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Story Publication logo April 7, 2022

Shihuahuaco, Gods of the Forest and Global Commodity (Spanish)


A forest in Peru.

The confluence of an economic and humanitarian crisis due to Covid–19 has reversed fragile gains in...


This story excerpt was translated from Spanish. To read the original story in full, visit COOLT. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

A thousand-year-old shihuahuaco tree stands in the middle of the Las Piedras forest in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

Many of the trees that dominate the Peruvian rainforest were already growing when the medieval Crusades were being fought, before the birth of Genghis Khan and centuries before the rise of the Inca empire and the discovery of America. Today, ancient species such as the shihuahuaco are being threatened by the hand of man and the incessant demand for timber that moves thousands of dollars in the global market.

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Every tree felled represents a shortening of the time left for life on the entire planet; every tree felled is a step in climate change towards global disaster. Forest loss in the Amazon is increasing every year. According to a recent report by the Ministry of Environment (MINAM), Peru obtained a historical record of deforestation with more than 200,000 hectares of forest lost in 2020.

There are more than 40 species with proven commercial timber value in Peru. However, half of the value of the wood that Peru exports is from a single species: the shihuahuaco, a founder of the territory, a very old species, really old, capable of reaching 50 meters in height. A god of the forest against which the forestry activity has arranged its resources: in Peruvian territory 184,000 shihuahuacos are cut down per year, that is to say, 504 trees per day, 21 per hour.

Deforested area in the Peruvian jungle, where the shihuahuaco tree grows. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

A shihuahuaco tree victim of logging. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

Tatiana Espinosa (right) photographs a shihuahuaco in the Río Piedra watershed. This Peruvian forestry engineer promotes conservation and research in the Amazon rainforest. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

The shihuahuaco forms part of the habitat of species such as the spider monkey, considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

The shihuahuacos are transported to sawmills located along the Interoceanic Highway, a highway that connects the Pacific with the Atlantic and provides access to international markets. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

The green-winged macaws seek refuge and nest in the hollows of the shihuahuacos, so deforestation has an immediate impact on this bird species. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.

The Las Piedras River in Peru, where shihuahuaco forests are found. Image by Michael Tweddle. Peru, 2022.