emperor tamarin
Emperor Tamarin. Courtesy of Cocha Cashu Biological Station.

Manu National Park

The Manu National Park was legally established in 1973 in order to protect 14 ecosystems ranging from as low as 150 meters in parts of the Amazon Basin to the Puna Highlands at altitudes of 4200 meters. Because of this topographical range, it has one of highest levels of biodiversity of any park in the world. With a total area of 1’692,137.26 ha (approximately the size of Switzerland) it is located in Southeastern Peru, in the western edge of the Amazon watershed, between the states of Cusco and Madre de Dios. The Manu National Park was inscribed as a UNESCO World heritage site in 1987.

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Map showing Manu National Park and its location relative to the cities of Puerto Maldonado and Cusco.

The biological diversity found in Manú National Park exceeds that of any other place on Earth. There are at least 3800 vascular plant species inside the Park. In Manu National Park there are at least 230 species of reptiles and amphibians, 159 mammals, 210 fish species, 1000 species of birds, 230 species of macro fungi. Plant and fungi inventories are far from being completed. Insect inventories are scarce, except for beetles (650) and butterflies (1310 species).

Bromeliad in Montane Forest - Surbound Expeditions
Bromeliads are more common and diverse in the humid montane forest portion of Manu National Park.

With a park the size of Manú, with a wide range of altitude, vegetation varies widely, however the most widespread vegetation types found are tropical lowland rainforest, tropical montane rainforest and puna vegetation (grasslands). The lowland forests occur on the alluvial plains and the interfluvial hills. Those on the hills may experience seasonal water supply, given the monthly variation in rainfall, whereas the forests on the alluvial plains are likely to be seasonally flooded. The montane forests experience less variation in the water supply and are exposed to lower temperatures.

Beetle photographed in Manu National Park - Surbound Expeditions
Invertebrate surveys in the park are still far from being complete.

The park is inhabited by at least four different native groups: the Machiguenga, the Mascho-Piro, the Yaminahua and the Amahuaca. The best known and largest ethnic group within the park is the Machiguenga, found throughout the area with the exception of the highlands and upper parts of the Manú River. The forest Indians are nomadic, mostly subsistent on some form of root crop agriculture on alluvial soils along river banks and lakes, on hunting along water courses and inside the forest, on fishing and on the collection of turtle eggs. Shifting cultivation is the basic agricultural practice. These peoples are considered part of the park’s natural system, and are left to use the park as they please while their lifestyle does not threaten the park’s objectives. There are no towns in the park, but there are some 70,000 Quechua-speaking inhabitants grouped in 30 rural communities in the high Andean zone, which is adjacent to the park in Paucartambo Province.