Illegal gold prospectors are threatening the Manu National Park in Peru, which is a World Heritage Site. More species of wild animals and plants have been documented in Peru than anywhere else on Earth. But now their very survival is at stake.
Peru’s Manu National Park is an unparalleled hotspot of biodiversity, which is why UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage Site thirty years ago. Ten percent of all known bird species are native to this area, including gaudy parrots and iridescent hummingbirds. Jaguars and tapirs sneak through the forests, while giant otters and caimans hunt in their waters. The Manu National Park straddles an altitude difference of around 4000 meters between the eastern foothills of the Andes and the lowlands of the Amazon, encompassing mountains, alpine forests and a huge lowland rainforest. These superlatives and the existing environmental protection laws alone should be sufficient to preserve the area, but low interest rates in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis have prompted bankers and private investors to switch to a more lucrative source of income: Gold! Since then, tens of thousands of illegal gold prospectors have been pouring into the area around the national park, stripping back the rainforests and threatening natural habitats with extinction. The mercury used to extract the precious metal has contaminated the rivers and poisoned both wildlife and humans alike, leaving an uninhabitable landscape that looks like the surface of the moon. Illegal plantations of coca bushes for cocaine are also behind both growing environmental damage and the spread of violence. Yet, although this natural paradise is facing disaster, organized crime and corruption make it hard for the authorities to take action.