Manu National Park – Exceptional Universal Value

Brief Overview:

A World Heritage Natural Site, the Manu National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. It harbors an exquisite biodiversity, globally recognized and shielded from human impact. The park extends from 300 meters above sea level in the Amazon plain to 4,000 meters at the summit of the Andes Mountains. The Park was established on May 29, 1973. Recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, it covers an area of 1,716,295.22 hectares and is one of the prime destinations for nature tourism. Known as the world’s lung due to the amount of oxygen in this part of the planet, the Manu National Park is a globally renowned paradise of terrestrial biodiversity at the convergence of the tropical Andes and the Amazon Basin in southwestern Peru. As a vast, geographically and economically isolated basin, the roadless area has been spared most human impacts and remains difficult to access to this day.

Spanning the entire altitudinal gradient of the eastern Andes slope from about 300 to over 4,000 meters above sea level, the abrupt transition includes high Andean Puna grasslands, cloud forests, Yunga forests, and lowland tropical rainforests. Fed by numerous whitewater streams in the mountains, the Manu River winds through the lowland forests before joining the powerful Madre de Dios River at the property’s southern end. As demonstrated by Inca and pre-Inca ruins and petroglyphs, there’s a long history of indigenous occupation. The local legend of Paititi, where the “Lost City of the Incas” is believed to be within what is now the property, has attracted both researchers and adventurers. Today, several indigenous peoples are the only permanent inhabitants, some sedentary and in regular contact with the “modern world,” while others maintain a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle in so-called “voluntary isolation” or “initial contact,” respectively.

Manu National Park


The immense variety of the Manu National Park in terms of altitude, microclimate, soils, and other ecological conditions results in a complex mosaic of habitats and niches. There’s a broad spectrum of plant communities, from seemingly homogenous but highly diverse Andean grasslands to a variety of mostly pristine forest types. Plant diversity estimates range between 2,000 and 5,000 species, and some scientists even assume considerably higher figures. Fauna records are equally impressive, with over 1,000 vertebrate species, including at least 200 mammal species and over 800 bird species.

Among mammals are the giant otter, 13 different primate species, and eight felines, including the jaguar, puma, and the elusive and endangered Andean mountain cat. The wide range of estimates in various taxonomic groups of fauna and flora illustrates how little is known, and even less understood, about the diversity of life in the property. In the medium and long term, developments around Manu National Park, such as gas extraction and road construction, could affect the property, which remains mostly pristine. Careful planning and management are needed to balance development needs with the integrity of a global conservation gem.

Manu National Park has a remarkable location at the meeting point of the tropical Andes and the Amazon lowland forests. The enormous altitudinal gradient has fostered an extremely wide range of ecological conditions and the evolution of highly diverse species and ecological communities. The landscape diversity ranges from high Andean grasslands to various forest types, including pristine montane cloud forests and lush lowland tropical forests. The combination of topography, ecological conditions, and isolation has allowed the almost undisturbed and continuous evolution of an extraordinary diversity of life at all levels and a high degree of endemism. In addition to the diversity of life, Manu National Park is also known for an unusually high abundance of fauna in many taxonomic groups.

The extraordinary biodiversity combined with the large size and excellent conservation status make Manu National Park a globally significant protected area for biodiversity conservation. Over 200 mammal species, 800 bird species, 68 reptile species, 77 amphibian species, and an impressive number of freshwater fish imply a vertebrate diversity matched only in very few places worldwide. Figures in other taxonomic groups are at least equally impressive, for example, the over 1,300 butterfly species recorded among probably several hundred thousand arthropods.

Thousands of higher plant species are distributed across diverse ecosystems, habitats, and niches. Hundreds of tree species are often found growing together in very small areas. For decades, the property has been among the primary references for scientific research in tropical ecology. As such, the property has significantly helped our understanding of tropical forest ecosystems. Even the most experienced researchers are overwhelmed not only by the diversity of life but also by the impressive abundance of vertebrates, including mammals. Despite the significant record of research, even today taxonomic studies invariably reveal species unknown to science, including  vertebrates, clear proof that Manu continues to keep many of its biodiversity secrets.

Manu National Park


– 1,025 bird species

– 221 mammal species

– 1,307 butterfly species

– 8 wild cat species

– 15 primate species

– 27 Psittacidae species

– 155 reptile species

– 300 ant species

– 650 beetle species


The property benefits from natural protection on a relatively large scale due to its remote location and is considered one of the most pristine areas of the Peruvian Amazon. The presence of large top predators in natural population densities, such as the jaguar, puma, giant otter, and harpy eagle, provides evidence of the almost pristine general state of Manu National Park. Unlike other parts of the Amazonian Manu National Park, it is believed to still be largely free of invasive exotic species. The property is today integrated into a much wider conservation complex composed of different categories of protected areas and indigenous communal areas, including contiguous ones such as Alto Purús National Park and Megantoni National Sanctuary, adding another layer of protection.

Functional corridors extend to the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon. Since the property’s expansion, the Manu River basin, an important tributary of the Madre de Dios, is protected in its entirety. Human use and direct interference are minimal and mostly restricted to a small number of indigenous residents. As long as they maintain a lifestyle compatible with conservation objectives, their presence is not believed to negatively affect the conservation values of Manu National Park. The integrity of the property could be compromised by inappropriate developments in its surroundings, implying the need to seriously consider the surrounding buffer zone in protection and management efforts.

Protection and Management Requirements:

Geographical isolation and long-term protection have saved Manu National Park from changes occurring in other parts of the Peruvian Amazon. The formal history of conservation began in 1968 when the Manu Natural Reserve was declared. Thanks to the dedication of a group of Peruvian conservationists and international supporters, the national park was formalized by Supreme Decree in 1973. In 1977, Manu National Park was recognized by UNESCO as the central zone of an even larger biosphere reserve. Both the national park and the biosphere reserve are today under the authority of Peru’s national protected areas agency, SERNANP, dependent on the Ministry of the Environment.

The government-owned park’s zoning distinguishes several zones. The largest by far is the Restricted Zone, consisting mainly of intact forests and is dedicated exclusively to conservation with controlled access for researchers and de facto accepted indigenous subsistence resource use. Other smaller zones are a Special Use Zone, two distinct Recreational Zones, a Cultural Zone, and a Recovery Zone covering relatively small Andean areas impacted by livestock and related fire use. The smallest zone is the so-called Service Zone around Cocha Cashu Biological Station and the various ranger-attended checkpoints. The management of the property is guided by a Master Plan with a committee composed of various stakeholders created to ensure local participation and contributions to management.

The needs identified in Master Plans in terms of personnel, resources, and program activities reveal implementation and funding gaps. The population near the property is dispersed in small communities dedicated to subsistence and small-scale commercial agriculture and livestock. Both agricultural communities and indigenous residents have a localized but manageable impact on the property. Despite the lack of acute pressures, a number of concerns stemming from broader developments in the region are well-documented.

New roads through the Andes and smaller roads in the vicinity of the property are likely to induce changes by opening access. Indirect impacts of the Camisea Gas Field and exploration near the property require careful monitoring. Development in the buffer zone, although formally not part of the inscribed property, may well be decisive for the future of the property. A particularity of the property is that it protects indigenous residents from external pressures and unwanted attempts to contact them. A clear policy for their future needs to be defined.

Park Management:

Like all national parks in Peru, Manu National Park is managed by SERNANP (National Service of Natural Protected Areas by the State).

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