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Juruena National Park in Brazil's jungle

The creation of Juruena National Park marks an important milestone for local nature conservationists. It means Mato Grosso now has an unbroken line of nature reserves standing in the way of the timber companies.

world Updated: Nov 28, 2007 14:01 IST

The following is probably every nature conservationist's dream: "Congratulations," says the man from the lottery company. "You have just won a national park. Now go do something with it!"

Something similar happened to the World Wide Fund for Nature, which along with its Brazilian partner has been given the task of creating a nature reserve where in reality one currently only exists on paper.

Juruena National Park was established in June 2006 and covers 1.9 million hectares of virgin rainforest - almost half as big as Switzerland.

It's located far from any road in Mato Grosso state in Brazil's wild west where ancient trees are being cut down at an alarming rate. Nature conservationists here are placing their hopes on eco-tourism helping them to do their job.

The night is almost over and at the edge of the forest birdcalls announce the approach of dawn. It's important to have an early start as the sun rises quickly into the sky along the equator.

After quickly dressing it's time to enter the forest through a glade. About 20 minutes later the hike ends at the base of a steel tower. You can't see the top of the tower thanks to the dense leaf cover, but after 228 steps the ground with its spiders, giant boa constrictors and jaguars seems far away.

The treetops are the home of toucans and parrots. There's also more light and a breeze. Just before 6 am the sun rises and in the distance you can see fluffy clouds of water vapour perched on the treetops and spider monkeys dangling from the branches.

The steel tower is just one attraction that the owners of the Cristalino Jungle Lodge near Alta Floresta have on offer for nature lovers. They also organise hiking tours through the nature reserve, climbing expeditions and boat trips on the Rio Cristalino.

You can even go for a swim in the river - at least at midday when the caimans are taking a nap. Luckily they grow to a length of just over a metre and only eat fish, according to the local guides.

"Cristalino Jungle Lodge is an ideal model of how eco-tourism could look in Brazil," says Michael Evers, rainforest expert at the German branch of WWF.

The creation of Juruena National Park marks an important milestone for local nature conservationists. It means Mato Grosso now has an unbroken line of nature reserves standing in the way of the timber companies.

The threat posed by the companies is very real: the "Arc of Deforestation" with its bulldozers, chainsaws and fire has cornered the rainforest. Disputes over land are often solved with the use of violence.

Tourism is just one part of the plan to convince local people of the advantages of sustainable development. Well-managed forestry, ecologically friendly cattle breeding and farming are the other elements to the plan.

The only way to get to Juruena National Park from Apiacas is by boat or small plane. After putting the sawmills, pastureland and roads that circle the town behind you, you see no more signs of human activity for the next two hours.

The pilot follows the route of the river. Like the coils of a hosepipe that has been thrown on the ground, the Juruena winds its way through an endless landscape of forest.

The plane descends towards a red-brown landing strip and after a 30-minute trip you arrive at the only tourist accommodation in this section of the park: a lodge with youth hostel charm that is mainly used by anglers.

Paulo Traven greets his newly arrived guests with some trepidation, as this is the first time he has met representatives from the WWF and Brazil's environment authority.

Traven bought this plot of land beside the Augusto waterfall a long time ago at a bargain price, as he describes it.

But it's another question as to whether he will be allowed to hold onto it as, according to the nature conservationists' plan, all private land owners in the park are to be bought out.

Paulo has no intention of selling his property, but if he has to, he wants a fair price that reflects the value of the land.

However, he may have to battle for his rights through the courts. "They won a national park and now they're making a big thing out of it!" It seems the WWF still has plenty of work ahead.