Manú is the largest national park in Peru and is such a special place that in 1977, Unesco, the United Nations’ educational and cultural organisation, recognised it as a biosphere reserve. In 1987, it was made a World Heritage Site.
The national park, in Peru’s southern Amazon rainforest, is huge, covering 1.5 million hectares. And according to Unesco, the biological diversity found there exceeds that of any other place on earth.
The park lies within the Amazon basin but it also includes part of the eastern slopes of the Andes. It rises from 150 to 4,200 m above sea level, taking in lowland Amazonian rainforest, high-altitude cloud forest and Andean grassland – and those marked variation in conditions and vegetation give rise to its unique variety of plant and animal species.
More than 1,000 species of birds – about 10 per cent of the world’s bird species – have been recorded in the park, along with more than 1,200 species of butterflies, and 287 reptiles and amphibians.
There are rarities such as the giant otter and the giant armadillo, and jaguars are often spotted.
One expert at the University of California said: “For reptiles and amphibians, Manú and its buffer zone now stands out as the most diverse protected area anywhere.”
As a home of wildlife, Manú is now regarded as globally irreplaceable. Although the park is accessible it is very remote and experts know that there is still much to discover there. For example, Unesco admits that little is known of the flora in Manú. Although 1,147 plant species have been identified, it is thought that the actual figure must be a lot higher.
The park also has human inhabitants. There are no towns there, but according to Unesco at least four different groups of indigenous people make their homes in Manú. They are nomadic, and survive on hunting, fishing and basic agriculture. They are seen as part of the park’s natural system, and are left to use the park as they please.
The beautiful, mysterious Manú, a pristine wilderness teeming with wildlife, really has to be seen to be believed.