If the Garden of Eden is real, one good place to start looking for it might be a national park in Bolivia.
With 11 percent of the world’s birds, more than 200 species of mammals, almost 300 types of fish, and 12,000 plant varieties, the Madidi National Park could be the most biologically diverse place on earth, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which helped compile a comprehensive list of species found there.
Along the enormous variety of flora and fauna, the 19,000 square-kilometer (7,335 square mile) park in northwest Bolivia is also known for its wide array of altitudinal gradients and habitats from lowland tropical forests of the Amazon to snow-capped Andean peaks.
“With Madidi’s almost 6,000-meter (19,685 feet) altitudinal range, no other protected area captures the diversity of South American habitats that pushes these numbers through the ceiling. All the scientists who contributed to this compendium feel privileged to work in Madidi, and we are all very happy to help SERNAP promote the national and international conservation importance of the area,” said WCS’s Madidi Landscape Program Director Dr. Robert Wallace.
To compare the biodiversity in the park with the rest of the world, only eleven countries have more bird species than Madidi National Park and the entire U.S. contains less than 900 bird species compared to Madidi’s 1,088 species of birds.
The range of birds in the park goes from the deadly harpy eagle, whose diet includes sloths and monkeys, to the tiny coquette, one of 60 species of hummingbird that reside in the park.
Despite the extensive list compiled by the WCS, much of the park still remains a mystery. Two-thirds of the park’s biodiversity has yet to be formally registered or observed by scientists, especially in the cloud forests between 1,000 and 3,000 meters (3,280 and 9,842 feet) high.
However, there are threats to park.
Like the rest of the planet, climate change is a looming menace, especially in the park's mountainous regions, but some projected construction projects also pose a threat. The recurring danger of a proposed hydroelectric dam at the Beni River in the Bala Gorge would cause flooding of a huge area, about 2,000 square kilometers, including a great part of the Madidi National Park.
In the past, there has also been talk of building a road through the park, and some politicians want to mine the park for its lumber and use regions of it for agricultural cultivation.
However, the WCS and the Bolivian government have recently made strides to protect the park and make it one of Bolivia’s prime tourist destinations, which has helped mitigate threats of road construction, logging, and agricultural expansion.
“The Wildlife Conservation Society is proud to be assisting the Bolivian government in the conservation of these magnificent places,” said Dr. Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “This important compendium emphasizes just how poorly known the cloud forests of the Tropical Andes really are. Apart from their biodiversity and wildlife importance, they are critical from a watershed management perspective and are aesthetically beautiful.”