On The Road: Getting to know colourful creatures in the Ecuadorian Amazon

The exuberance of life in the rainforest is beginning to overwhelm us. Our guide José Macanilla has just pointed out a tiny red Dendrobates frog.

It can afford to be garish because it oozes deadly poison, with which the native Huaorani people coat their blowgun darts when they hunt monkeys. Mischievous troops of 10 different primate species live in the canopy overhead and are much prized by the immense Harpy Eagle. With feet as large as a human hand, it flies by at high speed and wrests its prey from the treetops.

Macaws, toucans and parrots share the Harpy's skies, and myriad other birds greet each dawn with a splendid chorus.

On the ground live herds of peccaries, some 200-strong; capybara, the world's largest rodent; and the great cats – jaguars and pumas. Rivers and lagoons teem with fish, giant otter, pink river-dolphin, anaconda and Black Cayman. A single pond can sustain a greater variety of life than all the rivers of Europe.

We are visiting the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a top-notch research facility surrounded by pristine jungle in the Ecuadorean Amazon. While we explore trails and meet scientists, the Amazon is making headlines. A new study by the World Bank warns that the combined effects of global climate change, deforestation and fires could destroy 65 per cent of the Amazon by 2075, with substantial impacts as soon as 2025. The demise of the Amazon would drive its unique species and peoples to extinction and further accelerate worldwide climatic chaos.

Such tragedy must be averted. Since 2007, the Ecuadorean government has offered to forgo petroleum development in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) block, downstream from the Biodiversity Station and inside Yasuní National Park. This innovative proposal would leave the local jungle intact, keep 846 million barrels of crude underground, avoid the release of 407 million tons of CO2, and set an important precedent. In exchange Ecuador is asking for US$3.5bn, one half of the expected revenues from ITT petroleum.

Tourism also offers hope for the Amazon by providing an economic alternative for people like José, and encouraging authorities to favour conservation over resource extraction.

Footprint Ecuador & Galápagos Handbook (£14.99) is available now

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