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The Search for Anacondas

December 12, 2010

Palm

12.11.2010

Here in Peru there is a special word for palm swamps – aguajales. Dark, brackish water and a high density of native palms characterize these ecosystems. The palm swamps also have a relatively high density of alluvial gold, so they are quickly becoming endangered. Thankfully, there is a beautiful palm swamp about 30 minutes from the station and it is home to three anacondas – one believed to be around 18 feet long.

Yesterday we set off at around 10am in the hopes of encountering one of the legendary snakes. It is best to visit around noon if you want to see the anacondas because they come out of the water in the heat of the day to warm up. We arrived at the swamp to find a submerged boat and spent half an hour bailing it out with a milk jug. A small hole also revealed itself, but we decided to take the risk. With equipment in hand, we set out on the water and began to paddle around. After a few circles of the perimeter we realized that luck was not with us – we would have noticed an 18-foot snake.

Disappointed, I switched lenses and began to explore the landscape of the swamp. The reflections were stunning when the wind calmed down. We saw a group of bats resting on the underside of a palm and a pair of macaws soared overhead.

After an hour on the water, we heard what sounded like a large tree falling down. A few minutes later a loud chorus of clicking came from the side of the swamp and a few grunts echoed in the forest. We pulled up to the dock and stood on the boat platform, trying to glimpse the creatures moving in the forest. As soon as we reached the shore, the smell was more distracting than the sounds. It was like rotting meat in a soup of fermented milk. It permeated the air. I put two and two together and correctly guessed that a group of white-lipped peccaries had moved into the area. Peccaries are large wild boars and the clicking was the sound of their tusks.

We climbed off the boat and I let Gabriel go in front with the machete as we approached the group. Peccaries are known to be highly aggressive, especially when they are in large groups with young. They are often in groups numbering in the hundreds. I guessed that there were about 30 in this particular group, based on what I could see through the brush. I took a few pictures as I crouched and crawled along the boardwalk. One finally made eye contact with me and we stared at each other until it overcame its fear and began to approach. “Tap the machete on the tree,” I told Gabriel. The ringing sound sent the group into a rampage and they tore through the forest like a heard of bulls. “That was more than 30,” was all my quickly beating heart would allow me to say.

Aguajal at noon

Ben Apple and Gabriel Chait in the boat.

White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari). Common name: Huangana

Palm Swamp

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