Every rainy season the swollen rivers of Madre de Dios deposit a heavy layer of gold dust along their banks, and those who have been quick enough to stake claims on the best stretches have made substantial fortunes. In such areas there are thousands of unregulated miners, using large front-loader earth-moving machines, destroying a large section of the forest, and doing so very quickly.

Gold lust is not a new phenomenon here – the gold-rich rivers have brought Andean Indians and occasional European explorers to the region for centuries. The Inca Emperor Tupac Yupanqui is known to have discovered the Río Madre de Dios, naming it the Amarymayo (“serpent river”), and may well have sourced some of the Empire’s gold from around here.

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