the release of about 5,500 baby turtles into the waters there.
The eggs come from the Pacaya Samiria nature preserve, an area where the local residents collected the eggs some weeks ago and – instead of consuming them – provided them to the project to help repopulate the species in the area.
Jorge Lopez-Doriga, the executive director of communications and sustainability for Grupo AJE said that “we’re buying from the communities the results of Pacaya Samiria to raise them and release them in other areas.”
The idea is to convince that the “green gold” – that is, the Amazon’s biodiversity – represented in this case by the turtles, is worth more than “black gold or yellow gold” because of its sustainability.
Key elements of the initiative include selling the turtles to raise them as well as the tourist angle, with people traveling to the area to see them, care for them and release them.
As Jose Alvarez, the director of biological biodiversity with Peru’s Environment Ministry, told EFE that “In the past, the Taricayas abounded in this area, but they were eradicated, and these forests no longer have the elements (needed) for balance."
"It’s the fauna that dispersed the seeds and controlled forestation, while a hole opened up in food security, since the turtle eggs were an essential element of protein for the indigenous populations,” he said.
Among the most serious consequences of their absence is the “socio-economic catastrophe the Indians are suffering, with awful anemia rates and endemic malnutrition,” the biologist said.
With nests containing up to 50 eggs per year, the development of the turtle population will make an important contribution – “greater than tourism” – in the lives of the local residents, in an environment that will benefit from the presence of an animal that will also help to control vegetation and disperse seeds.
“These turtles were a very important source of resources for the societies and they fulfilled essential functions for the ecosystem that they stopped fulfilling. What we want is to give some human help to nature to recover the benefits it provided in the past. Destruction of the fauna is brutal in the accessible zones of the Amazon. This is a start toward recovering something that was working well,” he said.