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South America

MADIDI NATIONAL PARK

Madidi National Park is one of the newest and most spectacular of the world’s reserves—enormous, encompassing some 7,345 square miles (19,000 km2) of largely untouched forest bordering Bolivia’s western frontier with Peru.

Still not fully counted, more than 1,000 bird species have been recorded—more than 50 percent of all neotropical bird species, 11 percent of all bird species on earth. Some 44 percent of all neotropical mammal species are here and 38 percent of all neotropical amphibians, in habitat rising through cloud forest and glaciers close to 20,000 feet (6,000 m) and dropping to just 820 feet (250 m) above sea level.

Spectacular macaws—some of the world’s largest parrots, more than a yard (1 m) long, both scarlet and scarlet-and-green—gather in raucous flocks to ingest mineralized clay in riverbanks. Mammal species only sparsely present elsewhere have been observed in numbers here—abundant populations of tapirs and spider monkeys—along with such extreme rarities as short-eared dogs, in forests likely to be as species-rich as any on the continent. Grasslands are equally rich, with heartening populations of avian species declining precipitously elsewhere, such as cocktailed tyrants and black-masked finches.

Final counts for all biota on this huge largely unstudied tract can only be estimated. With adjacent Tambopata-Candamo Reserve  and nearby MANU NATIONAL PARK to the west in Peru (see p.567), down to adjoining Apolobomba Reserve on the Bolivian altiplano to the southwest, which has the largest vicuña and condor populations in Bolivia and huge numbers of flamingos and other waterfowl, this may be the most biodiverse terrestrial site on the globe.

Efforts to establish the park, joint project of Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and local peoples aided by several ecotourist agencies, began after logging and mineral exploration and drilling became a serious threat. Now Conservation International in partnershipwith Quechua-Tacana Amerindians are working out plans for community-based tourism, with sustainable harvest of plant products, handicraft production, and a tourist lodge with posted trails and guiding facilities on remote Lake Chalalan, two to five hours by boat from the nearest airstrip near Rurrenabaque, a stopover point from La Paz with lodging (also with interesting side trips available to wildlife lagoons at Reyes and Santa Rosa). Trips can be arranged through tour guides in La Paz. White-water rafting trips through cloud, tropical dry, and primary rain forest, camping on riverine beaches—best for the physically fit—can be arranged through tour guides in Cuzco, Peru.

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