The World’s Most Biodiverse National Park Is ...
Wonder no more—a remote park in northwest Bolivia is likely the most biologically diverse place on earth, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) study released at the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, an international gathering of conservationists held in mid-September in Jeju, South Korea.
The 19,000 square-kilometer (7,335 square mile) Madidi National Park is known for its great variations in altitude and habitats from lowland tropical forests of the Amazon to snow-capped peaks of the High Andes. That’s a more than 6,000-meter (19,685 feet) altitudinal range.
The park contains 11 percent of the world’s birds, more than 200 species of mammals, almost 300 types of fish, and 12,000 plant varieties, says the list, part of a compendium published by the Bolivian Park Service (SERNAP) and funded by WCS.
The assessment grew out of an up to 15-year research enterprise employing 50 scientists from groups as diverse as the Bolivian National Herbarium, Amazon Conservation Association, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. A workshop staged by the group in 2008 at the request of the Bolivian Park Service summarized the astounding biodiversity that has come to be known about the park. The basic goal was to assess how many species Madidi contains as insight into what its future conservation needs may be.
The compendium that resulted estimates 1,868 vertebrates for Madidi, including 1,088 species of birds. To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. contains less than 900 bird species and only eleven countries have more bird species than Madidi National Park!
“With Madidi’s great altitudinal range, no other protected area captures the diversity of South American habitats that pushes these numbers through the ceiling,” said WCS’s Madidi Landscape Program Director Dr. Robert Wallace. “All the scientists who contributed to this compendium feel privileged to work in Madidi, and we are all very happy to help SERNAP promote the national and international conservation importance of the area.”
A little run-down of the riches really communicates the park’s assets. Mammals range from the 661-pound lowland tapir, an Amazonian herbivore, to the tiny insectivorous Spix’s disk-winged bat that weighs just 4 grams (.14 ounces). Bird species range from the harpy eagle, one of most powerful birds of prey in the world whose diet includes sloths and monkeys, to the diminutive festive coquette, one of 60 species of hummingbird expected to occur in the park.
If the above statistics sound impressive, keep in mind that two thirds of the park’s total biodiversity has yet to be formally registered or observed by scientists. That, and the looming threat of climate change to the biodiversity of the world’s mountains attests to the need for more research in this South American jewel.
Still unknown about the park? The tropical montane or cloud forests between 1,000 and 3,000 meters (3,280 and 9,842 feet) are still much of a mystery.
Madidi National Park is one of the top tourist attractions in Bolivia and part of a larger protected region known as the Madidi-Tambopata Landscape, one of the largest such complexes in the world.
More Cosy Cottages for the Cairngorms?
The Cairngorms is one of the UK’s most spectacular national parks, where bulking, rounded summits rise above gaping corries, more often called cirques in the United States. Despite hosting Scotland’s biggest ski area, the Cairngorms have passionate advocates of preservation who’ve managed to keep large parts of the park pristine.
No wonder people want to live there—and that requires housing. Plans to bring new housing developments to the park took a step toward fruition recently when opponents of the plans suffered a defeat in an attempt to persuade a judge to outlaw pro-development proposals.
Eight “grounds of appeal” were brought before Lord Glennie but he refused to rule out a plan for up to 2,000 houses as campaigners had hoped.
A story in The Scotsman newspaper said “the judge rejected each and every argument, paving the way for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to press ahead with the schemes outlined in its 2010 local plan.” Under that plan, “development policies were adopted for Nethy Bridge (40 houses), Carrbridge (117), An Camas Mor near Aviemore (1,500 over time) and Kingussie (300).”
Aviemore and Kingussie are two of the park’s main “holiday centres,” Aviemore not far from Cairngorm ski area. The famous whisky town of Dalwhinnie is another village flanking the park, many of which are located on the rail line that links London and Edinburgh with Inverness, just north of the park.
The article said the organizations Cairngorms Campaign, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks had filed the appeal. “They feared overdevelopment,” said The Scotsman, “which could harm a range of birds, animals, insects and plants, and alleged that the park authority had failed to ‘conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the park’ as it was obliged to do under the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000.”
Unlike parks in the United States, considerable residential area lies within park boundaries in the UK, making “development” an issue. Lord Glennie faulted the proposal to eliminate the new homes, saying in The Scotsman, “I am persuaded that the appellants have not shown any basis for a successful challenge. The exercise of drawing up a local plan involves, at times, the striking of a balance. The statutory constraints recognise this, as do the policies in the local plan.”