Peru establishes new national park in the Amazon

The new protected area contains areas with untouched forests deep in the Amazon. (© Joseph King/Flickr Creative Commons)

The government of Peru this week established a new national park in the Amazon amid a rise in illegal mining there.

Across the Peruvian Amazon — a swath of rainforest that covers roughly 60 percent of the country illegal mines are poisoning the rivers with mercury and threatening the health of indigenous communities, David Hill of the Guardian reported on Wednesday.

There are, however, pockets of pristine forest that have been spared.

Loreto, Peru, near the border with Colombia, is one such place. To preserve the nearly 870,000 hectares of forest there, virtually untouched by human settlements, the government of Peru established Yaguas National Park, named after the river that flows through it.

This isn’t the first time the government has focused on this area. In 2011, the government granted the area some protections while researchers conducted studies to determine how the land was faring under existing regulations. What they found were increasing threats.

Luis Espinel, vice president of Conservation International (CI) Peru, describes the situation: “The Yaguas river flows into the Putumayo river, where many communities are settled and depend on for their livelihoods. Ensuring the protection of the water source in this vast and unique ecosystem is vital to guarantee the health of the water ecosystem services, freshwater animals and fish, terrestrial fauna and biodiversity which all these people depend on”.

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Local communities were involved in the planning process for the national park. In the end, 23 out of the 29 communities that were consulted on the initiative supported the establishment of a national park, Espinel said.

The new Yaguas National Park is home to 3,500 species of plants, including plants that indigenous communities use for construction, food sources and handicrafts; and 1,420 species of vertebrates including 550 species of fish, 110 of amphibians, 100 of reptiles, almost 500 species of birds and 160 mammals. Additionally, the area protects several threatened species including the giant otter, giant anteater, brown woolly monkey, South American tapir, and collared titi.

CI contributed funds to support the National Protected Area Service and several organizations working for the creation of the park, led by the Andes Amazon Fund, alongside the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Chicago’s Field Museum and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, among others.

“The new National Park is important for the conservation of its expansive and untouched forests, its exceptionally high freshwater fish diversity and also for its position as a keystone in a larger network of protected areas,” said Lisa Famolare, CI’s vice president for Amazonia. “With full legal protection for Yaguas National Park, Peru is able to ensure biological connectivity across a chain of existing conservation areas in Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Together, these areas will become one of the largest blocks of remaining pristine tropical forests in Amazonia.”

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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