Copal Resin Ecology Project

COPAL PROJECT RESEARCH UPDATE: SPRING 2009

Natalya Stanko with Bora native artisan
Natalya Stanko with Bora native artisan
 

CACE President Campbell Plowden and Penn State journalism student Natalya Stanko spent six weeks in the Peruvian Amazon in the summer of 2009 to check in on and help develop the Center’s research and community support projects. Based out of the city of Iquitos, the pair visited two indigenous areas along the Ampiyacu and Sucusari Rivers, a mestizo community on the Tahuayo River and research station on the Ucayali River. This summary will focus on highlights of the group’s study of the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal resin and develop a market for copal oil. Natalya’s main role as an Amazon Field Volunteer with the Center was to interview artisans as part of the Center’s efforts to assist traditional communities to market plant-based handicrafts. Read her account of her experiences in “What makes a journalist” and Natalya's Amazon Log. See Amazon Ecology (Part 1): Use and insect ecology of copal resin in the Peruvian Amazon and Amazon Ecology (Part 2): Sustainable harvest and marketing of copal resin in the Peruvian Amazon for video presentations about the Center’s copal project.  

 
Bora natives learning to use GPS
Bora natives from Brillo Nuevo learning to use GPS
 
1. Copal survey and resin distillation at Brillo Nuevo

CACE returned to the Ampiyacu River for the third time to work with the region’s indigenous communities. Plowden and field-savvy agronomist Yully Rojas worked with six veteran Bora woodsmen to conduct a five-day long rapid inventory of copal trees in about 95 hectares of upland forest near the village of Brillo Nuevo. When the team found one of the widely dispersed trees, it measured it, marked its position with a GPS device, and harvested no more than half of the accessible resin lumps (some lumps were too high up to reach). Leaving the other half of the lumps will allow the weevil larvae inside free to grow to maturity, reproduce and create a new generation of offspring that can start new resin lumps. The tentative plan for managing this resource is to only harvest them again in five years if the number of resin lumps has sufficiently recovered. 

Harvesting copal resin with machete on a pole
Harvesting copal resin with machete on a pole
 
Copper alembique distilling copal resin at Brillo Nuevo
Copper alembique distilling copal resin at Brillo Nuevo
 
While Brillo Nuevo community members had made interesting samples of incense and candles with melted copal resin with us earlier in the year, (see Research Update Spring 2009) a meeting with Haley van Oosten, president of the specialty fragrance company L’Oeil du Vert, convinced us that high-quality copal oil could be a more profitable value-added product. This summer, we set up a copper alembique (traditional distillation pot) purchased with a generous discount from the Essential Oil Company. Our team steam distilled four batches of copal resin and produced wonderful smelling golden oil. If these samples show good commercial potential, our next step will be to work with the communities, FECONA (Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu) and the Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC) to develop a management plan to sustainably harvest the resin and equitable arrangement to market the oil. We are also working with these communities to develop and sell new handicraft products to provide income for village artisans.  
Copal oil in separatory funnel at Brillo Nuevo
Copal oil in separatory funnel at Brillo Nuevo
 
Michael Gilmore being painted at Maijuna congress
Michael Gilmore being painted at Maijuna congress
 
2. CACE joins biocultural diversity team with Maijuna communities

CACE board member Michael Gilmore is an ethnobiologist at New Century College, George Mason University who has worked with the Maijuna indigenous people in Peru for over ten years. This summer Michael invited CACE and other applied researchers to join him at the annual congress of the Federacion of Maijuna Native Communities (FECONAMAI) in the village of Sucusari. FECONAMAI enthusiastically endorsed our team’s proposal to work with them to protect their environment, revitalize their culture and create sustainable economic projects. Plowden and Rojas conducted a brief copal survey near the community of Nueva Vida on the Yanayacu River with six Maijuna woodsmen and were encouraged by the abundance and diversity of copal trees and resin in the region. Michael is wrapping up a participatory mapping project with the Maijuna to establish traditional land (and water) use areas – a process that help the group set fair boundaries for a regional conservation area. Linguist Christine Beier and her group Cabeceras will help document the Maijuna language and facilitate its teaching in community schools. Apiculturalist German Perilla will help create bee-keeping enterprises in the villages and the production of commercial quality honey.  

Maijuna native copal survey team at Nueva Vida
Maijuna native copal survey team at Nueva Vida
 
Spider on weevil trap at Jenaro Herrera
Spider on weevil trap on copal tree at Jenaro Herrera
 
3. Update on copal research at Jenaro Herrera

The long-term study of the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal at the Center for Investigation at Jenaro Herrera (operated by the Institute for Investigation of the Peruvian Amazon) is proceeding well. Project field assistants Italo and Melaneo Melendez and field manager Angel Raygada are regularly monitoring the growth of resin lumps on several hundred copal trees and continue the manual resin harvest experiment until the end of the year. Angel will use part of the data from these studies to prepare his undergraduate thesis in the Agronomy department of the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP) in Iquitos. The team was excited to discover that green orchid bees (genus Euglossa) they’d seen collecting copal resin (see Research update 2007) had made a few solitary nests on copal trees themselves. On the cautionary side, the team found that the long-term use of nails to attach wire-mesh traps was harming some small trees. They are now developing more benign ways to capture adult weevils emerging from resin lumps. Finally, we distilled four batches of resin from Jenaro with our alembique in Iquitos. These older batches yielded less oil than the fresh material collected near Brillo Nuevo, but the oil from different species of copal still had distinct and pleasing aromas.  

Euglossa orchid bee nest on copal tree
Euglossa orchid bee nest on copal tree at Jenaro Herrera
 
© Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology