In Peru's Forests, New Discoveries Signal Encroaching Dangers

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Peru is famous for the Andes Mountains, but more than 60 percent of the country is covered by the Amazon rainforest—making the country a hotbed of biodiversity and the site of frequent species discoveries. Indeed, every year, a new bird is discovered in Peru and every four years a new mammal is discovered.

These species—both recently discovered and still unknown—are at risk, however, by the rapid development and resource extraction underway in the country. The problem, conservationists point out, is highlighted by the fact that many of these discoveries are not made by scientists, but by employees of oil, gas, and timber companies.SLIDESHOW: From Transparent Frogs to Blind Ants: Incredible New Species Discovered in 2010

Michael Valqui, WWF Peru's Amazon program director, explained:

Most of these discoveries don't happen during scientific expeditions, which are often costly. They most often come when workers are digging exploration sites for oil, mining or lumber companies...this type of discovery is also simultaneously endangering the species that is being discovered in its one and only habitat.

In recent years, the land available for resource extraction in Peru has increased significantly. Since 2006, the area has nearly doubled and now includes 16 percent of Peru's 270,270 square miles of forest land.

At the same time, Peru is working to conserve important land and currently lists 15 percent of its land under protected status. Environment Minister Antonio Brack commented that Peru is "aiming for 30 percent."

Still, an awkward balance exists between those interested in exploiting Peru's natural resources—which provides an important economic stimulus—and those determined to preserve them.

And the distinction is not always clean. One of Peru's critically endangered species, the Lima gecko, makes its home in the dark corners of huacas, pre-Hispanic burial grounds dotted across Lima and the coast. These shadowy homes, however, are threatened by the work of archeologists whose work is at once critical for the preservation of the huacas and a threat to the rare lizard.

Whether justified by cultural preservation or economic development, the push into the fragile habitats of Peru is part of a global trend. Worldwide, conservationists believe, species are being lost before they are even discovered. This means, that for every fortuitously uncovered new species, countless more have disappeared.