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author:  Margie Culbertson

Countless species to be saved thanks to Amazon park in Brazil

By Michael Astor
The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL, SA — A northern swath of Amazon rainforest bigger than Maryland and likely containing a treasure trove of undiscovered animal, insect and plant species became the world's largest tropical national park yesterday.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed a decree creating the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park covering a virtually uninhabited region of virgin rainforest in Amapá state, along Brazil's northern borders with Suriname and Guyana.

Tumucumaque (too–moo–koo–MAH–kee), which means "the rock on top of the mountain' in the language of the Apalai and Wayana Indians, covers 9.6 million acres of forest–blanketed mountains with granite outcroppings rising up to 2,300 feet above the forest canopy.

"With the creation of Tumucumaque Mountains National Park, we are ensuring the protection of one of the most pristine forests remaining in the world," Cardoso said. "Plants and animals that may be endangered elsewhere will continue to thrive in our forests forever."

The forest is inhabited by jaguars, sloths, giant armadillos, anteaters, harpy owls and black spider monkeys. Scientists know of at least eight primate species, 350 bird species and 37 types of lizard living in the park.

"The park is very important because it helps consolidate one of the world's last roadless wildernesses," said Roberto Cavalcanti, director of Conservation International in Brazil. "Much of the Amazon is still wild, but there are roads running through it."

In much of the Amazon, roads have accelerated destruction of the forest by providing access for settlers, prospectors and loggers. Deforestation has destroyed about 15 percent of Brazil's Amazon rainforest, which today covers about 1.35 million square miles.

Tumucumaque is full of waterfalls, whitewater rapids and rivers that are impassible even during the dry season, making it one of the few remaining regions largely unchanged by humans.

"This park today looks much like it would have hundreds of years ago, since Tumucumaque has not been deforested," said José Maria Cardoso da Silva, Conservation International's Director for Amazonia.

Initially, the park will be open only to scientists.

Copyright © August 23, 2002 The Seattle Times Company
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