Peru Preserves Biodiversity in Vast New Park

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2005 (ENS) - In the Pervian Amazon, the government of Peru has created of one of the largest combined indigenous reserves and protected areas in the world - the 6.7 million acre Alto Purús National Park and Communal Reserve - an area the size of the state of Massachusetts. The new park is named for a tributary of the Amazon River that flows through its center.

The government has also announced that a new commission will design a law to protect indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation in Peruvian Amazon territorial reserves.

WWF, the global conservation organization which worked to establish these protected areas, hailed the announcements as a major step in protecting biodiversity while respecting the rights of indigenous communities.

"This is a huge victory for the indigenous groups and the wildlife of the Peruvian Amazon," said WWF-US President Kathryn Fuller from her office in Washington, DC. "The voices of the Mashco-Piro and other indigenous groups have been heard at the highest levels of the Peruvian government, allowing them to live in peace and effectively manage their territories."

Alto Purús is located in a remote section of the Southwestern Amazon Moist Forests ecoregion containing enormous expanses of lowland tropical moist forests, unique flooded savannas dotted with palm trees and extensive bamboo-dominated forests.

The Alto Purús National Park and Communal Reserve combines a traditional national park, a communal reserve that will be co-managed between indigenous communities and the state, and a territorial reserve for the indigenous group, Mashco-Piro, who live in voluntary isolation from modern society.

Fuller presented Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo with a Gift to the Earth Award, WWF's highest honor, for his government's leadership in protecting the biological and cultural diversity of Alto Purús.


The Alto Purús River winds through the newly protected area of the Peruvian Amazon. (Photo courtesy ParksWatch)
WWF has been working in Alto Purús alongside the government, indigenous communities, and local NGOs for five years to stem illegal logging, provide technical support for the park's management, initiate community development projects, and build bridges among stakeholders at all levels.

The area is inhabited by wildlife such as the jaguar, harpy eagle, scarlet macaw, giant river otter and black spider monkey.

It is also one of the last refuges for large populations of the highly valued big-leafed mahogany. While relatively undisturbed, development pressures are mounting from cattle ranching, commercial agriculture, illegal logging, oil and gas exploration and road building.

A report released this week by ParksWatch, a program based at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences that monitors protected areas in Central and South American countries, shows that illegal mahogany logging is taking place inside the remote park.

This development not only threatens the area's unique wildlife and habitats, but also the culture and livelihood of the indigenous communities, which rely on the forest resources for their livelihoods, WWF warns.

The Mashco-Piro are especially vulnerable, not only to development pressures but also to diseases for which they have little resistance. The group's several hundred members have chosen to avoid all contact with the outside world in order to safeguard their centuries old culture.

"Alto Purús is the missing piece in major green corridor of protected areas and indigenous territories in the southwest Amazon," said Fred Prins, WWF Representative in Peru. "With the categorization of Alto Purús, WWF has seen its vision of an unprecedented conservation corridor of nearly 700 miles through Brazil, Bolivia and Peru become a reality."

With the issuing of a Supreme Decree by Toledo, a commission will now draft regulations respecting and protecting the way of life of the Mashco-Piro and other isolated indigenous groups. Another commission will mitigate the negative environmental, social, and economic impacts of illegal logging.

"We are very happy about the establishment of the Park, Communal Reserve and Special Commission because it will let our communities better manage our territories in a way that respects the traditions of our ancestors," said Fredy Lopez Tranbeca, Community Chief of the 180-member Gasta Bala indigenous community in Purus.

With financial and technical support from WWF, Peru is also reforming its forest concession bidding processes. This has resulted in the allocation of 18 million acres of permanent production forests - an area larger than the state of West Virginia - to forest concessionaires for environmentally friendly management.

It is part of the government's efforts to modernize Peru's forest sector by replacing a socially and economically unsustainable system of small contracts plagued by illegal harvesting and corruption with a system of large, sustainable managed forest concessions.

The nine indigenous groups who live in or around the Alto Purús Reserved Zone are the Cashinahuas, Amahuacas, Sharanahuas, Chaninahuas, Mastinahuas, Yine, Ashaninkas, Culinas, and the Mashco-Piro group, the only one to live in voluntary isolation within the National Park and the territorial reserve. The total indigenous population living in the Province of Purus is estimated at 2,829 inhabitants.

This does not include the Mashco-Piro. Due to their decision to remain isolated, their population is not known. Nonetheless, experts estimate that they may be 200 to 600 individuals.