HOTSPOT: Tropical Andes [Peru]

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Peru one of world’s megadiverse countries, and I am getting the opportunity to spend time in one of it’s biologically richest areas: “La Ruta de la Biodiversidad”. This region, stretching between the cities of Tarapoto and Yurimaguas, and including the Cordillera Escalera, is known for its cloud-forested mountains. These forests provide invaluable ecosystem services. For example, they protect the headwaters of the local river basin, insulating them from siltation and different anthropogenic contaminative run-off.

As I mentioned in reference to Bolivia, high topographical relief contributes to the biodiversity of a region. Elevation differences contribute to differences in precipitation, temperature, and soil composition. The Cordillera Escalera also happens to be located in a space of convergence: where the Andes, the humid Amazon lowlands, and the dry forests of the Huallaga come together. This mountain chain and the land surrounding it therefore supports 50% of the birds, 37% of the reptiles, and 30% of the amphibians in Peru. It also contains 7% of the world’s species of orchids—some 2000 species!

Due to the precious nature of La Ruta de la Biodiversidad in terms of the natural heritage of Peru, this region contains several protected areas.  Abra Patricia, the bird reserve where I am volunteering, is itself a 1000-hectare private reserve, with immediate plans to expand to some additional 2000 hectares.  The public Alto Mayo Protected Forest is located adjacent to Abra. Protected “easeways”, where communities own but have decided to protect a territory with restricted activities, also exist. I mention one of these easements in more detail in a connected blog entry:   Huembo.

There are occupancy restrictions in the area considered la Ruta de la Biodiversidad, but this is a tricky subject. The inhabitants who clear land for homes and grazing are colonists: their families are either very recent arrivals or brand new in the community. It is very difficult to restrict inflow, even to the Alto Mayo protected forest.  Therefore, there is negotiation with these families. ECOAN [Ecosistemas Andinas, the NGO I am working with here] encourages them with real incentives to plant trees in their pastures, to produce shade-grown coffee, and to adopt other environmentally better practices.  Private companies and international cooperation agencies [particularly of the German government!  Another gold star, I must admit, Germany] are also working to introduce sustainable agriculture with community production; particularly focusing on palm hearts, coffee, and cacao.

This region is breathtakingly gorgeous in terms of its wildlife, but frustrating in terms of human activities.  Until very recently, any kind of progress working with local people was prohibited by incredible violence. Assaults over land disputes, of park guards by traffickers travelling over protected lands, and even of visiting tourists were rife. Now, due to gun-clad guards contracted to patrol local roads, but also at least in part to all the international involvement in the region; a tourist pretty much only needs to be concerned with petty thieves. However, for those NGOs and other entities involved in conservation in the region, aggression and violent tendencies are not out of the picture.

Click here to see all my photos from Abra Patricia, Waqanki, Huembo, and the orchid nursery.

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© Copyright Emma Steigerwald | Vanderbilt Traveling Fellow