A Q&A with… Iguazú Falls’ biodiversity expert
We’ve teamed up with Awasi Iguazú – a secluded, boutique lodge in the jungle on the Argentinian side of the Iguazú Falls – to interview their extremely knowledgeable biodiversity expert, Carlos Barros. Carlos has lived in the region his whole life and loves taking guests on tours, whether that’s along the jungle trails spotting birds and wildlife or around Iguazu Falls pointing out the flora and fauna.
What is your favourite experience in Iguazu Falls?I love exploring the many trails through the Atlantic rainforest, watching the symbiosis and harmony of nature that surrounds me. There are so many beautiful colours, especially when the seasons change, and an incredible aroma of flowers and fresh air. The Atlantic rainforest has approximately 19,000 species of plants, of which approximately 40% of its vascular plants (higher plants) are endemic. In my opinion, the highlight of the Atlantic rainforest trails is that you can see so many different groups of plants: bryophytes, pteridophytes, gymnosperms and angiosperms – also known as flowering plants.
Is there any wildlife that you can spot in the Atlantic rainforest that you can´t spot anywhere else?There are more than 100 species of mammals, up to 60% of which are endemic, and 400 types of birds, with the region of Misiones being home to more than 50% of Argentina’s birdlife. We sometime see the ocelot – a wild cat, native to the Americas – in our tracking cameras. As they are nocturnal, these miniature leopards are usually difficult to spot. They rest during the day in hollow trees, on branches or in dense vegetation. The jungle is also home to jaguars, coatis, capybaras and howler monkeys. I could talk about the many endemic species of this diverse ecosystem, but nothing quite compares to seeing them in real life!
Can you tell us something surprising that people don´t know about Misiones?Misiones is a remarkable place, bordering both Paraguay and Brazil. The province was named after Roman Catholic missionaries created Jesuit missions in the early 17th century. In just a few years they had already set up 30 mission villages, teaching the Guarani people western-style architecture and crafts. From Awasi Iguazú, you can meet the Paraguayan Guaraní tribes and visit the Jesuit ruins of San Ignacio Miní that were founded in 1632. Just three hours’ drive away, the Guarani baroque-styled ruins were deemed a world heritage site by Unesco in 1984 and can be found deep in the Argentinian jungle. Designed by an Italian priest, Juan Brasanelli, the church was built using local red sandstone. The Jesuit Mission’s heyday was in the mid-1700s, when there were more than 4,000 Guarani people living there, alongside a handful of Jesuit priests. In 1767, Jesuits were expelled from Spain and its territories, letting the mission be engulfed by the jungle, sadly falling to ruin.
San Ignacio MiniIf you’re lucky, whilst walking through the rainforest, you might see a toco toucan preying on a red-rumped cacique nest. It’s amazing how the red-rumped cacique chooses its nesting place and how intricately they weave the pindo palm trees to make their nest. Some biologists believe that the toco toucans and caciques have been evolving: the longer the red-rumped cacique builds the nest, the more the toucan’s bill grows!
When is the best time to visit Iguazú Falls? And when is the best time for spotting wildlife?In spring and autumn (October/ November and March/April) there are fewer visitors, and walking through the rainforest is pleasant, as it’s not too hot and humid. It’s possible to spot wildlife all year round. The insects have amazing camouflage and if you’re patient, you may see a tiger ant on the hunt or the amazing interaction between Azteca ants and a Cecropia tree. The tree provides a nest with multiple chambers for the ants, while the base of the leaves produce glycogen-containing structures that feed the ants. There are also more than 500 species of butterflies and most of them, like birds, are active all through the year.
Do you have a favourite bird song?The Atlantic rainforest is rich with bird species that have a variety of colours and songs. The white-bearded manakin can produce an array of astonishingly loud noises for such a small bird, ranging from high-pitched calls to snaps and noises it makes with its wings. It really keeps the forest alive!
A white-bearded manakin
Are you local to Iguazu Falls? What made you want to be a guide there?Yes, I grew up in the countryside here and I have always felt connected to nature. As a biologist, I love to learn as much as I can from our beautiful biodiversity, geology and anthropology. At Awasi I have been able to delve even deeper, learning more about the things I love!
Carlos Barros, biodiversity expert at Awasi Iguazu
What are the benefits of visiting the falls with Awasi Iguazú?With more than 10 years’ experience as a guide in the Atlantic rainforest, I can personalize my tours to suit the guests’ tastes. At Awasi Iguazú, I have learnt how to show our guests the beauty of both the local culture and the Atlantic rainforest in all its glory.