Manu National Park
Manu National Park is the most biodiverse protected area on the planet. The size, location, range of elevations, and quality of habitats converge to give it some incredible statistics. The park, including the biosphere reserve and cultural zone, is over 18,000 square kilometers (more than 7,000 square hectares) or about a bit more than half the size of Connecticut. The park hosts 20,000 species of plants, more than 1,000 species of birds, well over 200 species of mammals, more than 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, and several thousand species of invertebrates, the entire number of which is unknown because it includes an undetermined number of species awaiting description.
Manu Is A Treasure Trove Of Biodiversity
The park is such an incredible treasure trove of biodiversity for the following reasons:
Location: Manu is situated in a part of western Amazonia that was probably a refuge of rainforest during dry eras when other parts of the Amazon turned into grassland. As with other “refugia” areas, the plants and animals that lived in the lowland areas of Manu diverged for longer periods of time than non-forest zones. Not to mention, Manu also receives large amounts of rainfall and has a tropical, stable climate, two factors that increase diversity.
More than one elevation: Different types of animals and plants are adapted to elevations with different temperatures and rainfall. Manu protects habitats from the treeline down through cloud forest, foothill forest, and lowland rainforest.
Quality of habitat: Forests that see little disturbance have far more animals and plants than other areas. The habitats of Manu are mostly intact and thus provide perfect habitat for the animals and plants that live there.
Manus Inaccessable Core
A few other facts about Manu National Park:
Inaccessible core: Much of Manu’s biodiversity is kept intact because so much of the park is off limits and inaccessible. A huge core area has no roads and access is strictly limited to researchers with permits and native peoples who live there.
Buffer zone and tourism area: To protect the core of the park, most access is limited to the buffer zone and tourism areas along a couple rivers. Nevertheless, all of the animals that live in the middle of the park can also be encountered in the buffer and tourist zones, and the tourist zone includes access to trails through fantastic forest, beautiful oxbow lakes, clay licks visited by mammals, parrots, and macaws, and one petroglyph site.
How to get to Manu: There are three main routes to Manu. The Cuzco route takes two days and passes through montane forest with incredible birding opportunities until it reaches the Madre de Dios River. From there, boats take passengers to the Manu River and sites up or downstream. A long, two to three day boat ride can also be taken up stream from the jungle city of Puerto Maldonado, or people can fly in to Boca Manu and take boats from there.
The People Of Manu
The people who live in and near Manu: While Manu National Park does have a core, protected area and access to the park is strictly controlled, people do live there. In fact, people pertaining to the Matsiguenka culture have lived in and around Manu for literally thousands of years. Most have small farms with cultivations of cassava and papaya, pineapple, and other fruits, hunt in the forest for wild game, and catch fish in the rivers. They tend to live along rivers and historically, probably retreated back into the forest during the wet season.
The two main communities of Matsiguenka who live in the buffer zone are Tayakome and Yomibato. There are around 150 people in each community and some work with ecotourism, especially at the Casa Matsiguenka lodge.
Other communities of Matsiguenka people live in the eastern buffer zone, including the Shipetiari (around 24 families), and the Palotoa-Teparo community. While these Matsiguenka groups have contact with non-natives, there is another group of indigenous people who don’t. This is a non-Matsiguenka group of people known as the Mashco-Piro and they have avoided contact with just about everybody for more than a hundred years.
The Mashco-Piro people decided to retreat to the forest and avoid contact with others after being nearly eliminated by the private armies of the rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald in 1894. The Mashco-Piro people who escaped the massacres have lived in and near the core area of Manu National Park ever since and are believed to have a population of anywhere from 100 to 250. They have been seen on rare occasions by researchers and scientists flying in small planes over remote forests near Manu.
Most of the native peoples who live in and near Manu National Park speak either the Matsiguenka or Piro languages, and continue to practice many aspects of their traditional cultures. Some of those who have contact with non-natives work in community-based Matsiguenka ecolodges and teach guests about Matsiguenka culture.