Brazil's Tumucumaque Mountains receive few, if any, visitors. Perched on the Guayana Shield in the Amazonia wilderness area
, the region's rugged plateaus and surging rivers discourage even the most intrepid explorers.
"The land today looks much like it did hundreds, even thousands of years ago," explains José Maria Cardoso da Silva, CI director for Amazonia. "That's because the area is so inaccessible no one's ever been there. There are no roads, and its fast-moving rivers are impossible to navigate."
Now, thanks to the efforts of CI-Brazil and its partners, the Brazilian government has turned this distant landscape into the 9.6-million-acre Mountains of Tumucumaque National Park, Earth's largest tropical forest
The park could have ended up much smaller. Originally it was proposed to divide the land in half, setting aside up to 3.7 million acres for timber exploration and other commercial uses. CI-Brazil argued successfully that the region's rich biodiversity, unique landscape and extraordinarily pristine nature justified protecting the entire area.
"The biological information presented by CI convinced the government and other partners to merge the two pieces into one reserve," explains da Silva, who participated in the negotiations and was instrumental in the creation of the protected area. "We also argued successfully that the region's inaccessibility made logging in the area unfeasible."”
Scientists estimate that at least eight primate species
, 350 bird species and 37 lizard species live in Tumucumaque's forests. Among these are several species
threatened elsewhere, including the jaguar, giant armadillo and white-faced saki monkey.
CI President Russ Mittermeier says we've barely scratched the surface of the region's secrets. "Since Tumucumaque is one of the greatest unexplored places on Earth, we can only imagine what undiscovered mysteries will one day be found in the park."
Tumucumaque is part of a forest block composed of three large indigenous lands and four other protected areas. Together, the region encompasses more than 27 million acres, one of Earth's largest uninterrupted expanses of protected forests.
The park also anchors an integrated system of protected areas CI is helping to create along the Guayana Shield stretching from Venezuela to eastern Brazil
. These include the 4-million-acre Central Suriname Nature Reserve and a recently created 200,000-acre conservation concession in southern Guyana.
Da Silva's Amazon-based office is continuing to work with local governments to support the new park. This work includes assisting with mapping and enforcement activities, building scientific field stations and carrying out more complete studies of the region's biodiversity. CI also is working closely with local communities
in the buffer zone surrounding the park.
"The park will likely stay pristine for some time. However, we need to take pressure off the buffer zone and prevent any future encroachment into the park area," explains da Silva. "Key here is creating good socioeconomic conditions as well as educating local groups about the park's importance."
To this end, CI is supporting environmental education programs in the region as well as government efforts to strengthen local health and education services.