Area protects rare Andean forest and birds, expands protected landscape to more than 20,000 acres

The popular Vilcanota Trek hiking trail climbs through the newly declared Kuntur Wachana Private Conservation Area, above Cusco’s sacred Urubamba Valley. This area protects rare Polylepis forests visible in the background. Photo by ECOAN.

In January 2020, the Peruvian government’s Ministry of Environment recognized the Kuntur Wachana Private Conservation Area, a 3,185-acre community-owned protected landscape of mountain grasslands, wetlands, and elfin forests high in the Vilcanota range of the Andes. This new Private Conservation Area, or PCA, sits near the word-famous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.

The local agricultural cooperative José Zúñiga Letona de Huarán, Ltda. submitted Kuntur Wachana for recognition, with assistance from the Peruvian conservation organization Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) and American Bird Conservancy (ABC).

The reserve protects rare forests of Polylepis trees and threatened birds including the Critically Endangered Royal Cinclodes, Endangered Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, and Endangered White-browed Tit-Spinetail (featured below). In turn, the forest helps protect water supplies that flow downhill to farms, settlements, and tourist lodges in Cusco’s sacred Urubamba Valley.

With support from ABC, ECOAN has partnered with more than 20 local communities in the Vilcanota Mountains to conserve ecosystems and improve local livelihoods. They had already established eight other community-managed PCAs spanning more than 18,000 acres, and planted more than 1.5 million trees as part of a massive forest restoration program. This ninth PCA brings the total protected acreage of the Vilcanota Reserve Network to 21,285 acres.

“American Bird Conservancy’s partnership with ECOAN to conserve the Polylepis forests in the Vilcanota Mountains started 20 years ago, continues today, and we are so proud of the results achieved by the local communities,” says Dr. Daniel Lebbin, ABC’s Vice President of Threatened Species. “The recognition of this PCA has been in process since 2011, and is extra special for me personally, as I first saw the Royal Cinclodes with Gregorio Ferro Meza of ECOAN in this area in 2002,” he added.

“This new protected area is vital to help protect water supplies for local communities,” says Gregorio Ferro Meza, who is one of ECOAN’s co-founders and Chief Programs Coordinator. “The area is also accessible via the Vilcanota Trek, which is fast becoming one of South America’s premier trekking destinations and is a true, living, Inca trail,” he added.

Hikers interested in visiting Kuntur Wachana can learn more at the Vilcanota Trek website developed by ECOAN.