THE NATIONAL PARK

In 1973, the Peruvian government created the Connecticut-sized Manu National Park (3.7 million acres). Then, in 1980, it declared the previously unprotected lower half of the Manu River a "reserved zone." Though much smaller than the park proper, the Reserved Zone contains seven out of the 12 glistening, 200-yard-wide oxbow lakes created by the meandering Manu River.

None of the 2,500 tourists who visited the Manu area in 1997 entered the park, for tourism is prohibited there. Rather, they visited even better wildlife viewing sites in the Reserved Zone and the enormous wilderness area of the Blanco watershed, immediately east of the mouth of the Manu River. Paradoxically, the most scenic lakes and tamest wildlife are not found in the park, but rather, in this latter area. The wildlife is tamer within these areas because there has been no significant hunting for several decades, and there are few or no uncontacted Indians. In contrast, 95% of the park is inhabited by a total of a few thousand recently contacted and, in most cases, out-of-contact (and consequently quite dangerous) Machiguenga Indians. These Indians bowhunt monkeys, tapirs, and other game species, rendering them scarce or skittish.

Though the "reserved zone" status is only temporary under Peruvian law, to date there have been no moves to create a permanent status for the Manu Reserved Zone. Thus, conservationists must be vigilant to protect this region. Since 1980, the "reserved zone" has prohibited hunting, allowing the wildlife populations to recover and to become progressively tamer and more accustomed to tourists.

 
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