The wild Heath River runs from the cloudforests below the Andes Mountains into the Amazon Basin where it outflows into to the Madre de Dios River, one of the larger tributaries of the great Amazon River. It marks a natural and political border between Peru and Bolivia.
Bordering two radically different ecosystems of rainforest and lowland savannah, it runs through the heart of the Tambopata-Madidi reserve areas of Peru and Bolivia, a vast and largely inaccessible wilderness. Bolivia’s Madidi National Park totals 18,900 sq. km./7,297 sq. miles, while the adjacent reserves of Tambopata-Candamo and Bahuaja-Sonene across the border in Peru add up to more than 13,700 sq. km./5,290 sq. miles. Taken together, they form the second largest, and by far the most biologically diverse nature conservation area in all of South America.
The Pampas del Heath, which runs along the lower Heath River is the largest remaining Amazonian savanna. This unique grassland plain is home to such endemic species as the Maned Wolf and Marsh Deer. One of the most important Macaw Clay Licks in Peru lies on the Heath and flora and fauna abound, including: caiman, capybara, deer, anaconda, jaguar, many species of monkeys, marmoset and tamarind, tapir and peccary.
Discovery and Naming of Heath:
General Jose Manuel Pando, explorer and also Ex-President of Bolivia, was the first to discover the mouth of the Heath during his 1893 Madre de Dios Expedition. He ascended the river for a short distance but was forced to retreat after native arrows killed several of his men. He named it for a American friend and fellow explorer, Dr. Edwin Heath.
Exploration of Heath River:
Explorer Colonel Percy H. Fawcett at the bequest of the Royal Geographical Society led the 1910 Heath Survey Expedition to ascertain the boundary between Bolivia and Peru. He ascended the Heath in two canoes from it’s outflow up into the headwaters, but was unable to discover the source. (see below) He then retreated through the jungle until he reached the larger Tambopata River, which he then descended back to civilization.
Discovery of the Source of the Heath River:
In 1996 explorer Bruce Barron led the Barron Pickard Heath River Expedition with Marshall Pickard, an Ese ejja elder from Sonene Village and expedition members from Peru, Bolivia and USA. They ascended the Heath River, explored the headwaters and discovered the source, then made the first river descent.
The Ese Ejja indigenous people of Boliva and Peru live in the region. Their name for the Heath is the Sonene River. An Ese Ejja Village, called Sonene Village, lies at the mouth of the Heath as it enters into the Madre Di Dios River. 1,300 Ese Ejja live in Bolivia along the Beni and the Madre de Dios Rivers. In Peru, they live along the Tambopata and Heath Rivers. Ese Ejja people are hunter-gathers, farmers, rangers and fishermen. Their name derives from their autonym, Ece’je, which means “people.” They are also known as the Chama, Tatinawa, Huarayo, Guarayo, Chuncho, Huanayo, Kinaki, and Mohino.