Yasuni National Park
Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest contains some of the planet’s most bio-diverse ecosystems and are home to thousands of indigenous people who have lived there for millennia. Yasuni National Park is Ecuador’s largest national park covering nearly 2.4 million acres (962,000 hectares) of tropical rainforest. Yasuni National Park lies south of the Río Napo, on Ecuador’s northeastern border with Peru. Yasuni National Park is drained by hundreds of lakes, streams, and rivers, including the Yasuni, Tiputini, and Shiripuno, all of which ultimately flow into the Río Napo. Wildlife in the Yasuni National Park, includes the jaguar(Panthera onca), tapir(Tapirus terrestris), capybara(Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), giant river otter(Pteronura brasiliensis), Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), anaconda (Eunectes murinus), over 100 species of bats, 120 additional reptile species, 150 amphibian species, nearly 600 bird species, nearly 400 species of fish and over 100,000 different species of insects. Yasuni National Park is clearly one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. Yasuni National Park also is home to 43 endemic species of vertebrates and 220–720 endemic plant species
Yasuni National Park is only about 250 kilometers from Ecuador’s Capital city Quito. In 1989, Yasuni National Park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Yasuni National Park contains at least three indigenous including the Huaorani, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.
Until 1956, the Huaorani had never had any contact with the outside world. Up until the recent past, Huaorani were able to protect their culture and territorial lands from other indigenous tribes, missionaries, and other settlers. However, over the last 50 years, many of the Huaorani have shifted from a hunting and gathering society to live mostly in permanent forest settlements.
There are still some Huaorani who have rejected all contact with the outside world and continue to move into more isolated areas. For them, the rainforest is their entire world, while outside the rainforest is considered unsafe. The Huaorani have a vast knowledge of the animals and plants of the rainforest, which stems from a total reliance on the forest to provide all of their worldly needs. Historically, the Huaorani are both skilled hunters and feared warriors.
The anaconda and the jaguar are never hunted by the Huaorani because these animals have special significance in the spiritual beliefs of the Huaorani. Snakes are considered an evil force in the Huaorani cosmology, particularly the anaconda, or obe. The Huaorani believe that a giant obe stands in the way of the forest trail that the dead follow to an afterlife with the creator in the sky. Those among the dead who cannot escape the giant obe fail to enter the domain of dead spirits and return to Earth as animals. In general, snakes are a bad omen, and traditionally killing them is considered taboo. In contrast, Huaorani shaman identify with the jaguar spiritually. In the Huaorani belief system, a jaguar shaman is able to become or interact with the jaguar, and during this process the shaman can telepathically travel through time and distance and communicate with other shaman anywhere.
Currently, the Yasuni National Park is at the heart of an international controversy. The Yasuni-ITT Initiative was the Ecuadorian government proposal to refrain indefinitely from exploiting the oil reserves of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field within the Yasuni National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves, or $3.6 billion over 13 years from the international community. At the time, the plan was hailed by environmentalists as a precedent setting decision that would reduce the burden of environmental preservation on the world’s poorer countries. Countries such as Turkey, Chile, Colombia, Georgia, Australia, Spain and Belgium agreed to contribute funds. However, in 2013, Ecuador’s President Correa, through an executive order, liquidated the Yasuni-ITT trust fund formally ending the initiative. Citing poor follow through from the international community as the reason for scrapping the Yasuni-ITT Initiative; President Correa stated “The world has failed us”. President Correa called the world’s richest countries hypocrites who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases while expecting nations like Ecuador to sacrifice economic progress for the environment. This action was meant with an outcry from both the international community and many diverse groups within Ecuador, itself. Oil extraction within the Yasuni National Park could have dire consequences for both the wildlife and the indigenous people living within and around the national park.