Magazine article Newsweek International

Environment: Promoting the Piranhas

Magazine article Newsweek International

Environment: Promoting the Piranhas

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephan Kueffner

Ecuador develops ecotourism along with its oil.

Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve, located in a remote corner of Ecuador's Amazon territory, is the kind of place the ecosensitive tourist can feel good about staying in. After landing on a nearby airstrip, visitors travel by canoe up the Capahuari River to Kapawi, whose 19 huts are modeled on the traditional thatched-roof homes of the indigenous Achuar, a tribe of rain-forest warriors. Much of its power is generated through solar panels, and nonbiodegradable trash is flown back to Quito. Tourists can try shooting darts through blow guns, or fish for piranhas in the river. Meanwhile, the Achuar hone skills like English that will help them deal with foreign travelers. Ten dollars per visitor goes to the Achuar people, making ecotourism their main source of income.

That's better than the alternative: oil. Kapawi sits in a part of the country known as El Oriente--the East--believed to contain 4.5 billion barrels of oil. Energy companies, led by state-owned Petroecuador, started drilling almost 40 years ago, devastating the environment while failing to supply impoverished locals with jobs. Some communities even sabotaged oil installations to demand work and social services, compelling some oil companies to clean up their acts. But oil development is not the only threat; logging, smuggling and bored soldiers firing idly at the wildlife have further decimated the area. As a result, the Ecuadoran government has pledged to contain the oil companies while working to clean up the region. …

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