The Manú National Park and Biosphere Reserve, the largest rainforest reserve in the world, is also considered to be among the sites with the highest biodiversity. As a vast, geographically and economically isolated watershed, the still-roadless property has been spared from most human impacts and is difficult to access to this day.
Manú National Park and Biosphere Reserve is a globally renowned haven of terrestrial biodiversity at the meeting point of the Tropical Andes and the Amazon Basin in Southwestern Peru. As a vast, geographically and economically isolated watershed, the still-roadless property has been spared from most human impacts and is difficult to access to this day.
The originally inscribed area was extended to 1,716,295 ha or 4,241,057 acres in 2009, spanning the complete altitudinal gradient of the Eastern slope of the Andes from around 350 to above 4,000 m.a.s.l. (1200 to 13,000 ft above sea level).
The, in some places precipitous transition, includes high Andean Puna grasslands, mountain cloud forests, Yunga forests and lowland rainforest. Fed from numerous whitewater creeks in the mountains, the Manú River meanders through the lowland forests, before it joins the mighty Madre de Dios River at the Southern edge of the property.
As evidenced by Incan and Pre-Incan ruins and petroglyphs, there is a long history of indigenous occupation. The local legend of Paititi, according to which the "Lost City of the Incas" is located within what is today the property, has lured researchers and adventurers alike.
Today, various indigenous peoples are the only permanent inhabitants. Some of them are sedentary and in regular contact with the "modern world," while others maintain a semi-nomadic lifestyle as hunter-gatherers in so-called "voluntary isolation" or "initial contact," respectively. The population in the reserve amounts to 8,600 people, with numerous settlements of native communities including the Matsigueka, Yine, Harakmbut and Quechua.
The immense variety of Manú National Park in terms of altitude, microclimate, soils and other ecological conditions results in a complex mosaic of habitats and niches. There is a broad spectrum of plant communities, ranging from the seemingly homogenous but highly diverse Andean grasslands to a range of mostly pristine forest types.
Estimates of plant diversity range between 2,000 and 5,000, with some scientists even assuming considerably higher numbers. Records of fauna are similarly impressive with well over 1000 vertebrate species, including at least 200 species of mammals and more than 800 species of birds. Among the mammals are the Giant Otter, 13 different species of primates and eight felids, including Jaguar, Puma and the elusive and endangered Andean Mountain Cat.
The wide range of estimates in various taxonomic groups of fauna and flora illustrates how little is known, let alone understood about the diversity of life in the property. In the medium and longer term developments in the surroundings of Manú National Park such as gas extraction and road construction may affect the still mostly pristine property in various ways. Careful planning and management is needed to balance development needs with the integrity of a global conservation gem.