Yaguas National Park is located in the Loreto Region of northern Peru and covers more than 868,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest – around the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.
- Peru’s newest national park is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals.
- Yaguas National Park holds around 550 fish species, representing two-thirds of Peru’s freshwater fish diversity – more than any other place in the country, and one of the richest freshwater fish assemblages in the world.
LORETO REGION, Peru — Starting yesterday, 868,927 hectares of forest in Peru’s Loreto Region will be protected through the creation of Yaguas National Park, comprising a mega-diverse ecosystem that, until this week, was protected as a “reserved area.” The order that confirmed this declaration was signed by the Minister of the Environment and the President of the Republic in a Ministry Council meeting earlier this week.
For 30 years, the communities that live around Yaguas have worked toward national park status for the highly biodiverse area, which they consider sacred.
Liz Chicaje Churay, the leader of the Bora community and representative of the Federation of Native Communities in the Ampiyacu (Fecona) River basin, expressed her satisfaction about the establishment of the newly protected area. “With the creation of Yaguas National Park, our culture, our forests, and our life proposal are being respected. Yaguas represents a sacred territory, a source of life that our ancestors defended,” said Chicaje, who thanked those who joined the communities during this process.
Benjamín Rodríguez, President of the Federation of Native Border Communities of the Putumayo (FECNAFROPU), also thanked the government. “With the categorization of Yaguas as a National Park, an important step is taken to consolidate the management of a large landscape with different uses along our border, which will guarantee the life of 70 communities. This well-being is what we want our future generations to inherit,” said the indigenous leader. He added that he hopes Peruvian authorities will implement the compromises set out in the prior consultation process for the categorization of the park.
Economic and ecological benefits
Prior to upgrading Yaguas to a national park, the government conducted a series of evaluations to determine which protection category would best suit the area. With this declaration, the Peruvian government can expect to gain about 23 million soles ($7,148,630) over a period of 20 years.
This economic benefit is predicated on the expected well-being that the conservation of biodiversity will bring to the communities located around the park, in the Putumayo and Yaguas Districts, in Putumayo Province, and to the indigenous communities situated in Pebas, San Pablo, and Ramón Castilla, in Mariscal Ramón Castilla Province.
The preservation of species for subsistence hunting was one of the benefits measured by a Peruvian government study conducted through its Conservation Strategy Fund. It found communities will save more than $5.2 million because protections conferred by a national park will help stop declines in species on which residents depend. The calculation was made using the white-lipped peccary, a mammal classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is a major part of the diet of local communities.
In addition to this economic evaluation, researchers at the Field Museum of Chicago conducted their own anlayses in 2010. They determined Yaguas holds around 550 fish species, representing two-thirds of Peru’s freshwater fish diversity – more than any other place in the country, and one of the richest freshwater fish assemblages in the world.
Yaguas is also home to between 3,000 and 3,500 species of plants, 110 species of amphibians, 100 species of reptiles, 500 species of birds, and 160 species of mammals. Among the animals that roam Yuguas’ forests and rivers are manatees, river dolphins, giant otters and wooly monkeys.
“As a Peruvian conservationist, I am proud that with creation of Yaguas National Park, Peru continues on the path of creating one of the most amazing park systems in the world,” said Andes Amazon Fund Director Enrique Ortiz. “This park is as large as Yellowstone National Park and probably 10 times as diverse.”
During surveys, scientists also discovered a large archipelago made up of peat bogs, which holds a large store of carbon, making Yagua one of Peru’s biggest carbon stocks found within a protected area. Because of this, the area is expected to see economic potential in the international carbon market.
According to a 2016 technical report by the National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP), upgrading Yaguas to national park status will stop the loss of about 1.5 million tons of carbon in the next 20 years. This avoided loss is equivalent to more than $2.5 million.
The evaluations by the Conservation Strategy Fund and by the Field Museum of Chicago served to demonstrate the importance of preserving the area and avoiding situations that affect it, such as deforestation, illegal mining, or the disappearance of wildlife like white-lipped peccary.
Corine Vriesendorp, director of the Andes-Amazon Program at the Field Museum of Chicago, said in an interview with Mongabay Latam that she received the news with excitement. She congratulates the Peruvian government, the organizations that worked hard to achieve this goal, and the Peruvian and Colombian scientists who created the social and biological inventory. Above all, she thanks the communities of the lower Putumayo, who she says suffered greatly during the era of rubber exploitation and who have worked all these years to protect the sachamama, as the region is called in the Yaguas language.
“This newly protected area represents an increasingly rare opportunity to preserve the entirety of a vast and intact Amazon basin [forest]. This is a space that is not represented in any other protected area in Peru, because it will conserve ecosystems, species, and populations that are very distnct from those that make up other Peruvian national parks,” Vriesendorp said.
Vriesendorp said that the most important function of the new national park is that it will become the heart of a mosaic of conservation and sustainable use sites in northeastern Peru.
She also recalled that on a visit to the upper part of Yaguas, she saw a South American tapir, a mammal difficult to find because they usually have small populations. However, on that trip, the team that accompanied her observed around 11 individuals.
“Never in all the trips that the Field Museum has taken in South America have we seen as many tapirs as that time in Yaguas,” Vriesendorp said.
Fernando Alvarado, President of the Federation of Indigenous Communities of the Lower Putumayo (FECOIBAP), referenced the threats that face Yaguas, such as illegal mining and logging, and said that “the government has done justice by attending to the requests of the towns to conserve this sacred area, where there are spirits of the forests and where the fauna and flora are our sustenance.”
The indigenous leader added that the conservation of this territory is the communities’ contribution to the world, and is also one of the ways they will fight climate change. He said they will work together with environmental authorities to “consolidate the management of our beautiful land.”
A long process
The indigenous communities of Yaguas have been denouncing illegal logging and mining for at least 20 years. The technical report created by SERNANP in 2016 found that four gold dredges – machinery used to extract gold — periodically circulate along the Yaguas River.
According to data from the Conservation Strategy Fund, the illegal mining and logging occurring in the area were expected to affect 157,067 hectares over the next 20 years.
During Yaguas’ journey to becoming a national park, positions in favor of and opposed to the change were exchanged between the 29 indigenous communities around the reserved area. Six of them were opposed to the national park covering the whole territory, and suggested that part of the area become classified as a Communal Reserve instead.
Those in favor of the creation of Yaguas National Park claimed that the opposition to it was due to association with illegal activities. However, leaders from the Organization of Indigenous Communities of the Lower Putumayo and the Yaguas River (OCIBPRY) said that the reason for some people’s opposition to incorporation of the entire territory into a national park is because the six communities closest to the reserve made permanent use of its resources. The process of turning the area into Yaguas National Park officially began in 2011, when the Peruvian governmented defined the area as the Yaguas Reserved Zone and installed a commission for its categorization.
Ana Rosa Saenz Rodríguez, Regional Coordinator of the Putumayo Amazonas Great Indigenous Landscape Program of the Institute of the Common Good (IBC) explained that the process of achieving categorization as a national park was complex, filled with learning, challenges, and compromises. She mentioned that their relationship with the Putumayo indigenous communities dates back to the 1990s and that the IBC was active through the whole process.
“Through tools such as participatory mapping, satellite image analysis, life plans, creating strategies to strengthen the federations and their leaders, we move forward in creating order in the territory in this great landscape, since an orderly landscape is a big opportunity for public and private investment that benefits the communities,” Saenz said.
She added that there are obligatory compliance compromises that were adopted during the prior consultation process for the management of fish resources within Yaguas, and that these should be implemented between the fishers in the area and the regional and national authorities. She also emphasized that the use of resources by indigenous families will be respected and will not be affected by the establishment of the national park.
“It’s been a harmonious process with special experiences that have allowed us to be part of the well-being of the communities. The happiness and mischief of the people are present at every moment. Walking through their territories, learning about their culture and the richness of the land and the rivers, you can notice this — so much so that the large size of the fish and other animals is scary,” Saenz said.
Minister of the Environment, Elsa Galarza, said that Yaguas National Park is one of the last pristine areas in Peru with a large amount of hydrobiological resources and diverse flora and fauna. She says that the category of national park refers to an intangible territory. However, she clarified that is is possible to make use of its resources indirectly through activities like scientific research and tourism.
This story first appeared in Spanish on our Latam site on January 11, 2018. It was adapted slightly to include a map of Yaguas National Park and additional information about its biodiversity.