Biodiversity in the Andes
Each section of Andes has specialized fauna and flora that have adapted to its conditions. At higher levels, 14,000 feet/4,267 meters, few animals and plants can survive because of the lack of oxygen. Few people live at this elevation. Life at this altitude is scarce and specialized. Birds are small and small rodents such as the guinea pigs, native of the Andes, are part of the local population’s diet. Trees are almost nonexistent at this level.
Andean condors sore in the sky looking for prays to feed on, they live in flocks on the highest altitudes of the Andes. Condors are very large vultures and scavengers who feed on small animals. They have magnificent black plumage fringed with white feathers on the wings. Other birds of prey are American kestrel and the falcon aplomado. The most famous bird of the Andes is the Cock of the Rock, it is Peru’s national bird. It has stunning red plumage which the Incas used as a badge.
The two great carnivores of the Andes are the puma and the jaguar. The Puma usually hunts at higher altitudes than the jaguar who prefers the dense humid forest of the Andean valleys.
The spectacled or Andean bear is the only bear species that is not extinct in South America. They live along the forested areas of the cordillera.
At the lower levels people have lived for centuries. Pre-Inca cultures domesticated a local camelid, the llama. Llamas were also called Peruvian sheep by the first Europeans and have been used for food and transportation for centuries. The alpaca is a smaller cousin of the llama and is mostly kept for its wool. Another member of the camel family is the vicuña and the guanaco. The vicuña is the smallest of the camel relatives; its wool has been valued since Incas time. In the twentieth century the vicuña was hunted indiscriminately putting the animal in danger of extinction. In the 1960s the government of Peru and international agencies created reserves where the vicuñas could be protected. Pampa Galeras near Nazca is a success example. Nowadays the number of vicuñas has increased dramatically and some of them were returned to the wild. Guanacos are mostly seen parts of the southern highlands.
Rodents typical of this area are the chinchilla, viscache or American hare and the guinea pig. The number of the chinchilla population has been declining over the years because of its much sought after fine fur. The guinea pig was long domesticated by the Amerindians and it is part of the Andean culinary tradition.
Peru is home to more than 500 species of mammals, of which 70 are endemic and close to 100 are threatened, vulnerable or endangered.
The government of Peru along with international organizations are moving together towards the protection of animals in danger of extinction or threatened.
Peru has a wide range of ecosystems because of its great variation in elevation or height above sea. About 84 of the 104 existing ecosystems or “life zones” identified in the world and 28 of the 32 climates on the planet are present in Peru.
The pink dolphin or bufeo thought to be extinct more than twenty years ago. They are very rarely seen and are found only in the Amazonian rivers around Iquitos.
There are 122 threatened animal species. There are 695 known breeding bird species (3rd in the world) of which 4.61% are threatened.
Tags: alpaca, altitude, Amazon basin, amazonia, Andean mountain range, Andes, animals of Peru, biodiversity, birds, condors, ecology, ecosystem, fauna, flora, guanaco, llama, Manu National Park, national parks, plants, rodents, vicuña