A Plan to Protect 5.9 Million Acres of Amazonian Biodiversity

(c) Diego Perez

With 30 to 50 percent of all species expected to be wiped out by mid-century, we are experiencing the worst extinction event in 65 million years.  This is an unfolding tragedy of truly frightening proportions and it requires urgent action.

Preventing species extinction has been the single-minded focus of Rainforest Trust, a U.S.-based non-profit organisation, for the last 25 years.  Working with partners in the different countries, Rainforest Trust has purchased and protected nearly eight million acres of tropical rainforests in 22 countries. 

Recognising that the opportunity to save large tracts of rainforests may last no longer than a decade or two, Rainforest Trust launched its most ambitious conservation project last year.  Collaborating with Peruvian partner CEDIA (Center for the Development of an Indigenous Amazon), the Trust is working to create a 5.9-million-acre protected area that will principally overlay the Sierra del Divisor, an isolated mountain range located on the Peru-Brazil border. 

Through the creation of two nationally protected areas and 57 community territories this new project will protect an unscathed area approximately two and a half times the size of Yellowstone National Park, or nearly the size of Wales.

The Sierra del Divisor is a haven for thriving populations of Jaguars, Giant Anteaters and other animals whose populations have suffered elsewhere due to hunting and habitat destruction. Its unique geological features make it extremely rich in biodiversity. In fact, it has 16 primate species, the largest number found in the Peruvian Amazon. Over 360 bird species have been confirmed to frequent the area.  And its streams and rivers may be home to as many as 300 fish species.

(C) Thomas Muller

That’s what we know. What we don’t know is equally exciting.

Although very few scientific studies have been conducted in the area, a 2005 rapid biological inventory resulted in the discovery of dozens of potentially new species and more discoveries are expected. For instance, while 1,000 plant species have already been identified, scientists estimate that this number could climb to 3,500.

Once protected by its remote location, the Sierra del Divisor is no longer safe from destructive development plans. Oil drilling, mining, road construction, logging, and poaching all pose increasing threats to the region and its wildlife. We know from experience that without protection, rainforests in Peru are vulnerable to large-scale, lightning-fast destruction. South of the Sierra del Divisor, in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, gold miners dump 30-40 tons of mercury into the environment annually and have already destroyed more than 370,000 acres of rainforest.

(c) Thomas Muller

Adequately protecting such a large area isn’t easy, and our partner CEDIA is working proactively with indigenous communities to find effective solutions.  To ensure the participation of these communities – an essential key for long-term success – CEDIA is helping them to obtain long-overdue land titles for ancestral lands. Once titled, these indigenous territories will form a defensive ring around the Sierra del Divisor that will present a formidable obstacle to developers.

Although protecting the Sierra del Divisor is only one piece in a much larger solution to fight mass extinction, it’s a big step in the right direction. The creation of large protected areas like this one provides thousands of species – many with unique ecological niches found nowhere else - with a secure refuge from the threats that have decimated wildlife populations throughout the world.

To find out more about the Sierra del Divisor and Rainforest Trust’s work to protect it, please visit https://www.rainforesttrust.org/projects/urgent-appeals/peru/

(c) Diego Perez

(c) Diego Perez