Following an expansion of nearly 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres), Colombia’s Serranía de Chiribiquete National Park is now the world’s largest protected rainforest and the nation’s ninth site to be listed by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The new status protects both natural and cultural values under a “mixed heritage of humanity” designation.
"Chiribiquete is very special because of its biological, cultural, hydrological and archaeological value. It has rock art and visual records of extraordinary magnitude. It is also of vital importance for indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation,” said Mary Lou Higgins, Director of WWF-Colombia. “The extension and recognition of this place as a World Heritage Site is an important step to ensure its maintenance for future generations.”
Indigenous communities consider the region sacred. Over 70,000 paintings are found along the walls of more than 60 rock shelters, making it the oldest and largest pictographic complex in the Americas. Linked to jaguar worship, the symbol of power and fertility, paintings depict hunting scenes, battles, ceremonies, and dances that tell the stories of indigenous peoples that lived there thousands of years ago.
The park’s remote location and close proximity to armed conflict make studying its biodiversity difficult. However, researchers speculate thousands of species live in this area, dozens of which are endemic and several threatened, including the Amazonian tapir, the giant otter, and the jaguar. More than 700 species of plants, 200 fish, nearly 300 diurnal butterflies, and dozens of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians will be protected under this new designation.
The area's unique biodiversity lends credit to its pivotal location in the southern provinces of Caquetá and Guaviare where four ecosystems meet – the Amazon, Orinoquía, Andes, and Guiana Shield.
The latest expansion means that the park now spans a total of 4.3 million hectares (10.6 million acres). Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos celebrated UNESCO’s decision, declaring it “great news for Colombia," according to Colombia Reports.
Colombia is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, yet deforestation threatens its survival. In this same region, a 2017 study classified 2,700 species – 503 animals and 2,194 plants – as endangered due to accelerating logging, hunting, and coca production.