The Largest Protected Rainforest Is Now a World Heritage Site

Colombia's Serrania de Chiribiquete Natural National Park is home to nearly 3,000 animal and plant species

Serrania de Chiribiquete Natural National Park. ("This work" by Carlos Castaño Uribe is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Colombia's Chiribiquete National Park was just named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition for its outstanding universal value for nature and people. The largest protected tropical forest in the world was established in 1989, has been expanded twice and now covers 4.4 million hectares in the Northern Amazon. This is a momentous win for environmentalists.

Chiribiquete National Park – “The Maloca of the Jaguar” has one of the highest rates of plant diversity and is home to almost 3,000 animal and plant species, many of which are endangered outside of this amazing protected area. The species include jaguars, lowland tapirs, giant otters, giant anteaters, woolly monkeys, puma, and the Chiribiquete emerald hummingbird.

The park is home to a huge amount of endemic species unique to the region. That’s because location really is everything. According to UNESCO, "The property, due to its unique location in the middle of two Pleistocene refuges (Napo and Imeri) and its function as a corridor between three biogeographic provinces (Orinoquia, Guyana, and Amazonia), hosts unique species with distinctive adaptations that are thought to have resulted from its geographical isolation.”

Besides the biodiversity, the national park is also culturally significant for indigenous communities and is the home of 75,000 rock pictographs on the walls of 60 rock shelters around the foot of rare tepui rock formations that rise out of the forest. Some of them have been dated to be more than 20,000 years old. The pictographs are scenes of hunting, battles, dances, and ceremonies and are linked to the cult of the jaguar. This area is still considered to be of mythical importance to the indigenous (some uncontacted) peoples living there.

The National Heritage designation marks the culmination of decades of joint conservation efforts by the Colombian government, the World Wildlife Fund (WFF), and other environmental organizations.

“This is a defining moment for the protection of key ecosystems in Colombia,” said Mary Lou Higgins, Director of WWF - Colombia in a press release. “This is also a very important milestone for the Amazon and for forest conservation globally. The expansion and recognition of this unique place as a World Heritage site is a significant step toward safeguarding it for future generations.”

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos told The Independent that he welcomed the UNESCO designation and hailed it as great news for Columbia. He vowed to increase the conservation budget by an additional $525 million to better protect and defend the country’s environment.

This should go a long way in preserving Serrania del Chiribiquete for generations to come.

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