So much in Peru is on the rise. Its reputation as a food mecca, employment rates, urban construction, and tourism. They have welcomed increases that began to emerge at the turn of the century, after a decade of political and civil unrest that wreaked havoc for many in Peru and led others to flee.
As the country grows, Pedro Gamboa has his eye on one thing: Peru’s protected areas. Seventy-six of them, all which he oversees for the Peruvian government. Most are referred to as parks, reserves or sanctuaries. The most well-known are in the lush Amazon rain forest. Others, just as magnificent but less-traveled, are in the moonscape-like coastal desert and within eyesight of the snow-capped Andes mountain range. All of them are designated on paper as protected. The challenge now is to ensure they also are protected in reality, so that wildlife and people (from Peru and worldwide) can benefit from them now and for generations to come. Unsustainable gold mining, logging, and agriculture, as well as illegal logging and urban expansion in Peru, drive home the urgency for addressing this challenge.
Gamboa is on it. He is helping to lead an initiative that aims to generate funding to properly manage Peru’s protected areas. Called National Parks: Peru’s Natural Legacy, this initiative begins in the Peruvian Amazon, where 87% of the country’s protected areas are located. In May, $140 million was secured to expand and effectively manage nearly 42 million acres of that region. This funding will be used to buy equipment for park rangers so they can patrol the parks better, create jobs in ecotourism, and more. The Peruvian government invests in its protected areas but, as in most countries, its funding to do so is not as large or reliable as it needs to be.
The Rain Forests
The Peruvian Amazon is a land of superlatives. First worldwide in its diversity of freshwater fish, first in butterflies, second in birds, and fifth in mammals and reptiles. It is the second largest area within the broader nine-country Amazon rain forest. Its extensive tree coverage—nearly 260,000 square miles—makes it one of the world’s largest store houses of carbon. A new ranking creates alarm, not awe, and drives home the need for the PFP initiative. The Amazon (including the Peruvian Amazon) is one of the world’s top 11 deforestations fronts—one of the regions expected to have more deforestation and forest degradation than anywhere else by 2030, according to a new WWF report.
The windy Andes mountain range, the longest in the world, is at the core of what defines Peru. It is what keeps the country’s coast (to its west) so dry and the Amazon forests (to its east) so wet. It is harder to get to and the weather can be harsher than other regions of Peru. But it is rich in cultural and natural resources—especially water. Its glaciers feed Peru’s rivers, which are the main source of water for agriculture and drinking water for people countrywide. The rivers also generate 60 percent of Peru’s electricity. Climate change is the largest threat to this region.
The Coastal Desert
The western rim of Peru is a world of contrasts. The sprawling city of Lima, where most people in Peru live, merges with an expansive desert that becomes more barren—almost looking devoid of life from afar—the further south one goes from Lima. Its endless sand dunes and rocky surfaces are a stand in for moonscapes when movies are filmed. The desert ends at cliffs that look out to one of the world’s most productive ocean areas. Peru’s oldest protected area—the Paracas National Reserve—is in this region. The reserve is rich in biodiversity and protects prehistoric sites of the Paracas culture and other ancient civilizations. Through the PFP initiative, Peru hopes to generate funding that can be used to protect the fragile habitat of species that thrive here.