Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in northeastern Bolivia is one of the largest, most intact parks in the Amazon Basin and is the site of a rich mosaic of habitat types. This World Heritage Site boasts an evolutionary history dating back over a billion years to the Precambrian period.
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is located in the Santa Cruz Department, Province of José Miguel de Velasco, in northeastern Bolivia, on the border with Brazil.
It is one of the largest (1,523,000 ha or 3,700,000 acres) and most pristine parks in the Amazon Basin. It is situated at a transition zone, where the rainforest meets dry Chiquitano forests on the southern fringe of the vast drainage basin.
The area boasts an evolutionary history dating back over a billion years to the Precambrian and contains unique ecological associations with complex lithologies.
Originally named Parque Nacional Huanchaca, it was renamed in 1988 in honor of the conservation biologist who recognized the global significance of the area and campaigned tirelessly to protect it: Dr. Noel Kempff Mercado.
World Heritage Site
The National Park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 due to its array of habitat types supporting a high plant and animal life biodiversity.
Sharing a border with Brazil, the National Park covers much of the Huanchaca Plateau (also known as Caparu Meseta). This sandstone escarpment rises 550 m (1,800 ft) above the surrounding plain.
In several locations, waterfalls have formed from the cliffs of the Huanchaca Plateau. These include:
- Arcoiris Falls: 88 m (290 ft)
- Frederico Ahlfeld Falls: 25 - 45 m (80 - 150 ft)
- El Encanto Falls: 80 m (260 ft)
With altitudinal diversity stretching from 200 m (650 ft) to nearly 1000 m (3,280 ft), Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is the site of a rich mosaic of habitat types that include:
- evergreen rainforests
- palm forests
- gallery forests
- semi-deciduous dry forests.
The cerrado habitats found on the Huanchaca Meseta have been isolated for millions of years, providing an ideal living laboratory for the study of the evolution of these ecosystems.
Mean annual precipitation is approximately 1,400 - 1,500 mm (55 - 59 in). There is a dry season of about 4 - 6 months (May to September) when rainfall declines. Precipitation occurs mainly in the Austral summer.
The mean annual temperature is 25 - 26 °C (77 - 79 °F). Still, during the dry season, temperatures can drop to 10 °C (50 °F) for several days when cold, dry air masses (surazos) originating in Patagonia reach the park.
Flora and Fauna
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park contains a high diversity of plant and animal species, including viable populations of many globally-threatened large vertebrates.
While biological exploration is still in its infancy, over 4,000 species, including orchids, bromeliads, and palms, have already been recorded here, including 26 plants new to science. Mahogany, cedar, and rubber trees also thrive here.
About 100 of the world's estimated 1,000 giant river otters live along Noel Kempff's waterways. Other river inhabitants include capybaras, pink river dolphins, and black and spectacled caimans.
Recorded species in the National Park include 139 mammals, 74 reptiles, 62 amphibians, and 254 fish. Tapirs, gray and red brocket deer, silvery marmosets, pumas, jaguars, maned wolves, giant anteaters, and spider and black howler monkeys are mammals of particular interest.
Harpy eagles, storks, Amazonian umbrella birds, helmeted manakins, hoatzins, rusty-necked piculet, and more than 20 types of parrots are among the park's 620 bird species.