The Andean spine of South America is inhabited by an incredible diversity of different animals and plants with many species only found in this region. The Tropical Andes cradles the Amazon Rainforest in the east and feeds the Amazon River. The Amazon begins from a few small streams trickling down the mountains to the 10 kilometre (6 mile) wide river that fills a basin covering 40% of the continent.
Often neglected in the media and ironically overshadowed by its Amazonian neighbour, the Tropical Andes is home to a plethora of diversity. The altitudinal gradients have created many different habitats where wildlife is often determined by temperature. The gradients are so steep that many of the species can only live in a band of a few hundred metres. You can find 10% of all the world’s known vascular plants in the Tropical Andes with around half found nowhere else on Earth.
Of the different types of vegetation in the Andes, it is the cloud forests that are among the most diverse (loosely defined as forest penetrated by cloud cover). This is where you find Peru’s national bird, the fantastically colored Cock of the Rock, which can be found in the forest performing a showy dance to attract mates. Peru also contains one of the most undisturbed areas of tropical cloud forest where formation of reserves should be high priority. Peru’s cloud forest contains species that don’t even exist in other sections of the Andes, such as the yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda), the country’s largest endemic mammal.
A birding paradise, the Tropical Andes is home to 1700 different birds with around 600 species you cannot see anywhere else. This is just the tip of the iceberg for bird enthusiasts as the region contains the world’s highest diversity of Hummingbirds, including the largest species, Patagona gigas, and one of the world’s largest birds of prey, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) that flies high above the clouds. Begin your Peruvian birding
As for mammals, again the diversity is incredible with 570 known species and 75 mammals only found in this region. For other wildlife, there are 600 different reptiles, just under 1000 different amphibians and over 375 different fish. An important hot spot for amphibians, this group is particularly threatened here and faces a crisis of widespread extinction suspected to be linked to climate change and introduced disease as well as habitat loss.
Despite the amazing level of biodiversity, the habitats of the Andes are under constant threat from poaching, illegal logging, expansion of urban areas, and agriculture. One of the main challenges is the growing of opium poppies and coca plants guarded by armed guerrillas, which greatly impedes conservation efforts in the region.
The Andean habitats are disappearing along with many known and unknown animals and plants. To name just one example previously unknown to science, in 1997 the endangered JocoToco Antipitta was discovered in the Ecuadorian Andes and was luckily and quickly protected in a reserve with help from the World Land Trust.
To assist with conservation by stopping protected areas and their wildlife becoming isolated and more easily threatened, forest corridors can be planted for plants and animals to cross from one area to the other. The Tropical Andes is home to one of the largest conservation corridors in the world, which begins in Manu National Park extends through the Bahuaja-Sonene & Tambopata protected area and into Bolivia to join with the Madidi National Park.
Macaw Clay Lick Project in Manu WIldlife Center
If you would like to experience the incredible Andean Cloud Forest region, you can visit Peru and stay at the Cock of the Rock Lodge located near the display ground of the Andean Cock of the Rock. Here you can see firsthand the Cock of the Rock’s unusual mating dance and take tours to see hummingbirds, spectacled bears, capuchins and more..