The Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) was founded in 1994 and is administered
as a biological research station and education
center. TBS itself encompasses approximately 650 hectares of tropical rainforest
bordering the Tiputini River which feeds into the Napo River, the largest tributary
to the Amazon. The station is contiguous with the 1.7 million acre Parque Nacional
Yasuni (recently declared a Biosphere Reserve) in the eastern Napo province, and boasts
an astounding 540 species of birds (and counting), 15 species of primates and 5 species
of cats. Ongoing plant inventories in the region report an astonishing 290 species
of trees per hectare, and countless largely unstudied species of ferns, herbs, shrubs,
lianas and epiphytes. The region truly classifies as rainforest, receiving over
3500 mm rain per year.
Much of the beauty of TBS is a direct consequence of its remoteness.
Nonetheless, access is surprisingly easy. Access can be made in one day, by
a 40-minute plane ride from Quito to Coca, and travel by bus and boat the station.
Alternatively, travel to Coca from Quito can be made by bus to incorporate sightseeing,
with travel to the station continuing the following day. There is no road to
the station, and all people and supplies are brought in by boat. The station
maintains communication with Quito via radio and satellite phone, and has 24-hour
emergency radio communication with the nearby oil company production headquarters
which houses the nearest medical facility, less than 2 hours away. Recently
installed satellite communication systems provide the station with reliable internet
access, and voice-over-IP phone options.
Accomodations at the station are among the best I have seen for a comparable field
station. Student and researcher housing , nestled beneath huge tropical trees,
offer beds and bunks with private baths, accomodating over 40 people. The rooms
are clean and spacious, each with shelves, a desk, and modern bathroom fixtures.
Electricity is supplied by a generator from 6:00 to 10:00 pm. Rainwater is filtered,
and supplies most of the stations water needs, though river water is used supplementarily
during the dry season. Besides dormitories, a main building contains a well-equipped
laboratory, lecture room and air- conditioned computer room. Delicious meals
are served in a stately thatched dining hall by the staff cook who can prepare anything
from national dishes to American-style favorites.
Excellent accomodations merely add comfort to the delight and awe one feels walking
the stations many well-maintained low-impact nature trails. Wildlife is prolific
and relatively unafraid. In one day, Joe and I saw 5 species of primates while
walking the trails. Jaguar, puma, and tapir are regularly seen. Weve
also seen harpy eagles, pink river dolphins, scarlet and blue- and-yellow macaws,
capybara, hoatzin and king vultures. Other attractions in and around the station
include natural salt-licks that attract hoards of animals, and a canopy platform and
Countless activities will provide students a unique and varied learning experience
at Tiputini. Native guides are available that have an extensive knowledge of
medicinal plants. Quiet dugout canoe trips into Yasuni National Park offer opportunities
to view elusive wildlife. Climbs to the top of the canopy tower provide a unique
top-down view of the forest and the unique plants and animals that live there.
Students may also visit nearby Haorani settlements, a still largely unacculturated
group that continue to live as hunter-gatherers. Oil development and ongoing
colonization in Yasuni National Park and the profound consequences of complex political,
socioeconomic and ecological changes offer students first-hand exposure to some of
the driving forces behind rainforest destruction. Students can take the opportunity
to reflect on causes, solutions and alternatives.
Many noted scientists have visited or worked at TBS, and students may get an opportunity
to watch these scientists in action, or even help them with fieldwork. Scientists
that have worked at TBS include Terry Erwin, the entomologist famous for his fogging
technique of canopy sampling, Robin Foster, a botanist with the Smithsonian Tropical
Research Institute, and the late Ted Parker, arguably the worlds best birder.
As an active research station in a threatened biodiversity hot-spot that is attracting
top scientists from around the world, and as a center committed to education, TBS
is an ideal location for students to immerse themselves in a real rainforest, and
witness the many facets involved in the struggle to save rainforests.