Manu National Park is a wildlife and biosphere reserve in the Amazon region of Peru. Recognized as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Manu National Park is an extremely remote location with carefully limited access to humans. Among the treasures of Manu Park are several distinct ecological spheres, tens of thousands of species of plants, and thousands of animal, bird, and insect species.
Located in southwestern Peru, Manu Park borders the nearby regions of Madre de Dios and Cusco. All but inaccessible to most humans, the park thrived as a nearly untouched wilderness for thousands of years before becoming a protected preserve in the 1977. The site was later given World Heritage status in the 1980s, further cementing its protection from development or encroachment. Now the largest nature reserve in Peru, Manu National Park covers about 5,918 square miles (15,328 square km).
The remote location of the park makes it difficult to access, often involving multiple small plane and boat transfers. Furthermore, visitor access is largely limited, mainly reserved to a few research groups and tours through accredited cultural programs. Permanent residents the park include some small groups of indigenous people, mostly from the Matsiganga Amazonian tribes. The park also contains a cultural center with some lodging, and the Cocha Cashu station, a permanent research station funded by Duke University.
One of the key features in Manu park is the watershed of the Manu river, which travels through several distinct terrain zones before bottoming out in the Madre de Dios river. Along its path, the river passes through high elevation grasslands known as puna, tropical forests called yunga, and traditional rainforests. The protection of all of these zones within a single park allows researchers to better understand watershed biology and the shifts between one zone and the next. The greatly varied terrain of the park also gives rise to an enormous diversity of plant and animal life.
The flora of Manu National Park is some of the most diverse in the world, with more than 25,000 flowering plants estimated in the region. A boundless land of discovery, Manu Park is set to delight biologists for generations, as less than 20% of all plant species in the park are believed to be formally described at the turn of the 21st century. Many of the research projects permitted at the park involve the investigation, recording, and conservation of the diverse plantlife.
With such a bounteous variety of plants to feast upon and use for shelter, the fauna of the park is similarly varied. Large mammal species include the giant river otter, which can reach up to 6 ft (1.8 m) in length, the elusive jaguar, the capybara, and more than a dozen monkey species. Scientists estimate that the park is home to somewhere between 1000-1500 species of butterflies, and a similar number of bird varieties. Manu National Park is not without its dangers, however, including sting rays, scorpions, and a wide variety of poisonous snakes.