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Cahuinarí National Park

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Cahuinari National Park

With lagoons and rivers submersed among dense forest, Cahuinarí National Park, located in the Caqueta-Putumayo region of the Colombian Amazon, is one of the most well preserved forests in the Colombian Amazon. The park has a vast expanse of tropical rainforest with an abundance of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. The park is of great importance to the 1,500 indigenous people who live within the parks boundaries, relying on its natural resources for subsistence hunting, fishing, gathering, and agriculture.

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During the end of the 19th century, rubber exploitation devastated the land and people of the area now known as Cahuinari. Today, the Park protects the indigenous groups that survived and the amazing tropical rain forests in which they live.


Piranhas are common in the waters of Cahuinarí © Connie Bransilver

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total area protected:
1.4 million acres
map of site

Japura/Negro Moist Forests

partner organization:
Fundación Natura

Ecological Importance

Among the parks rare and endangered species are the jaguar, giant river otter, puma, and black caiman. In the many rivers and streams flowing through the park is an abundance of notable fish, including the cachama, which exceeds over 3 ft. in length. The piranha, considered the most ravenous fish in the world, is native to South America and can be found swimming through the rivers in Cahuinarí. The lower Caqueta River is the main refuge and one of the last remaining habitats for the charapa, or giant river turtle, which has been given threatened status by the International Conservation Union. The Cahuinarí and Caqueta Rivers are the only waterways that sustain large enough charapa populations to still be saved.

The park is composed on many different ecosystems, including numerous white, clear and black rivers, oxbow lakes, flooded forests, and alluvial plains. The Cahuinarí River creates blackwater lakes, which are unique to the region.


Cahuinarí has received heavy pressures from trappers and traders of caiman, cats, otters, and primates. As these populations decrease, poachers are not discouraged, but instead change focus to different species. Intensive commercial fishing for consumption and decoration is also a great threat for fish, crocodiles, and possibly most devastating, the giant river turtle. Increased colonization has come with the discovery of gold on the Brazilian border. A more recent concern has become deforestation in the area around the park.

A Strategy of Success

In 1992, when Parks in Peril (PIP) began, Cahuinarí had no institutional operations, very few staff, with low levels of training, no financial resources, and insufficient equipment. PIP supported construction of infrastructure, acquiring equipment, hiring indigenous park gaurds, community extension work, training, and research projects that have involved local communities. PIP also greatly supported Cahuinarí by strengthening the presence of Unidad de Parques (Colombian National Park Service) and Fundación Natura (FN), its partner organization. FN sought to effectively collaborate between Unidad and local indigenous communities.

After management was in place, PIP started to focus on compatible development activities, namely the Charapa Conservation Plan, which was the park’s flagship program for a number of years. The Plan was very significant in coordinating with the indigenous communities, who participated in training and research.

The community participation at Cahuinarí is one of national and international significance. The four local indigenous communities have directly participated in park conservation projects and management. FN’s goal was to conduct a co-management plan for the park that required the efforts of both the park and the residents of Cahuinarí. A Cooperative Agreement was signed in 2001 between the local indigenous communities and Unidad establishing joint management of the reservation area. A Coordinating Committee was also formed of park personnel and indigenous leaders to make joint decisions on management, protection, and conservation actions. This program is a model among the entire Unidad de Parques system throughout Colombia. This process has been the accumulated result of PIP consolidation at Cahuinarí.

Read more about Cahuinarí...

Fundación Natura
The Nature Conservancy in Cahuinarí

Read more about projects in Colombia...

Chingaza National Natural Park
La Paya National Natural Park
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park

Colombia Partner Organizations

The Nature Conservancy in Colombia