Oil Spill Contaminates Ecuadorian Amazon

QUITO, Ecuador, January 10, 2002 (ENS) - Oil from an abandoned exploratory oil well in the Ecuadorian Amazon is spilling uncontrolled into the environment months after government authorities were first notified, according to an international wildlife conservation group.

Patricia Medici is a conservation biologist with the Lowland Tapir Project, which works to conserve the endangered tapir, the largest native mammal on the South American continent. Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, she maintains contact with native people in tapir country throughout South America.


River Puyo in the Ecuadorian Amazon (Photo courtesy Earthfoot)
Medici says that in October 2001 an Ecuadorian native group told the state oil company Petroecuador about the spill, but had no response from the oil company.

A few weeks later, The Organization of the Shiwiar Nationality of the Ecuadorian Amazon announced over a local radio station, Radio Puyo, that they had notified Petroecuador of the oil spill, but no one from the oil company had come to investigate.

Now, in January, Petroecuador still has done nothing about the oil spill, and it continues to kill wildlife and pollute nearby streams. The affected area is in the southeast of Pastaza province in eastern Ecuador.

The oil spill was discovered by local inhabitants of the community of Chuindia while hunting. Medici says, "They found a tapir still alive, but with its whole body shaking, and with the snout, lips and toothflesh in a state of advanced decay."


Lowland tapir. Tapirs are plant eaters in danger of disappearing because of hunting and clearcutting of their forest habitat. (Photo courtesy Lowland Tapir Project)
"Continuing forward," she reports, "they found a huge pool of petrol, and bodies of dead tapirs and peccaries, some of them just skeletons. The oil spill was on a salt lick, such that the animals have consumed oil while licking for salt."

"The spill comes from an old abandoned exploratory oil well, which obviously has not been adequately closed after completing operations," Medici said.

The Shiwaiar indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon wish to promote ecotourism as an alternative to oil exploitation. A small tribe in danger of losing their land and culture, they offer visitors the opportunity to see or study the plants and animals of the region while they act as guides.

Medici and other tapir biologists are asking that the international community contact Petroecuador and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Energy and Mines urging them to close the well, undertake cleanup of the area and compensate the local people for their losses of wildlife and habitat.