MADRE DE DIOS
CINCIA’s research focuses on the Madre de Dios river basin located in the southern Peruvian Amazon. Mainly located in the Peruvian department of Madre de Dios, it has six districts: Camanti-Quincemil, Huepetuhe, Madre de Dios, Inambari, Labyrinth, and Tambopata. These districts represent a wide range of elevations, climates, soils, and forest types.
Madre de Dios Overview
Madre de Dios, located in southeast Peru, covers an area of 111,933 km2 and comprises three regional governments. The region has a strong altitudinal gradient that exceeds 4,000m in the Andes and descends to 150m at the mouth of the Heath River at the Peru-Bolivia border.
Madre de Dios is among the most biodiverse regions in the Amazon. This area of the Andean Piedmont is a land of strong contrasts, combining large areas of conservation undergoing deforestation and devastation primarily from illegal gold mining.
The Madre de Dios rainforest is home to the less affected and eroded areas of the Peruvian Amazon. It is not surprising that there are emblematic natural areas such as the Manu National Park, a biosphere reserve recognized by UNESCO that is home to some of the last groups of uncontacted indigenous people. On the other hand, extractive activities such as agricultural expansion, logging, and mining have transformed large areas into waste lands. This region, around the Tahuamanu, Las Piedras, and Heath rivers, is largely unexplored. They present rich research opportunities.
Until the late nineteenth century, human settlements in Madre de Dios were native. Neither the Incan Empire nor colonial or republican Peru were able to establish effectively in the region. At the time, Puerto Maldonado was a jungle area that was inaccessible and disconnected from the metropolis and was influenced by its Bolivian and Brazilian neighbors more than by Lima. During the rubber boom at the beginning of the twentieth century, the borders were defined, and Peruvian interests became entrenched in the territory, following several clashes with Bolivian settlers.
It was also this time that transformed the demographic landscape, relocating the native peoples of the region; Ese-eja, Yine, Matsigenka, and Harakbut, who were losing importance in favor of settlers from the sierra, Brazil, Bolivia and even natives brought from other jungles of Peru. The Dominican missionaries also accelerated contact and diffusion of the original settlers as well as a wave of Japanese immigrants that came to harvest sugarcane.
In the 1940’s, the main route of entry from Cusco through the Marcapata valley was developed and served as the main communication artery that brought development, emigration, and extractive activities. However, it was not until 2010 that the paving of this road – the Southern Interoceanic Road – occured and guaranteed permanent supply from the rest of the country.
This mining sector absorbs a great amount of the population, accounts for about half of the Department’s Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2015, and ranks third in Peru’s gold production. This sector could represent a great opportunity for development, unfortunately this is not reflected in the quality of life of its population.
The trade and service sectors in Madre de Dios are largely encouraged to supply the mining sector. Despite its extensive territory, the agricultural sector was ranked third in the departmental GVA and is characterized by the intensive use of labor and traditional technology. The creation of food such as the Amazonian chestnut, beverages, and lumber are among the main economic activities. The transport sectors and public administrations have a similar importance in terms of annual percentage of GVA.
The department presents a wide variety of scenic attractions, including the Tambopata National Reserve, the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, and the Manu National Park, the latter declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Only R. N. Tambopata received 45,400 visitors in 2015, making it the most visited tourist attraction in the country after the ruins of Machu Picchu. This is an important incentive for tourism, garnishing 370,500 people in 2015 and recording an average annual growth of 8.9% in the last 10 years.
Camanti - Quincemil
Located on the border of Cusco and Madre de Dios, Camanti represents the highest level (650-1200 meters) of gold mining in the Amazon basin of Madre de Dios. All together, this district covers an area of 336,166 hectares.
The history of gold mining in Camanti dates back to the Incas and has been recorded by different historians as the center of gold mining operations at the time. This district borders the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in the south, and includes several mining concessions, as well as native and rural communities where gold is extracted with heavy machinery.
The vegetation in this region varies from montane forests to humid tropical rainforests, with a high annual precipitation of at least 8,000 mm.
Huepetuhe is located in Madre de Dios and covers an area of 152,329 hectares. Huepethue is the most severely degraded region in the Amazon basin due to gold mining.
It has been estimated that at the peak of gold production in 1998, 2 percent of the world’s annual gold output may have come from Huepethue. In 2016, open-pit mining operations covered 14,337 hectares. This district also borders the native community of Barranco Chico, which reside in the southeast of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve.
The original vegetation corresponds to humid montane low tropical forest.
Inambari is located at 305 meters and has an annual rainfall of 2,500 mm. It’s main city, Mazuco, is an important point for trading gold and supplying the necessary supplies for the mining activities in the region.
The district covers an area of 484,653 hectares and also includes the area known as “La Pampa” which has become an epicenter of illegal gold mining. Mining operations in 2016 covered an area of 15,339 hectares and were carried out with suction pumps and heavy machinery.
Laberinto has an area of 267,642 hectares. Laberinto is an important port on the Madre de Dios River that serves as the base of operation for many mining communities in the surrounding area. This base thrives due to its ability to sell and purchase gold mining supplies and the sheer number of nearby shops that purchase gold.
Gold mining operations cover an area of 3,372 hectares. These operations are carried out almost exclusively with suction pumps along the channel and mainland forests of the Madre de Dios River. Laberinto was the first place in Madre de Dios where gold mining took place beginning in the 1950s-1960s.
Madre de Dios
Madre de Dios covers an area of 784,582 hectares. The district of Madre de Dios is one of the largest in the region. Its main city, Boca Colorado, is an important port with access to the Los Amigos River downstream and the Manu River upstream. Additionally, it serves as a point of resupply for important mining areas, such as Delta, which borders several native communities and the eastern boundary of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve.
In 2016, mining operations covered an area of 12,445 hectares. Mining operations include a mixture of river dredgers, suction pumps, and heavy machinery.
Tambopata covers an area of 2,069.362 hectares and is the largest district of the Madre de Dios region and is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Tambopata includes protected areas such as the Tambopata National Reserve and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. More than 700 species of birds, 1,200 species of butterflies, 90 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, and an innumerable species of insects live in the region.
In the areas closest to Puerto Maldonado, the extraction of gold is carried out with suction pumps along the Madre de Dios River. These activities also take place in the native communities of Tres Islas and San Jacinto.
All together, mining operations covered an area of 1,766 hectares in 2016.