Working alongside local and international conservation groups, the Peruvian government just established Yaguas National Park in the country’s far eastern territory to permanently protect millions of acres of pristine rainforest. Corine Vriesendorp, a conservation ecologist at The Field Museum in Chicago, told the New York Times: “This is one of the last great intact forests on the globe.” The forest is so massive that the clouds which form above it may impact precipitation in the Western United States, and many unique species of animals and plants are found only in Yaguas. The National Park designation also protects land inhabited by several tribes of indigenous peoples.
Peru’s most recently established national park joins a growing conservation network in South America, with Ecuador, Chile and Columbia also having recently created national parks. “Nowadays we’re trying to think big,” Avecita Chicchón of the Andes-Amazon Initiative told the New York Times, “You need these large areas to be connected.” Thanks to a vibrant and engaged civil society, policymakers of Latin America are shifting their views on climate change and environmentalism, increasingly recognizing the importance of taking action to protect natural resources.
Indigenous communities, of which there are at least six living in the Yaguas National Park area, also now have a voice in the process, something that has historically been denied these communities. Over the past two decades, federations of indigenous groups have educated scientists on the geology and ecology of the region while advocating for its protection from the federal government. Important to the local way of life, the natural resources of the region include endemic fish that serve as keystone species in the local ecosystem by transporting seeds across flooded forest plains. Vulnerable species such as tapirs and endangered species such as giant otters have also been sighted within the park. Though conservationists and local groups may have won an important victory, continued vigilance is key to long-term preservation.“For now, Yaguas is safe,” Gregory Asner, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, told the New York Times, “but in the 20 years I’ve been working in the Amazon, I’ve learned the hard way that today’s remoteness is tomorrow’s access”.