Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Perú 15

Perú: Megantoni

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
April 25-May 13, 2004

The 216,005 hectares of intact forest in the Zona Reservada Megantoni (ZRM) are situated along the eastern slopes of the Andes, in the department of Cusco (province of Convención, district of Echarate) in the central part of the Urubamba valley. The terrain is steep and spectacular, crossing different altitudinal gradients ranging from deep, humid canyons to the highland grasses of the puna, with forests growing on a heterogeneous mix of uplifted rocks, steep slopes, jagged mountain ridges, and middle-elevation tablelands. Two steep mountain ranges traverse stretches of the Zona Reservada, descending from east to west. In the southwestern corner, the Río Urubamba bisects one of these ranges, creating the mythical canyon, Pongo de Maenique. Three of the Urubamba’s tributaries—the Río Timpía and the Río Ticumpinía from the north and the Río Yoyato on the southern limit—run haphazardly through the deep valleys in the Zona Reservada, carving a path among the towering ridges above them.

Sites Surveyed
We surveyed three sites between 650-2,350 m. Although lowland forests harbor many more species, higher elevations tend to support more endemic species and species with restricted ranges. We chose the most inaccessible and isolated sites possible.

Kapiromashi Camp (bamboo in Machiguenga): This was the only inventory site in a large river valley. Our camp was situated in a regenerating landslide, along a small creek about 200 m from the Río Ticumpinía. The Río Ticumpinía, one of the largest rivers in the ZRM, reaches widths of 150 m or more during the rainy season. Similar to other areas in Megantoni, bamboo is pervasive at this site. We surveyed forests growing at elevations between 650-1,200 m.

Katarompanaki Camp (Clusia in Machiguenga): At the heart of Zona Reservada Megantoni, several massive tablelands rise between two tributaries of the Río Ticumpinía. These tablelands are obvious on satellite images and do not appear in either Parque Nacional Manu or the Vilcabamba conservation complex. Our second campsite was on the highest of these tablelands, and we explored both this higher tier and another platform 400 m below it. This campsite was christened Katarompanaki for the Clusia tree species that dominates the canopy on the top tier of the tablelands. At this camp we surveyed elevations between 1,300-2,000 m.

Tinkanari Camp (tree fern in Machiguenga): Our third inventory site was in the eastern corner of the Zona Reservada, close to its border with Parque Nacional Manu. Throughout the Andes and in parts of the Zona Reservada, this elevation contains some of the steepest slopes. This site was atypically flat, however, with water pooling in several places in the forest, and even forming a small (20-m diameter) blackwater pond that was not visible on the satellite image. The headwaters of the Río Timpía and the Río Manu originate several hundred meters above this site, and our trails crossed dozens of small creeks with moss-covered rocks. At this camp, we surveyed between the elevations of 2,100 and 2,400 m.

Organisms surveyed
Vascular plants, dung beetles, fishes, reptiles and amphibians, birds, and large mammals.

Highlight of results
The biological communities in Zona Reservada Megantoni are an interesting mix of species from north and south, east and west. Prior to our fieldwork, we expected to find a mix of components from the adjacent protected areas, Parque Nacional Manu and Cordillera Vilcabamba. The avifauna fit our expectations, and was a mix of these areas, but the other organisms were more closely related to communities in Manu, and some species occur exclusively in Megantoni. During our three-week field survey, we found more than 60 species new to science (more than 20 were orchids)—which is extraordinary. Habitat diversity in the Zona Reserva is extremely high.

Plants: The team registered more than 1,400 species, and we estimate that 3,000-4,500 plant species occur in the entire Zona Reservada, including lowland forest and puna species. In just 15 days, we found a surprising number of species new to science: 25 to 35. Great habitat diversity exists in the region and several plant species have very restricted ranges, confined to a certain type of soil or bedrock; these conditions may in part drive speciation. Orchids and ferns are especially diverse in the Zona Reservada and represent one quarter of all the plant species observed. Approximately one fifth of the flowering orchids we found were new to science (20 of 116 species).

Dung beetles: The team registered 71 of the 120 estimated dung beetles for the Zona Reservada. We found very few species in more than one site (and when we did, the species abundance was much greater in one site than the other). Species richness is exceptionally high in the region, even more so than in similar elevations in the Valle Kosñipata (Parque Nacional Manu). The two highest elevations we surveyed had great abundance of large dung beetles, which are more vulnerable to extinction. Secondary forests and bamboo forests had fewer species. Many of the species found have restricted elevational (and probably geographic) ranges and are most likely endemic to the region. Some of the Pharaeires species found were just recently described for science, some are rare, and some are new to science. In ecological terms the larger species are especially important because they recycle waste, control parasites, and disperse seeds.

Fishes: In the Río Ticumpinía and numerous smaller creeks, the team registered 22 fish species. We estimate that the ichthyofauna in Zona Reservada Megantoni exceeds 70 species, the majority living in the waters of lowland forests (< 700 m) not visited during this inventory. Some of the highland species (Astroblepus and Trichomycterus) appear endemic to the area, with unique morphological adaptations to the turbulent waters of the region. All sampled aquatic habitats are in an excellent state of conservation, free of the introduced rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) that has displaced (and in some cases, driven to extinction) native fauna in other sites in the Peruvian Andes.

Reptiles and amphibians: The herpetologist team registered 32 amphibian species (anurans) and 19 reptiles (9 lizards and 10 snakes) in three inventory sites between 700 and 2200 m. Based on previous inventories along the same altitudinal transect in the Valle Kosñipata (Parque Nacional Manu), we estimate 50-60 amphibians occur within Zona Reservada Megantoni. We found some species in unexpected elevations (Phrynopus lower than expected and Epipedobates macero higher) and some outside of their expected geographic ranges (e.g., Syncope further south, Liophis problematicus further north). Zona Reservada Megantoni shares some of the herpetofauna with neighboring Parque Nacional Manu, but more than a fifth of the species we recorded are unique to Megantoni. We found 12 species new to science (7 amphibians, 4 lizards, and 1 snake).

Birds: The ornithologist team registered 378 species in the three inventory sites. Including species from unvisited habitats (lowland tropical forest, high montane forest, and puna) and migratory species, we estimate 600 bird species occur within Zona Reservada Megantoni. The avifauna was a mix of species from the central Peruvian Andes, some only recorded west of Cordillera Vilcabamba, and species from the Bolivian Yungas, some only recorded from Puno or on the eastern side of Parque Nacional Manu. Protecting this area would preserve the remarkably high densities of guans and macaws we observed during this inventory. In other parts of Peru, hunting of large birds, like guans and tinamous, has seriously reduced their abundance. Even in our first camp (Kapiromashi), we found signs of hunting and guans were notably scarcer. Extremely rare and local species such as Black Tinamou (Tinamus osgoodi), Scimitar-winged Piha (Lipaugus uropygialis) and the Selva Cacique (Cacicus koepckeae), which are vulnerable to extinction (Birdlife International) and inhabit few sites worldwide, would be protected in Megantoni.

Mammals: Of the 46 expected species, the team registered 32 large and medium mammal species (belonging to 7 orders and 17 families) during the inventory. Five of these species are considered endangered and 12 are considered potentially threatened according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In the three sites we found a large number of tracks and other signs of the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), indicating the presence of healthy populations and further stressing the importance of protecting the Megantoni corridor. The Zona Reservada Megantoni is likely an extremely important corridor for other migrating species, such as Panthera onca and Puma concolor. Conservation targets include mammals listed on CITES, Appendix I: Tremarctos ornatus, Panthera onca, Leopardus pardalis, Lontra longicaudis and Priodontes maximus; and on CITES Appendix II: Myrmecophaga tridactyla, Dinomys branickii, Herpailurus yagouaroundi, Puma concolor, Tapirus terrestris, Alouatta seniculus, Cebus albifrons, Cebus apella, Lagothrix lagothricha, Tayassu pecari and Pecari tajacu.

Human communities
There are 38 native communities representing four distinct ethnicities in the upper and lower Urubamba river basins, north and south of Megantoni. The Machiguenga, Ashaninka, Yine Yami, and Nanti have lived in these forests for thousands of years hunting, fishing, and cultivating their small farms. For many of them, their spiritual roots are centered in Megantoni, especially in the turbulent waters of Pongo de Maenique—the sacred place where spirits travel between this world and the next, and where the world was created. Twenty-two years ago, the indigenous people of the region formed an alliance with CEDIA to promote effective natural resource management and protect their land, its biodiversity, and the center of their spiritual world. South of Megantoni, more than 150,000 colonist settlers live in the Alto Urubamba drainage.

Main threats
Along both sides of the lower Urubamba there is substantial deforestation, with larger slash and burn plots obvious on the satellite image, and evidence of colonization disappearing only at the boundary of the proposed reserve. Upriver of the Pongo de Maenique, and along the Río Yoyato on the southern side of the proposed Zona Reservada, the colonization threat from higher in the Andes is even greater, with the canyon appearing to provide at least a partial barrier to deforestation. In addition to habitat destruction, uncontrolled hunting within ZRM could threaten much of its fauna. We observed evidence of hunting impacts in our first camp, Kapiromashi.

Antecedents to Zona Reservada Megantoni
In 1988, CEDIA (Centro del Desarrollo del Indígena Amazónico) and COMARU (Consejo Machiguenga del Río Urubamba) appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture to declare Megantoni a protected area (210,000 ha). In 1992, they prepared a technical document calling for the creation of a strictly protected area in Megantoni, “Santuario Nacional Machiguenga Megantoni.” In 1998, INRENA passed responsibility to the Dirección Regional Agraria de Cusco (Regional Agricultural Office in Cusco) to produce information about species listed by CITES, and describe the lands neighboring the proposed protected area.

Between 1997 and 1998, the Inca Region, now known as the Cusco Regional Government, assembled local institutions to form a sustainable development plan for the entire Lower Urubamba drainage. This assembled groups strongly urged completing all pending studies before officially declaring Zona Reservada Megantoni a protected area.

In March 2004, 16 years after CEDIA began its work to protect the area, the government passed Ministerial Resolution Number 0243-2004-AG creating Zona Reservada Megantoni and incorporating it into the National System of Natural Protected Areas (SINANPE).

Current Status
The results of this inventory provided biological support for maximum protection of the Zona Reservada (a temporary designation with limited protection). On August 11, 2004, Supreme Decree Number 030-2004-AG created the new Santuario Nacional Megantoni based on the technical documents prepared by CEDIA, incorporating our findings. The Santuario is now an essential component of Peru’s extensive, protected biological corridor that starts in Vilcabamba, crosses Manu and Bahuaja-Sonene and then continues into Bolivia.

Principal recommendations for protection and management

Zona Reservada Megantoni should be granted the strongest protection status possible to conserve its valuable cultural and biological resources, including species potentially endemic to Megantoni’s mountains, and to maintain the extremely important corridor between Parque Nacional Manu and Cordillera Vilcambamba. [Note: This recommendation has already been implemented, with the creation of the Santurio Nacional Megantoni as this report was being finalized.]

A. Within the new conservation area, we propose the following zoning recommendations:

i. Protect the area where indigenous people in voluntary isolation live, for their exclusive use (Uso Exclusivo)

ii. Create a special use (Uso Especial) area for the indigenous people living in Sababantiari that allows them to continue their traditional use of the forest. In this area, we recommend implementing a participatory community program, to monitor the impact of hunting, and if necessary, to manage hunting practices accordingly.

iii. The isolated puna habitat in the southeastern corner of Megantoni (see map above) should be strictly protected. Because it is isolated from the more extensive and interconnected puna habitat in other parts of Megantoni and PN Manu, it could harbor endemic and rare species.

iv. Promote and ensure possibilities to research intact puna habitats along the Zona Reservada’s southern border; these studies could eventually help restore and manage degraded puna in nearby areas.

v. Promote a low-impact tourism zone around Pongo de Maenique and other possible entrance points (e.g., north of the Estrella highway) to benefit neighboring communities (see map).


Promote the completion of the physical and legal land titling in the areas next to the Zona Reservada Megantoni.


Prevent public works or infrastructure construction within the fragile Zona Reservada.


Develop engaging and effective ways for neighboring populations to participate in the protection and management of the new protected area.

Long-term conservation benefits
There are very few pristine areas like Zona Reservada Megantoni connecting puna to lowland tropical forest. These types of continuous corridors not only contain an impressive richness of both endemic species and species of restricted altitudinal range, but they are extremely important for fauna, especially when considering global issues of climate change and deforestation.

Zona Reservada Megantoni represents a unique opportunity to expand some of the most globally important biological and cultural reserves: the Parque Nacional Manu and the protected areas of the Cordillera Vilcabamba. Immediate protection of these approximately 200,000 ha would provide an intact, forested link between two tremendously important national parks, making the total effective area of protection double the size of each individual park (a total area of more than 2.6 million ha).

Elevating the status of the Zona Reservada to Santuario Nacional Megantoni would ensure protection of thousands of species, prevent advancing deforestation, and create the only secure and intact corridor for animals migrating between Manu and Vilcabamba. The forests of Santuario Nacional Megantoni will also support and provide shelter to the Machiguenga, Ashaninka, Yine Yami and Nanti (Kugapakori) people. These indigenous people have lived in Megantoni’s forests and valleys for thousands of years and today they survive cultivating root crops, and hunting in the traditional manner of their ancestors. A strictly protected area would also preserve their cultural heritage.

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