Chiribiquete, a vast national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in southwestern Colombia, is a land of ancient, sheer-block, table-top mesas, or tepuys, thick rainforest, dramatic waterfalls and roiling rivers. Teeming with flora and fauna and prehistoric cave paintings, the park was established in 1989 and expanded in 2013 to encompass more than 6.8 million acres – an area larger than the state of Maryland. Now, the Government of Colombia has just taken an extraordinary step to protect this spectacular place by expanding the park by another 3.7 million acres.
In recent years, Colombia’s largest national park has faced increasing threats from a dramatic rise in deforestation on its northern and western flanks, as regional land speculation has exploded.
“Chiribiquete is a unique treasure — for Colombia, for the broader Amazon basin and for the world,” said Andes-Amazon Initiative program officer Paulina Arroyo. “With its record rates of plant and animal species diversity and proximity to indigenous territories, the park plays a critical role in the surrounding landscape mosaic, safeguarding the long-term ecological integrity, climatic function and resilience of the Amazon.”
“Chiribiquete is a unique treasure — for Colombia, for the broader Amazon basin and for the world.”
While much of the park has not yet been explored or documented by modern science, what is already documented foretells the immense diversity and global value of the place. The park’s tepuys, believed to have served as sacred sites for indigenous peoples, are the remains of a large plateau, eroded over some two billion years, leaving the plateau remnants as isolated ecological islands. These dramatic topographic features are home to plant species endemic to the Guianas’ savannas, and the tepuys’ subsurface caves harbor one of the continent’s largest collections of cave paintings. The park’s dense, lowland rainforests boast one of the northern Amazon’s highest rates of plant diversity, and its abundance of free-flowing rivers are important spawning grounds for fish that sustain nearby communities.
Colombia’s management of Chiribiquete—and the country’s targets for newly established protected area coverage—are part of a national initiative called Heritage Colombia, or Herencia Colombia. Heritage Colombia aims to safeguard the natural resources within Colombia’s network of protected areas, and as a Project Finance for Permanence effort, uses innovative funding mechanisms to increase the total land in Colombia’s national park system while ensuring the land is managed and financed sustainably.
In 2017, the Colombian National Land Agency approved the expansions of Puerto Sábalo Los Monos and Monochoa indigenous territories, connecting Chiribiquete to the Predio Putumayo reserve. Those expansions came as part of an agreement with Parques Nacionales de Colombia (National Park Service), established when they expanded the Chiribiquete National Park to the south in 2013. The Moore Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative had supported the free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) process with Parques Nacionales, and had supported Amazon Conservation Team-Colombia (ACT Colombia), in coordination with the Nature Conservancy-Colombia and the Andes Amazon Fund, to work with the government and the indigenous organizations to implement the agreements that resulted from the FPIC process.
“This latest boundary expansion brings the total that Colombia has added to Chiribiquete to a total of 7.3 million acres, furthering the country’s legacy as a leader for conservation of the Amazon,” said Amazon Andes Initiative Program Director Dr. Avecita Chicchón. “In partnership with the Andes Amazon Fund and the Wyss Foundation, we celebrate the contributions of President Santos, the Ministry of Environment, Director of National Parks Julia Miranda, la Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible, Gaia Amazonas, the Field Museum and the many other groups and individuals who have helped shape this remarkable conservation story.”
Map image courtesy of Andes Amazon Fund. All other images courtesy of Alvaro Gaviria, Parques Nacionales.