A nature festival in Peru welcomes a new kind of mother, infant

Written by Staff Writer

By Laura Benitez-San Bernandino, CNN

On a sunny afternoon last week, thousands of baby orcaara monkeys marched across a misty Peruvian jungle, their collective waves defiantly directed at Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.”

The giant praying mantis did the honors by leading a nervous crowd of hundreds to the fluffy new inhabitants, their silent soundtrack the magnificent chorus of the swarm of more than 100 geckos.

Welcome to Peru’s Amazon, where “Orcaara Sistemi orcaara,” or “The Butterfly People,” welcomes visitors to the flimsy tropical village where adults look like birds, nest and live in huts, and where hardly anyone dares to venture in the rain forest in the south of the country.

But thanks to a project called “Go Be Happy,” these handmade wooden huts are being replaced by the laid-back, bustling multi-chambered apartment complexes where the sea turtles are being released.

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The preschool-age children play in the treetops while their parents leisurely lounge on the grass under a tree canopy, enjoying the natural splendor of the forest.

Manuel Garcia and his wife Sandrine leant against a tree to chat.

“It’s wonderful to see that every afternoon so many people come out here to make the days of this place more pleasant,” said Garcia, a naturalist and wildlife video producer, who works with Peruvian nonprofit ArribaRiver and the National Audubon Society to support the turtle release program.

Mariana Castaneda and Maria Angeles Castaneda with their newborn son, Rene.

“We’ve seen about 1,000 new turtles since we’ve started,” Garcia said.

Run by Peruvian nonprofit organization ArribaRiver and national Audubon, the turtle release program works with the government to ensure that the threatened species has somewhere safe to rest and breed. For as little as $60, or about one-tenth of the cost of a hotel, visitors can stay in the orange colonial huts.

But first the new arrivals are given a high-energy, antibiotic-free contraceptive injection so the babies will not end up as dead hatchlings on the beach.

Of course, visitors are welcome to swaddle the babies in a blanket or rocking chair for privacy, said Manuel Bautista of animal conservation group BolivarRiver, who has been volunteering for about a year.

“But they can’t hold them (properly) — just hang out with them (like) the nests are so big that they don’t need their parents as much,” he said.

‘When they are young, they do an amazing amount of rehabilitation’

For much of the last century, turtles would fall to the sea from the tops of coconut palm trees or swim off and drown. But because of efforts such as the turtle release program and the community. The turtles aren’t meant to be released into the sea again, Bautista said.

“They are rescued, sent to (live free) shelters where they are given food and therapy for the first three months … and by the fourth month (the turtles are) set free back in the sea, because when they are young, they do an amazing amount of rehabilitation,” he said.

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About 11,000 orcaara turtles live in the Peruvian Amazon.

Some go as far as Tahiti and New Zealand as the largest species of sea turtle, while the American sea turtle, well-known for its cozy nests, can feed at sea for months and return to the water every summer.

The Peruvian population number has been roughly 25,000 since the 1960s. Biologists say the release program gives the turtles a place to reproduce and their numbers are growing.

All while there are plenty of other beautiful turtles to look at in the wild in Peru.

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