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Untouched Peru Rainforest Becomes National Park

A rare opportunity to act before habitat damaged
(ENS) LIMA -- A 5,225 square mile stretch of pristine Andean rainforest in Peru became the world's newest national park last month. Slightly bigger than the state of Connecticut, the Parque Nacional Cordillera Azul lies in one of the last large areas of virgin forest and is still undeveloped and largely uninhabited.

Lily Rodrigues, a scientist with the Peruvian Association for the Conservation of Nature (APECO) told ENS, "The local people are very happy because usually when you talk to people about environmental protection it takes forever. This time, it was only two weeks between the announcement and the actual creation of the park."

To establish a national park in Peru you have to go to the local people to see if they agree with the park, and in this case they do agree," Rodrigues explained. "They had independently been requesting that this area be made a national park."

The local people decided that the creation of a park would be a good way to stop the immigration of people from the highlands into the lower elevations where they live in the rainforest. The immigrants from the highlands clear the forest for farms, a practice the local people do not like because they use trees for forestry, Rodrigues said. "We are very happy that indigenous people participated with us to make the park happen," she said.

"This mountain range on the east side of the Peruvian Andes is huge, wild and breathtaking," said Debby Moskovits, who works in Chicago as director of The Field Museum's Environmental and Conservation Programs. "With our Peruvian partner, APECO, our rapid biological inventory determined that the Cordillera Azul still offers the rare opportunity to act before habitat fragmentation and degradation forever transform the landscape."

In 1999, APECO started the initiative to establish a national park in the Cordillera Azul mountains. To support that effort, Field Museum scientists and colleagues conducted a rapid biological inventory with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The biological inventory team drew together U.S. and Peruvian experts from The Field Museum, APECO, the Museum of Natural History at the University of San Marcos in Lima, and the Museum of Natural Sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU).

Up to 6,000 plant species in the region
Rainforest preserve
An untouched stretch of rainforest is now Peru's national park, and home to many previously unknown species, such as this armored catfish and high altitude flower
The team identified at least 28 new plant and animal species. "We discovered a new salamander at 5525 feet [altitude]," said Rodrigues, who is a biologist, an ecologist, and a herptologist. "We have only three species of salamander, this is the fourth one, and we found a couple of new species of new poison arrow frogs."

A new bird species was discovered by a scientist from LSU. Named capito wallacei, the newly found bird is black and red and white, a large species related to the woodpecker.

The elevation of the area varies from about 650 feet to 7,870 feet above sea level. Such a range of elevations creates a great number of environmental niches to which local plants and animals have adapted in a wide variety of ways.

The scientists recorded about 1,600 plant species and estimated that there are up to 6,000 plant species in the region. In addition, they found 71 mammal species -- 13 of which are endangered, 500 bird species, and 82 amphibian and reptilian species.

The Cordillera Azul is home to large spider monkeys, woolley monkeys, jaguars, and a great number of peccaries, Rodrigues said. "It is unihabited, untouched, undeveloped, really remarkable," she said.

Now that the park has been established, Rodrigues and her colleagues will develop a management plan. A committee of the local people will be set up, and they all will be involved in the management of area. A new law for protected areas, passed by Peru in 1997 but just recently enacted, provides for private management of the park. All the insitutions that helped to establish the park will be inolved directly in its management, Rodrigues said.

"The people of Peru, through their government, have made a generous gift to future generations by establishing this park," says Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "People from both nearby and around the world will benefit from the conservation of this unique resource. As with most such efforts, non-governmental organizations played an important role in this achievement. The MacArthur Foundation is pleased to fund The Field Museum and other groups working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable human development."

Moskovits said, "With accelerating losses of natural diversity worldwide, our mission is to direct the museum's unique resources - worldwide collections, scientific expertise and innovative educational programs - to the immediate needs of conservation at local, national and international levels."

The Field Museum plans to build a new research and storage facility in its Chicago building that will be used in part to further the work of Peruvian conservation.

"This $60 million facility will enable the museum to further its work in environmental conservation," says John W. McCarter Jr., president and CEO of the Field Museum. The project may get a financial boost from the state of Illinois. Governor George Ryan has included a $40 million appropriation for the facility in his budget that is currently under consideration.

© 2001 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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Albion Monitor June 15, 2001 (

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