The Sani people face a choice between encouraging ecotourism to their rainforest – one of the world’s most biodiverse – and allowing in the oil companies
Fernando was sitting on his veranda listening to the whoops and whistles of the jungle. Our visit was a surprise, but the old man was soon answering my questions, keen to talk.
“I arrived here in about 1960,” he told me. “A group of us came to start a new life. Hunting was easy. The animals were almost tame. We just used a blowpipe, no guns.”
I looked at him. No one knew for sure how old Fernando was – probably about 80 – but he was the oldest person in this 370 sq km of Ecuadorian jungle that’s home to the Sani community. He had seen the virgin wilderness subject to a lot of change: ecotourism arrived in the early 2000s, following less benign incomers in the shape of oil companies.
“They came a few years after I did, scaring the animals away. At least in our area we chose tourism. We kept our jungle, and our community spirit.”
We were on Ecuador’s Napo river, which runs east from the Andes and flows into the Amazon in Peru. The vast rainforest region it flows through is one of the most biodiverse in the world, and is being fought over by two great economic powers of modern life: petroleum and tourism. Only that morning the talk in the main village, an hour downstream, was of an upcoming meeting to discuss the future of the Sani Lodge. That gorgeous little cluster of cabins in a clearing by a lake was the only reason the community had refused the oil company’s offer. But Petroamazonas had come back a year ago with a new offer. The pressure was growing…
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