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Mamiraua Reserve

The first part of our trip went to the Mamiraua Reserve. To get here, we first had to fly to Manaus. Here we had one day to overcome before we could fly further to Mamiraua. We decided to make a boat trip on the Amazon, to see the ‘meeting of the waters’, here the Amazon (from the Peruvian border until the Rio Negro the amazon actually is called Rio Solimões) and the Rio Negro meet, the mud-colored Amazon river and the much darker Rio Negro.

These two different streams mix only very slowly, for some kilometers you see a clear separation. The mud-colored Amazon is rich in minerals coming from the Andes flows faster, about 6 km per hour. The Rio Negro is a black river, black rivers are poor in minerals, because they come from earlier geologic areas which are already quite eroded. The Rio Negro comes from the Guyana shield and flows about 4 km per hour. The Amazon is colder, about 4-5º Celsius than the Rio Negro and is therefore much richer in fish with over 2500 different fish species to about 1500 different fish species at the clearer and warmer Rio Negro. After visiting the ‘meeting of the waters’, we visited several smaller branches of the Amazon.
Manaus is situated about 1700 km from the ocean, here the river is nearly 10 km wide, in some areas even broader and the river was just set to increase several meters. In the port of Manaus you even could see dolphins swimming, pink and gray dolphins. Around Manaus you see very little wildlife, but birds and squirrel monkeys, you see already quite quickly when you're just out of Manaus.

Early in the morning we flew two hours westward from Manaus (with a short stopover) to Tefé. We flew quite low, so we could admire the mighty meandering Amazon and its many tributaries. Stunning views, a deep green jungle interrupted by many wide and smaller brown streaks and occasional a black ribbon. Every time you saw the brown and black rivers mix slowly. In Tefé two people of the lodge were waiting for us and with a fast boat we drove in 1,5 hour to the Mamiraua Reserve.

This reserve is a part of the year fully submerged. The water level had already risen about 7 meters and had to go about 5 meters more, occasionally the water even can rise up to 15 meters. Here we had a floating lodge, a small lodge with 5 floating cabins with two rooms each. In March it is low season, so there was just one couple more visiting Mamiraua. Already at 10 AM we went on our first jungle trip.

You see here many birds, many heron species, several even stayed next to our cabin. In the trees along the river many birds of pray, macaws who were passing by, lots of small, colorful birds and the beautiful hoatzin.

The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is also called ‘smelly bird’ because he stinks terribly out of its mouth. This particular bird actually lives on leaves, at the back of his throat he has a large crop, where the plant cells are degraded and digested. Hoatzin droppings smells just like cow dung, therefor the name smelly bird. The hoatzin lives in families, young birds stay up to three years with the family and help to raise the young chicks, from building a nest, the incubation of eggs to guarding the territory. The female lays her eggs in a nest above the water. The chicks can swim quite well and with danger they let themselves fall in to the water below the nest. Juveniles have claws at their wings so they can climb up into trees more easily. Adult hoatzins can not swim and climb and fly poorly. You see them almost always in trees or mangroves near creeks. The Hoatzin hardly needs to drink because 70% of its food plants consists of water. We saw indeed every time several hoatzins together, but we have not smelled them.

Our cabin had a veranda with two hammocks, so between our trips we could relax and listen to all the sounds of the Amazon. Whole concerts of howler monkeys, screaming macaws and many unusual bird sounds. Regularly we saw pink dolphins and caimans passing by.

In the Amazon you’ll find 3 caiman species, the most common one is the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) mostly 3-4 meters long, but sometimes you can see a larger one up to 7 meters. The black caiman is the largest caiman. The Schneider's Smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) can get 2.3 meters and the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) 2.5 meters. At Mamiraua the most caimans are black caimans.

Some of them seem to stay around the lodge and were often relaxing at some trunks or shelves of our floating lodge in the sunlight or sleeping here at night. At our first night we did not take a flashlight with us to dinner, for walking back to our cabin in the dark. We had the last cabin. The cabins are connected by wooden bridges and in front of our cabin Han stepped at something. A huge splash in the water, Han had accidentally stepped at the tail of a caiman about 2 meters long. After this incident we always took our flashlights with us at night. Usually caimans are going away if you come too close, but here we had a cheeky one, which had to be chased away regularly, our guides had to use a paddle to hit him at his head, but this just helped for a little while.

We made several walks, trips by motorboat and canoe trips through to the already flooded forest, this was very impressive to steer by and under the giants of the forest.

 During one of our walks we saw a beautiful, active snake. It looked like an olive whipsnake (Chironius fuscus), only this snake gets 1 meter long and this snake was at least 2.5 m. Between the high roots of a tree, he was actively searching for food. When Han wanted to film the snake, the snake chose the attack, he tried several times to attack Han, although it had all the space to take off, but Han had to move each time backwards. Usually, these snakes just take off. But we could make some nice pictures.

We had chosen this place for the unique white uakari monkey (Cacajao calvus calvus) which you only can find here, but unfortunately we did not see an uakari. But we saw many squirrel monkeys, the common (Saimiri sciureus) and the black-capped (Saimiri boliviensis), howler monkeys and brown capuchin monkeys. 

Squirrel monkeys belong to the most common monkeys in Brazil, you see them at many places. A squirrel monkey can get 26-36 cm long and has a 35 to 42 cm long tail and weighs about 750-1100 grams. You find them in the primary and secondary rain forests of Latin America, along rivers or in mangroves. They are diurnal and arboreal, but sometimes you also see on the ground. They are omnivores, feeding on fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, buds, flowers, gum, insects, spiders and small vertebrates. Squirrel monkeys live in small to very large groups of 10 to more than 300 animals, but usually in groups of 30-40 animals. By living in large groups, these animals are safe from predators. Sometimes they live together with other primate species such as capuchin monkeys and uakaris. These groups are not territorial.

The dry season is the breeding season. Young are usually born from late June to early August, after a gestation period of 152-172 days. A young weighs at birth about 300 grams. Immediately after birth it clings itself on the back of his mother. Males do not care for their young. Females other than the mother, belonging to the same subgroup, will easily carry the young and keep track of when the mother is foraging. Often this is the grandmother of the young, or a female without a young. After one year a young is independent. Females are sexually mature after three years, males after five years. They can age up to 30 years.

The howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) is among the largest monkeys of Brazil and owe their name to the roar choirs they produce around dawn. We did not need to use an alarm clock, every morning the howler monkeys woke us up with their roaring, to be in time for breakfast. A pleasant sound to wake up, much better than the sound of an alarm clock. There are 10 different kinds of howler monkeys in Central and South America, their fur color varies from yellowish brown, reddish brown to black. The Amazon howler is reddish brown in color. They are between 60 and 90 cm long and can weigh up to 10 kg. Their tail is usually as long as the rest of their body. The howler monkey belongs to the prehensile tail monkeys and their tail serves as a fifth arm, which can support his entire weight. Males are generally larger than females. Howler monkeys are diurnal and arboreal, they occur in various forest types up to a height of 2500 m and live mainly from leaves. They also eat fruits, flowers and other plant material. In order to neutralize toxic substances, the howler monkeys eat mineral-rich soil. Since there is little energy in leaves, the howler monkeys have little energy and spend much of the day resting. The howlers cover only small distances and live in small residential areas.

Howler monkeys live in groups of one or more adult males and several adult females. Territories of groups may overlap. The size of the group depends on the amount of food that can be found in area. In nutrient-rich areas howler monkeys can live in groups of more than 30 animals. Howler monkeys are known for their loud, deep roar that males emit. Their roar can be heard from a distance up to three kilometers in dense forest, and up to five kilometers across open water. The males can roar all day, but especially around sunrise and sunset you hear them. Especially in the morning the roar choirs of the males of one group are answered by males of other groups. The roaring serve mainly to indicate other groups where the group is located. Due to announcing their location, groups can avoid each other, thus avoiding territorial battles. Howler monkeys get one young per litter (rarely two) after a gestation period of 180 to 194 days. The young clings tightly to the fur of the mother. Older young sit for a long time on the back of their mother. Both sexes leave the natal group once they are fully grown.

The brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) is named after the monastic order of Capuchins, because their facial drawing resembles the hoods of these monks. There are nine species of capuchin monkeys, and they belong to the broad-nose monkeys. They are closely related to the squirrel monkeys. They are 30-56 cm long, with an equally long tail. Males are larger than females. They also have larger canines. The tip of the tail can serve as a prehensile tail, and can support the whole body weight. They are arboreal and diurnal animals, which prefer the lower parts of trees. You find capuchin monkeys also regularly on the ground looking for food. They eat mostly ripe fruits, berries and insects, but can supplement their diets with all sorts of foods, such as flowers, seeds, roots, buds, shoots, bark, snails, spiders, eggs and young birds. Capuchin monkeys that live on the coast, eat also oysters and crabs. Some capuchins use hard objects to break open nuts.

Capuchin monkeys are less picky about their habitat than most other monkeys, you can find them in dry forest, in rainforests, in mangroves, marshes, river forests, gallery forests and in tree savannas. Capuchin monkeys can occur into two kind of groups: small harems of one male and one to three females, or in larger groups of 7 to 20 animals, including several males. One male is the dominant male and mates with the females in the group. The latter form is mostly found in areas with high population densities. Capuchin monkeys can be very aggressive to animals of another group. Sometimes capuchin monkeys occur in mixed groups with squirrel monkeys. After a gestation period of 150 days one (exceptional two) young is born. Capuchin monkeys are rather slow in propagating, usually every two years. Females usually have their first young when 5-6 years old. Capuchin monkeys can get pretty old compared to other mammals of similar size, they can age up to 40 years.

We also saw many sloths. The three-toed sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) is found in the northern Amazon rainforest. Unlike other mammals, the three-toed sloth has 9 cervical vertebrae. He can turn his head over 180 degrees. The three-toed sloth is about 50 cm long. He spends the most of his life in trees, slow cruising or hanging at a branch with his belly up and back downwards. Therefore his claws are very strong and curved. He is also a good swimmer, who can cross wide rivers with strong currents.

Sloths are mainly nocturnal, during the day they rest between two thick branches. They mainly live on leaves, supplemented with soft fruit. Leaves are difficult to digest. Because of their slow lifestyle sloths waste little energy. To get as much as possible energy from the leaves, sloths have a slow metabolism. The three-toed sloth is a solitary animal. Only during the mating season you can see some animals together. They call to each other with a high and shrill 'ai-ai', a whistling sound which they produce with their nostrils. Mothers and young keep in touch this way as well. You also can hear this sound when they try to defend their territory. The mating season is in the rainy season from July to September. After a gestation period of 170 one young is born, it clings directly on the belly of the mother. The lactation period lasts four weeks, but the young stays at least five months at the belly of the mother.

We could also admire several turtles. During the dry season some sand banks are completely crowded with turtles, but now with the rising water they are harder to spot. The Podocnemis expansa, the giant Amazonian turtle grows up to 80-90 cm (females) and weighs about 45 kilos. Males remain much smaller, around 40-50 cm. This turtle belongs to the suborder Pleurodira (neck turtles), they cannot retract their necks completely into their shell, but hide their neck aside their body under their shell.

The Podocnemis unifilis, the yellow-spotted Amazon turtle, mostly found in rivers, lakes and creeks with hardly any current. Females grow up to 50-60 cm, males to 35-45 cm. 
The Podocnemis erythrocephala, the red headed Amazon turtle, is a small turtle, females grow up to 20-30 cm, the males are smaller. The heads of young turtles mostly are bright red (spots), as they grow older, especially among females, the red spots disappear and get more brownish.

Mamiraua is a wonderful sanctuary to relax and enjoy nature, the walks are not difficult, 3-4 hours on flat terrain, only the heat and mosquitoes make it sometimes a little annoying. During boat trips you sit relaxed backwards and you can watch everything slowly passing by.

We had expected to see several tree frogs, but unfortunately we just saw two tiny tree frogs and a big smokey jungle frog, the Leptodactylus pentadactylus, which you find almost everywhere in Central and South America. This frog is one the largest frog species and grows up to 20 cm. Adults eat literally anything that moves and is not too large, including frogs, small mammals, even birds and small ground-dwelling snakes can be eaten and swallowed in one time. This frog does not croak but whistles. During the mating season their whistling drive the local population to despair, because of the very loud and high tones that go on all night. Therefore they are regarded locally as a pest.

We also made some night trips. If you want to catch fish easily, you must sail at night in a boat with engine. If you have a bit of speed one fish after another jumps on board. Some times we even had to put our hands before our faces because several fishes jumped against our bodies. No big fishes, but the most had nice teeth.

The electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) has to breathe air to stay alive. If you're lucky, you can spot this fish gasping air. When they stay quietly at one spot, you can see them every few minutes gasping air. This is an evolutionary adaptation to its habitat, the muddy rivers in the tropical region of South America. The water contains at many places not enough oxygen to live. The electric eel sticks his head above water, to breathe air through his mouth and breathes out again by his mouth or gills. In this way the electric eel gets 80% of its oxygen requirements from the air and the other 20% from the water.
The electric eel has the ability to give electric shocks. He uses this power surges, which can be provoked every 20-50 seconds excited when he is moving, in order to find his way in dark waters. Adults (up to 2 meters in length) can generate voltages to 500 volts (= 500 watt). A grown man can survive one shock, but a number of shocks in a row certainly result into death. This voltage is generated by a stacked load of electric cells, a kind of natural battery. These cells produce each 0.15 V by pumping potassium and sodium ions. An electric eel has thousands of these cells stacked, so 500 V can be applied. Young eels generate about 100 V. An electric eel can grow up to 2.5 meters and weigh 20 kg, but eels of around 1 meters more common to see.

The reserve and the lodge are almost entirely run by local people. Initially it was difficult to protect the reserve, because the rivers are filled up with the popular pirarucu, a delicacy for Brazilians. The pirarucu is the largest freshwater fish in the world and can grow up to 3 meters and can weigh 150 kg. Especially when the water level of the Amazon is low, it is easy to catch this fish. Hundreds and hundreds fishermen from Manaus came all this way to catch pirarucu, despite of the quotas which are stated by the government. The pirarucu was used to occur in plenty, but now it is becoming an endangered fish specie, especially the really big specimens are seen rarely. The fishermen from villages on the outskirts of Mamiraua now have mutually agreed to catch each year only in certain parts of the reserve pirarucu, so the pirarucu can recover in other areas. Fishermen from Manaus are expelled. In this way, the locals are reasonably fitted with the proceeds of the pirarucu and do not need to fear that this revenue will disappear in the near future.

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