Spanning an area of 1.5 million hectares, the Manú National Park is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site inscribed in 1987. The park is located in southwestern Peru where the Andes mountain range meets the Amazon basin. The park is in the departments of Cusco and Madre de Dios. Manú National Park encompasses diverse ecological systems from lowland, tropical jungles to cold and high grasslands. The elevation of the park ranges between 150 to 4,200 meters above sea level. Conservation efforts in Manú National Park began in 1968 after it was declared a reserve. In 1973, after pressure from local and international conservationists, the reserve was declared a national park. Today Manú National Park has restricted sections of undisturbed forests dedicated to conservation, research, and indigenous subsistence.
Manú National Park has a rich history of Native Indians and foreign explorers of past centuries whose influence shaped the park to what it is today. The boundaries of the park host many indigenous Indian tribes, but the most historically recognized are the Inca Indians whose capital was the Andes. At its peak, the Inca Empire spanned 3000 miles across South America according to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). By the 1500's the Inca’s hold on the region began to decline. Spanish explorers ventured into South America and began claiming territories for Spain. By 1532, Francisco Pizzaro had conquered Peru and in 1567 Alvarez Maldonado also claimed the Manu River for Spain. In 1839, interest in exploring Manú National Park area increased when Charles Goodyear sparked a rubber boom after producing the first heat resistant rubber. His discovery triggered a massive demand for rubber, and rubber trees in Manú National Park region were targeted to meet the need. Another rubber baron Carlos Fitzgerald created the Fitzgerald pass across the Madre de Dios River for rubber transportation. In 1880, about 8000 tons of rubber was exported from Peru and by 1900 exports had climbed to 27,000 tons. Rapid deforestation and competition from South East Asia collapsed the Manú National Park rubber industry in 1914.
The Machiguenga people are native Indian hunters and gatherers living in the boundaries of the Manú National Park jungles. They speak a group of languages collectively called Arawakan. They are short, lean and strongly built with broad facial structures. They engage in subsistence agriculture, and their staple crop is cassava though they grow bananas, and gather fruits like pineapples, and papaya from the forest. For protein, they hunt rodents, tapir, monkeys, and fowls primarily in the wet season. That’s because Machiguenga believe monkeys are fatter then, due to an abundance of fruits. During the dry season, they fish not hunt. Their way of life is not detrimental to the environment, and they can live in one area for 20 years, without depleting the natural resources available. Their populations are in the jungles of south-eastern Peru, and the border region of Peru with Bolivia and Brazil.
Habitat and Biodiversity
Wildlife species are diverse in the Manú National Park. About 850 bird species have been discovered including species like the jungle goose, harpy eagle, jabiru stork, roseate spoonbill, and the Andean cock of the rock, Peru’s national bird. The rare giant otter and giant armadillo are also residents of the Manú National Park according to UNESCO. The park also has 221 mammal species including the jaguar, tapir, black panther, collared peccary, deer, capybara, spider monkey, and others. Manú National Park also has diverse vegetation patterns, the most prevalent being the lowland tropical rainforest, montane tropical rainforest, and puna vegetation (grasslands), according to UNEP world conservation monitoring center. The lowland forests are on the alluvial plains and interfluvial hills. Its climate is mostly rainy, and precipitations vary with altitude. In the south, annual rains recorded are between 1500 to 2000mm, in the middle regions of the park, rainfall is between 3000 to 3500mm, and in the northwest rains reach up to 8000mm. The dry season is from May to September when rains are low. Annual temperatures also vary; the Amazon region is warm with average annual temperatures of 25.6 degrees centigrade, while in the Andean region, average annual temperature is 8 degrees centigrade. These diverse climate patterns influence the eclectic vegetations dotting the Manú National Park landscapes.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
As one of the most biologically diverse, protected areas in the world, the Manú National Park biodiversity is not deemed to face any immediate, imminent threat. However according to a UNESCO report, developmental activities around the regions bordering it are causing concern. New roads built across the Andes and smaller ones in Manú National Park’s vicinity act as catalysts, opening up of the park to activities like logging. Also, gas exploration at Camisea is another indirect threat environmentalists cite would negatively impact the Manú National Park. Hence, they are advocating for the creation of a buffer zone to protect the park. Since Manú National Park also hosts indigenous people, external pressures would interfere with their way of life. Undesired contact from them is discouraged by the Peruvian authorities, and researchers are planning measures against future encroachments, according to Rapid Response Facility.
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