THREATS TO THE SIRA
As a Communal Reserve, the Cerros del Sira doesn't have the same level of rigorous protection as a National Park. Recent years have seen a huge change in the areas in the buffer areas of the reserve, which many scientists believe will have a profound impact on the core areas of the park as a knock-on affect. Here, we detail five of the major threats to the Sira region, as identified by our teams expeditions, by officials from the Peruvian National Park Services (SERNANP) and by other visitors to the region.
One of the most shocking aspects about arriving in the Cerros del Sira is the extent of habitat conversion for cattle farming. In an area that just ten years ago was relatively under-exploited, cattle farms are now increasing at an alarming rate. Worryingly, new cattle farms are starting to encroach on the park's core protected area. See this article for more information.
For a variety of different reasons, national and international, Peru has recently emerged as the worlds primary producer of cocaine. The areas exploited by the 'cocaleros' to illegally grow coca crops are remote, isolated and mid-elevation (600-1200m). As such, the Cerros del Sira are a prime location for the production of illegal cocaine. The photograph, right, shows an ~10 hectare patch of previously primary forest converted to coca plantation near our survey transect. One of many in the region.
Although the communal reserve status allows the subsistence use of trees for constructing homes, some species, such as the endangered mahogany tree (pictured next to Andy here) are strictly protected. This particular tree lies within the core reserve, where local people had begun cutting away at the buttress routes of this beautiful but threatened tree; which may well very soon be completely cut down and sold for timber. The high value as a result of the rarity of such species is often too attractive a prospect to local peoples living in financially challenging situations.
The traditional form of agricultural practices from the Sira region involve the complete clearance of forest, removing all the larger trees and then burning all that remains. Following this, mono-culture crops of foods such as papaya, bananas, yuca and pineapples are planted. The succession of these crops, often with no rotation practices, leaves the soil nutrient poor and unable to support crops for more than a few years. These lands are then often abandoned or more likely turned into cattle pastures. Some areas are being encouraged to develop more sustainable practices in the form of agroforestry, in which native trees are interspersed within the plantations. However, the number of trees compared with a natural forest is often extremely small; often resulting in a collapse in terms of biodiversity and and overall ecosystem function.
Although hunting is common for nearby native communities, the Sira region is their home, and many families rely on animals from the reserve as a protein source. However, for some species that are extremely endangered and rare, such as the Sira Curassow, hunting could be severely affecting their remaining populations. Although some scientists believe that hunters rarely enter the higher regions of the reserve, our cameras have in fact detected local hunters at elevations >1500m a.s.l., core habitat of the Sira Curassow and other threatened species.