The Koepckes, who were working at the natural history museum in Lima, the capital of Peru, founded Panguana in a primary forest area untouched by any human impact in order to investigate the ‘Amazonian rainforest’ ecosystem, on which very little was known in the 1960s, and to document its components scientifically.
For their studies they deliberately selected an area of originally merely 2 km² (0.7 sq. miles) within a large region of pristine forest, as they wanted to find out precisely which animals and plants coexist in such limited space and what survival strategies and adaptions to jungle life they have developed. At that time this was truly pioneering work
Two watercolors by Maria Koepcke from the Peruvian rainforest – both bird species also occur at Panguana:
On the left a Capped Heron (Pilherodius pileatus); on the right a White-throated Tinamou (Tinamus guttatus), a relative of the Panguana
Intensive daily observations led to a number of species lists, as well as to lots of data on the biology of various species across the animal kingdom. The coworking couple – at first Maria Koepcke, after her early passing also her husband – also produced numerous drawings and sketches. All this material still serves as the groundwork for further studies today.
A Smoky Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus pentadactylus) Pen-and-ink drawing by H.-W. Koepcke (1972)
A project without end
Initially the Koepckes planned the Panguana project for a period of five years. Soon, however, they realized that it would take the work of several generations of researchers to gain even only a reasonably useful overview of the natural diversity in this green cosmos, much less a comprehensive understanding of life and survival in the rainforest context. Today, Panguana has existed for more than 48 years, and about 170 publications have been issued on its animals and plants. Due to the long series of data collected at Panguana, evaluations can now be made also concerning local transformations caused by the changing climate and the increasing human impact
The Panguana project aims at preserving a unique and fascinating ecosystem.
By now, the scientific results gathered from the area can serve as a model for the protection and investigation of other primary forest lands. Moreover, they may help strengthen the insight that the Amazonian rainforest constitutes an invaluable and unrecoverable treasure – not least for the human species – the sustained survival of which is of critical importance for all.
A combination of long-term pure and basic research, protection of the rainforest, and social projects involving the nearby indigenous communities and their schools has led Panguana to exemplary success. One testimonial to this fact now is the status of a Private Conservation Area formally bestowed on Panguana by the Government of Peru. This important administrative act has brought to the station – still embedded as it is in pristine primary rainforest – official protection from external anthropogenic interference and, thus, a safely guarded future.