With an elevation range close to 4,500 m, Cotapata National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area (NP-IMNA) protects a representative sample of the Yungas cloud forests of the department of La Paz. Within a relatively small area, this park encompasses five very distinct ecological zones in terms of climate, vegetation, and fauna. These include snow-capped mountain peaks and periglacial environments of the Andean summits, high Andean grasslands, Yungas paramos, cloud forest ridges, and humid montane Yungas forests. The area is also characterized by a rich history and culture, attested to by the presence of numerous archaeological sites.
This variety of environments hosts a great diversity of organisms and presents a high degree of endemism. Horizontal precipitation created by permanent fog determines a profusion of epiphytic plants, such as orchids and bromeliads. Among the most important tree species in these cloud forests are Polylepis pepei and Podocarpus oleifolius, both locally threatened. In terms of fauna, there is a great variety of vertebrate species, such as the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the Andean cock-of-the-rock or “tunqui” (Rupicola peruviana), which are the park’s two emblematic species.
The main threat to Cotapata NP-IMNA is the conflictive situation between the park administration and the communities established in its interior and in throughout its zone of influence. In fact, elaboration of the park’s Management Plan was delayed considerably, and many of the management programs had to be postponed because a significant percentage of the local population rejects the protected area. Another threat is the new highway (ironically, the main reason for the creation of the area), being constructed in a highly mountainous and geologically unstable area. According to recent studies, its ecological impacts could affect no less than 10% of the area (in its eastern sector). At the same time, the proximity of La Paz foretells the potential establishment of new human settlements and agricultural zones along the road. Gold mining also generates sediments and heavy metals that pollute some watercourses. The practices of burning grasses and pastures in the area’s highlands and clearing land on pronounced slopes in the valleys affect both the soils and biodiversity. Finally, the area’s small size and its relative isolation from other protected areas call its biological viability into question. For all of the above reasons, ParksWatch considers the Cotapata PN-ANMI as vulnerable.