The extraordinary world value of the Cordillera del Cóndor and the Cenepa River Basin
“The true gold is the Cordillera just as it is. Don’t they realize that?”
“This is a point of encounter, where conservation interests from a global perspective,
interests associated with the national conservation strategy and the conservation
priorities of the Awajún and Wampís communities in Peru and the Shuar people
in Ecuador coincide, as observed when comparing the following maps”
The Cordillera del Cóndor (Condor Mountain Range) is an isolated branch of the Cordillera Real Oriental (Eastern Mountain Range), which reaches an altitude of nearly 3,000 m.a.s.l. in the region. The Cenepa River or Senep, as referred to by members of the Awajún and Wampís peoples, in whose territory the Cordillera is located, flows from its peaks.
The particularity of the area, its status as a “hotspot” and its role in the water cycle of the Cenepa River Basin substantiate the importance to protect and conserve this ecosystem. The Cordillera del Cóndor also forms part of a section of the international border between Peru and Ecuador. This stretch of border between both countries was tardily delimited after the war of 1941 and the signing of the Rio de Janeiro Protocol of 1942.
The Cordillera del Cóndor, Biodiversity and the Cenepa River Basin
The enormous value of biodiversity in the Cordillera del Cóndor is largely associated with its geological origin and the isolated nature of this sub-Andean mountain range. The Cordillera is mostly comprised of Tertiary and Mesozoic sediments consisting of sandstone and limestone, resulting from the erosion of the old Guiana and Brazilian Shields. These sediments were deposited on the western side of the South American continent during the Mesozoic and early Tertiary periods, before the Andes rose up and folded, concurrently emerging with the Cordillera Andina (Andean Mountain Range) starting in the Miocene epoch (25 million years) and the late Pliocene epoch in the last 4 to 5 million years. In the Cordillera del Cóndor, the sedimentary strata extend from the early Jurassic formation, with limestone and volcanic intercalations, to the Tena formation of the Paleocene and early Eocene epochs, formed by red clay. At the same time, the Hollin sandstone formation, deposited as a result of the erosion of the Guiana Shield, forms a layer of no more than 150 meters dating back to the Cretaceous period, but which mostly emerged in the last 10 million years.
This very complex geological history is responsible for the existence of intrusive igneous formations that contain deposits of gold, copper and other minerals, as well as the so-called Zamora granitic batholiths, which is the result of major volcanic and tectonic events in the Jurassic period that injected extremely large granite plutons and huge volcanic masses at various levels.
These plateaus occur in fragments of varying size and altitude, variables that also affect the density and height of the vegetation found in these areas. Mount Kumpaná or Kumpaná Muja is one of these tepuis that present an extraordinary diversity of flora and some fauna. Due to these important characteristics, researchers have stated that the Cordillera del Cóndor could have the richest flora of any area of similar size anywhere in the Neotropic. Studies conducted by the Missouri Botanical Garden in connection with Peruvian and Ecuadorian scientific institutions documented 1,900 vascular species, 300 to 400 bryophytes and a considerable number of new species to science as of 2007.
The combination of diverse geological substrata and forest humidity throughout the entire year make the Cordillera del Cóndor a very unique place, where seventeen different types of vegetation with significant ecological variability have been distinguished. Biodiversity studies exhibit numerous “noteworthy records”, due to the rarity of the species found, the existence of new species, the breadth of range, threatened species or the importance of species for conservation. The rare insectivorous plant, Drosera sp., has been identified in the exposed sandstone formations of the high Comaina River.
Tropical Premontane Rainforest, Tropical Wet Forest and Tropical Premontane Wet Forest predominate in the Cordillera del Cóndor. The zone has an annual rainfall of 3,000 mm, reaching 4,000 mm in the foothills of the Cordillera with an average annual temperature of 25 ºC. Tropical Premontane Rainforest covers the left bank of the Cenepa River and the eastern portion of the Cordillera del Cóndor. It is located between 600 and 700 m.a.s.l. Tropical Montane Rainforest can be found in the peaks of the Cordillera del Cóndor above 2,000 m.a.s.l.; the climate is typically rainy and semi-warm.
Although large game species are not abundantly found in the middle and lower Cenepa River Basin, a wealth of species was identified in the Cordillera del Cóndor and upper Cenepa and Comaina river basins, in comparison with similar habitats of equal altitudinal location. It is worth noting the presence of some endangered and vulnerable species, amounting to a total of nineteen species of mammals in different categories of threat. In terms of birds, five new species have been found in Peru. A significant number of day and night lepidopteran species, including a new species to science, has also been recorded. Furthermore, various endemic tree frog species have been documented in the Cordillera del Cóndor.
A wealth of species was discovered in areas consisting of clear and black waters, as well as lentic environments, which were found to be in good condition when conducting the studies, given that variations in ichthyofauna are associated with altitude. The studies detected a considerable presence of otters, which reflected the abundance of fish in the upper reaches of the Cenepa river basins and their tributaries.
The network of rivers, streams and brooks makes its way through the deeply dissected mountain system. Water originating in the Cordillera del Cóndor constitutes a fundamental part of the subsystems of the Cenepa and Santiago river basins, which also contribute significant volumes of water and sediment to the Marañón River.
Due to these characteristics and conditions, the Cordillera del Cóndor is a site of great value for conservation, given the importance of the existence of the sub-Andean mountain range featuring geological and biological characteristics considered to be enormously relevant for research, the Amazon Basin and the continent, as well as its role in maintaining the water cycles inherent to the Cenepa and Santiago river basins.
This is a point of encounter, where conservation interests from a global perspective, interests associated with the national conservation strategy and the conservation priorities of the Awajún and Wampís communities in Peru and the Shuar people in Ecuador coincide.
Thus, having established the conditions for the final demarcation of the border along the Cordillera del Cóndor, the idea to create a protected area with the purpose of conserving the significant biodiversity and contributing to the stability and security of the border was reconsidered. This process began with intensive participation of the Awajun and Wampis communities but was betrayed by the Government as we have show (see: “Our war against Ugkaju”).
© Photos by Marco Huaco. All rights reserved.
© Text excerpted from the Research Report "A Chronicle of Deception" by Research Team of ODECOFROC. All rights reserved.
Postcards From a Possible World _ COCOA