In the first few hours of the light of day, reddish clay cliffs along the Tambopata river become one of the most spectacular canvases of wildlife in the world. Parrots of all sorts begin to arrive in the trees surrounding the lick. They come in pairs or by huge flocks of hundreds. Smaller parrots such as the Mealy or Orange-cheeked parrot make their way to the cliff side first to begin eating small bits of the clay. The macaws come next. There can be several species of them at a time (or none at all). The precise reasons for the attraction to the clay lick is still unknown. Most scientists believe that by ingesting the clay, the parrots are able to obtain some minerals that they lack in their diet and that the clay itself helps to soak up toxins that enter their bodies through unripe fruit and nuts. Collpa Colorado, the largest clay lick in the world, is 120 km upstream from Puerto Maldonado (about 5 hours) and camping trips there can be arranged from most lodges. There are several smaller licks scattered throughout the region, some only minutes from the lodges, and are quite spectacular as well.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.