The Yasuní National Park sits at the intersection of the Amazon, the Equator, and the Andes and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Cultural Heritage site in 1989. Not only does this region lie at the center of the Ecuadorian Amazon, but it represents the core of much of Ecuador’s already significant biodiversity.
The Yasuní represents the world’s greatest diversity of flora and fauna in South America, and possibly on Earth—an impressive example of genetic variety spread over 1 million hectares of land. Yasuní is said to be home to approximately 600 species of birds, 170 species of mammals, 80 bats, and 150 amphibians. New species are being discovered to this day.
Around 1,100 species of trees have been identified within a 25-hectare tract, a staggering number which represents more tree species than in Canada and the U.S. together. Trees are not the only plants to run rampant; over 280 species of vines alone grow in the Yasuní.
Various indigenous groups inhabit the Yasuní including the well-known Shuar, Kichwa, and Waorani. Some groups, however, such as the Huaorani clans of the Taromenane and Tagaeri, voluntarily isolate themselves from the modern world in order to maintain their traditional lifestyle. These people have been living in harmony with nature for centuries, and have some have begun to take political stands as the protectors of the rainforest as oil and gas drilling has become a significant threat to the region.
Although the Ecuadorian government had proposed to keep 700,000 hectares of the national park inviolate from oil and gas companies, this proposal has since failed and the Yasuní is once again open to oil drilling.
The Yasuní is thought to have been a region that escaped freezing during the last ice-age that ended around 10,000 years ago. Scientists speculate that it then became an ecological hotspot of refuge—one that allowed for the survival of various flora and fauna. Eventually, these species were able to repopulate the greater Amazon zone.
For more information about the Huaorani, visit our Culture of Ecuador page.
For more information about oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park, visit our Ecuador Conservation page.