Saturday, 24 August 2013

Amazing Amazonas 1 - Mammals

We decided to take the opportunity to visit the Amazon region of Colombia, a dream of mine since I was young. We stayed two nights in Leticia, the sizable and only major Colombian town on the River Amazon. Then we traveled to the excellent Yoi Eco-lodge (Yoi Ecotours) on the Amacayacu River just outside the Amacayacu National Park for three nights before returning to Leticia for the last two nights.

After catching a speedy scheduled river launch from Leticia to the Amacayacu Park headquarters we were taken up the small Rio Matamata to see the new home of the Maikuchiga Foundation, a rehabilitation centre for primates and other Amazonian animals.

Although laws are strict in Colombia, there are still major problems with an illegal wildlife trade and widespread and often indiscriminate hunting which is threatening many animal species. The foundation has recently had to relocate its facility but it was well worth a visit to get close up to the residents and understand more about their work. The monkeys present seemed to have been rescued pets - local people are still taking young monkeys to keep in their homes. The resident monkeys were able to come and go into the forest as they pleased, but no-doubt rehabilitation of primates back to the wild is not easy as they are highly social animals.

Many tourists go to the "Isla de los Micos", a river island where a number of monkeys have been "relocated", and, of course they cannot leave. If you're visiting this area, give this Monkey Island a miss and support Maikuchiga instead.

This female Monk Saki (Pithecia monachus)  has a badly injured arm and was very friendly. She was very keen to be scratched, perhaps because of her surprisingly long coat. Her tail was also very fluffy, but not prehensile like some other species. Sadly they are hunted, but there is virtually no meat under all that fur. Their tails are used as dusters which is a terrible waste for such a marvelous animal. Although she was fairly passive, we later on saw other wild Monk Saki in the forest living up to their Spanish name of Flying Monkeys. We were very pleased as Elena could identify them without help from the guide!

Although we didn't manage to see one elsewhere, this Wooley Monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha) made a big impression. Her prehensile tail was really strong and easily supported her weight. She was a little overly aggressive with Elena though, pulling her hair and trying to bite her.

Later on, near the Amacayacu river we got a few glimpses of several  Titi monkeys (Callicebus sp)  and also Black-manted Tamarin (Saguinus nigricollis) and much better views of a large group of Common Squirrel Monkeys (Saimiri sciureus).

Later on, after returning to Leticia, we saw a small family group of three Lucifer Titi (Callicebus lucifer). I don't know why they have that name, but their hands stand out with a yellow colour.

Bats were of course plentiful, but as usual extremely hard to get any idea of which species they might be. Most noticeable were the large numbers heading out very low over the River Amazon at sunset. Our guide pointed out a number of Long-nosed Bats roosting on a tree by the Rio Matamata (I'm not really sure if this is the right species). Colombia has a huge number of bat species and I'd be surprised if there aren't a few more waiting to be discovered.

Dolphins are always great to see, and we had no problems seeing both species present in the Amazon. In the River Amazon itself, opposite Puerto Nariño, the small Tucuxi or Grey River Dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis) stayed a little distant from our boat but did jump clear of the water and show a blue-grey colour with shape similar to bottlenose dolphin. In the same spot several Boto or Pink River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis geoffrensis) came much closer and even passed under the boat blowing bubbles. They were much larger and slower when surfacing. The dorsal fin is very long  and on a few occasions I could see the head and long-neck which makes them look very different. Apparently they favour the main channel of the Amazon during the dry periods (like in August when we visited), but spread-out into the flooded forest during the wet season.

We did a night-walk near the lodge and our guide Ray, an indiginous Ticuna and former hunter with amazing eyesight,  spotted what he called a night-monkey high in the canopy. In the torch-light it moved slowly and looked more like a cat but was actually a Kinkajou (Potos flavus). These are neither monkeys nor cats but related to the Raccoons and the similar-looking Olingos. By co-incidence, just a few days before, a related new species was "discovered" or more accurately announced, the Olinguito  (Bassaricyon neblina) in Colombia.

On another daylight walk in the forest, Elena spotted a "mouse" moving near a fallen trunk across the path. It appears to be a young Anderson's Four-eyed Opossum (Philander andersoni). It was still breathing and moving but seemed to be in a bad-way. Perhaps it was stunned having just fallen from the canopy? Or perhaps it was "playing possum"?

Of course there are many other fantastic mammal species in the Amazon, but hunting and habitat loss has had a big impact and unfortunately many are no longer easy to see.  Overall we saw at least 10 species of mammals (plus all the unidentified bats of course). I was pleasantly surprised and much credit goes to our guide Ray and Yoi Ecotours without whom we'd have seen far less.  

More trip sightings coming soon!


  1. Another top post. I am married to a Colombian but sadly her family's interests and mine don't correspond so they have no information about where to visit.

    The only complaint about your blog is that I wished that it had started 10 years earlier - I would have enjoyed my trips to Colombia more. A great country with sadly very poor quality information about it.

    What sort of budget does one need to visit the Amazon?

  2. Flights were cheap from Bogotá but accommodation was expensive, we paid about $100 per night for a good room in Leticia. Food wasn't much more expensive than other parts of Colombia. All-inclusive jungle lodges/tours are much more expensive but we thought worth it for the experience. There were hostels on the KM's road which were not so costly but not really in the forest.

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