Río Abiseo National Park and Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve (Peru)

Río Abiseo National Park and Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve (Peru)

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 21:29

Lying wholly within the Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve, Río Abiseo National Park is situated on the eastern slope of the tropical Andes in north-central Peru. The property harbors several forest types and high Andean grasslands known as Paramo, as well as extraordinary archaeological values.

Río Abiseo National Park is situated on the eastern slope of the tropical Andes in north-central Peru as one of the few World Heritage properties inscribed for both cultural and natural values. Across its 274,520 ha (67,756 acres) the property not only harbors several forest types and high Andean grasslands know as Paramo but also extraordinary archaeological values spanning at least eight millennia of human history.

Scientists consider the forest part of Pleistocene refuge, meaning that flora and fauna are believed to have survived and evolved here during periods of past glaciation. This is a plausible explanation for the astonishing diversity of flora and fauna and the high degree of endemism found in the forests and grasslands. The numerous archaeological sites blend in harmoniously with the forests, canyons, and highlands – against the stunning backdrop of an unspoiled and remote part of the Andes

The number and variety of archaeological sites found indicate a significant level of human occupation, which dates back to the preceramic era around 6,000 years B.C. and continued steadily until before European colonization. The known ruins and other archaeological remains extend over more than 150,000 ha (370,000 acres) in and around the property. Since 1985, 36 archaeological sites have been recorded, 29 in the high elevation grasslands and seven within the continuous montane forests inside the park.

Types of features include rock shelters, roads, domestic and ceremonial structures, storage buildings, fences, platforms, agricultural terraces and burial sites. Trade relationships existed with places as far away as the Pacific Coast and what are today the Ecuadorian Andes. Among these archaeological sites, Los Pinchudos and Gran Pajatén are worth highlighting.

  • Los Pinchudos is an elaborate Chachapoya tomb complex, perched into a high rock cleft in one of Peru's northern Andean cloud forests. Los Pinchudos is located in Río Abiseo National Park, a natural and cultural World Heritage Site, guarded and closed to all except scientific missions. The clay and stone tombs of the complex have wooden roofs and are painted in red, yellow, black, and white colors. Anthropomorphic carvings featuring large phalluses are responsible for giving the site its name. Los Pinchudos is located very near the related site of Gran Pajaten.

  • Gran Pajatén sits on a hilltop above the Montecristo River valley, and consists of a series of at least 26 circular stone structures atop numerous terraces and stairways. The ruins occupy an area of about 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft). The principal buildings are decorated with slate mosaics displaying human, bird and geometric motifs. Analysis of ceramic samples and radiocarbon dates show that the area was occupied as early as 200 BCE, but the visible building ruins on the present site were constructed during Inca times. Based primarily on architectural evidence, the settlement is attributed to the Chachapoyas culture.

Lying wholly within the Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve, the property protects the headwaters of three major rivers of the Huallaga Rive system, a major Peruvian tributary to the Amazon. Both the Andean grasslands and the lowland, montane and cloud forests harbor impressive numbers of rare species, many of which are restricted to the property in their range. Among the particularly noteworthy species is the critically endangered Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey, one of the largest monkey species in South America, which was long believed to be extinct before its scientific rediscovery in what is today the property.

In terms of research, the property´s pollen records deserve to be mentioned which contain valuable information on climate dynamics of this part of the Amazon Basin. There is little doubt that future research will reveal new discoveries, both in terms of natural and cultural heritage in an area that benefit from its formal protection status and the natural protection through the remoteness and the rugged terrain.


The Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve is nestled between the Andes and Amazon plains. Its territory covers 2,509,699 ha (6,201,600 acres) and comprises a diversity of natural habitats, notably dry forests and Yungas: tropical valleys along the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains characterized by a rainy, humid and warm climate.

While the reserve reaches a maximum height of 4,650 m (15,250 ft) above sea level, it nevertheless contains important gold mines and rich water resources, due to the presence of 150 lagoons that originate from glaciers.

Located in the Central Cordillera, the Gran Pajatén Peruvian Biosphere Reserve is characterized by high altitudes and a pristine ecosystem. It incorporates the Río Abiseo National Park, which is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  The site is home to fauna and flora of rain forests characteristic of this region of the Andes, and has a high level of endemism. It is the only place on earth where the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, previously thought extinct, is to be found.

The Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve comprises around 5,000 flora species of which 174 are Pteridophyta. The forests contain an abundance of Polylepis Multifuga, endemic in Peru, and Andean palm trees. In addition, the biosphere reserve is home to 903 animal species of which 27 are endemic. These include 181 mammal species, 409 bird species, 30 amphibian species, 14 fish species and 253 invertebrate species.

Many fauna species native to Peru are in danger of extinction, especially the Yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Lagothrix flavicauda), the San Martin titi monkey (Callicebus oenanthe) and the yellow-browed toucanet (Aulacorhynchus huallagae). An assessment undertaken by the biosphere reserve also found threats to other species including the jaguar (Pantera onca), the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis), a deer species native to South America.

Gran Pajatén also lends its name to an archaeological site in the Andean cloud forests of Peru, which provides a window into pre-Inca society. More than 170,000 people live in the biosphere reserve, whose main economic activities are agriculture (cacao, coffee), livestock and mining.

The Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve has a rich cultural and historical heritage linked to 40 archaeological sites dating from the Pre-Columbian era. The reserve takes its name from one of the most important Pre-Columbian sites in Peru, the Gran Pajatén fortress, located at 2,850 m (9,350 ft) above sea level. Another site of importance is the Kuelap fortress, situated 3,000 m (9,840 ft) above sea level, and dating back to 800 AD. Many of these historical sites were built by the Chachapoyas or the Inca.

The majority of inhabitants of the Gran Pajatén Biosphere Reserve live in rural towns, particularly in the transition areas. However, small rural communities also inhabit the northern and western zones. The mother tongue of the entire population is Castilian Spanish.

The majority of inhabitants earn their livelihoods as producers of cocoa, coffee, corn, sacha peanut or rice, among others. In addition, the western part of the biosphere reserve is characterized by mineral resources and comprises towns of up to 3,000 inhabitants linked to the mining industry.