The rangers walk for hours, leaving behind deep pools of stagnant water tinged black. It is near noon and the sun filters through the tufts of green leaves in the treetops. No one says a word; only their footsteps can be heard on the wet leaves and the insistent whistling of a screaming screaming piha and a symphony of insects. Yury Cáceres, the ranger in the lead, makes a hand signal and asks them to stop in their tracks. He glances around the leafy landscape looking for traces of poachers: a bucket, a gas tank, or any sign that they have been there. They detect no traces of chainsaws, but a few kilometers further on, the team of three rangers finds a makeshift and apparently abandoned den. A pair of pants and a white T-shirt hang from a rope next to a worn mattress surrounded by plastic bottles and sacks containing charcoal.
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The forests of the Las Piedras district in the southwestern part of the Amazon basin, Peru's border with Brazil and Bolivia, are home to thousands of species—including the harpy eagle, howler monkey and jaguar—but the loggers are here for other grandiose jungle treasures. "Now that there's no mahogany or cedar they come for the shihuahuacos, the giants of the forest and the ones that bring in the most money," says Cáceres. A man armed with a chainsaw can take down a thousand-year-old tree in a couple of hours.
After working as an official park ranger in the National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (SERNANP) for almost ten years, Yury Cáceres joined a non-governmental organization that aims to create an uninterrupted conservation area along the Las Piedras river basin. With the support of various international organizations, they acquire land concessions from the Peruvian government or current rights holders and operate them as conservation areas employing local forest rangers to monitor and ensure that no illegal activity occurs in the forests.