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Chiribiquete Natural National Park covers an area of 1,280,000 hectares, and is the conservation unit of the National Park System with greatest extension in Colombia. It is located at the western end of the Guiana biogeographic province, which transcends the physical boundaries of the equally named Guiana Shield, which is one of the oldest rock formations on the planet. Throughout the two main rivers that enter the heart of the Park, Mesay river and Cuñare river, there are waterfalls with altitudes between 50 and 70 meters and falling from the top of the tepuys (rock masses with heights between 350 and 840 meters), forming dark water sources in addition to rapids which are formed in these rivers and the Apaporis, Yari and Tunia rivers. Rapids provide this place with exceptional beauty. Due to the large area covered and the difficulties of access, only a minimal part of the Park is thought to have been surveyed.
Chiribiquete was visited in the eighteenth century by Franciscan missionaries, finding there Carijona indigenous groups who inhabited the region until the early twentieth century. In the late eighteenth century, the Spanish - Portuguese Commission for the definition of borders between the two empires, estimated a population of about 15,000 - 20,000 inhabitants, whereas 1996 records estimate that this population is only at half their initial amount. Five illegal airstrips were built during the 80´s, for illegal drug trafficking purposes, on top of some rocky outcrops, and they were completely destroyed in 1991.
Chiribiquete Natural National Park is part of the Guyana biogeographic region, characterized by the presence of rock formations of Precambrian (approximately 2,000 million years old) and Paleozoic eras called tepuys, of which numerous samples are found to be emerging from the forest, cut by deep and wide canyons, which also include waterfalls, deep valleys, rapids, rock shelters and caves. Surprisingly, there are samples of lithic formations from the Cambrian period (600 - 500 million years ago), Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous (425 - 280 million years old), the entire Mesozoic era (230 -63,000,000 years old) and the lower Tertiary (Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, 63-15 million years old).
Various physiographic features are found at Chiribiquete: alluvial lowland flooding, tertiary deposits and terraces, as well as rock outcrops of Paleozoic and Precambrian eras. The lowland, drained by rivers of clear and dark waters, has similarities with other Amazonian lowlands of Colombia, whereas the top is related to the geological formations and physiographic units of Guyana, their most representative example being found in Colombia.
The lowlands of Chiribiquete have one of the highest rates of plant diversity in the northern Amazonia; scattered forests grow interspersed with scrub on the slopes and summit of the rocky outcrops which dominate savannah species native to Guyana. Recent studies have detected the presence of at least three endemic species.
Soils can vary from sandy to clay soils or silt, associated with flood areas and variable depths. This results in the presence of at least six types of vegetation growing in periodically flooded or poorly drained areas, eight types of firm land forest and four open vegetation types associated with lakes, ancient meanders, waterfalls, canyons and caves which have not as yet been fully studied.
To date we have reported 336 species of birds, six of which were unknown in Colombia and some of which are endemic. Chiribiquete is also habitat for eight species of mammals in danger of extinction, an endemic species of reptiles and animals of vital importance in the indigenous cosmology such as the jaguar, the cock – of – the – rock or the harpy eagle. Thanks to the presence of deep canyons in most of the rivers that run through the park, there are numerous places where fish spawn when the water level is low, then return to the Caqueta River. Conservation of these habitats ensures sustainability of the fish population along the river and thus also guarantees part of the diet of indigenous people living on its shores.
We have also found a crawling ant species belonging to the Megalyroidea family which has not as yet been studied; the only known similar specimens have been found in Brazil and Chile, already fossilized.
Chiribiquete has thus become one of the last great places in the world where wildlife can be found, denoted by its endemism quality, unique ecosystems and conservation status, since much has not as yet been explored. It was declared a national park in 1989 and came to be part of the National System of Protected Areas. As such, its character is not transferable and inalienable.
Evidence of human presence and Rock Art
Studies have undoubtedly confirmed human presence in the area between the years 450 and 1450 AD, although there are signs that indicate a presence prior to these dates (between 300 and 600 BC and 3600 BC). At the time of preparing the nomination file of the park, there had been found over eighty pictographic complexes with more than 20,000 paintings depicting animals, plants and daily practices of ancient inhabitants of this area, being the most important rock art sample in the country. Its good condition, scale, density of the pictographs and the graphic testimony it supplies cause it to achieve more importance and significance at the regional level. A total of thirty - four of these pictograph complexes had already been georeferenced, and seventeen had been further investigated.
Most of the motifs represented correspond to manual prints, human and zoomorphic figures. They are most commonly found clustered in groups that can reach 8,000 paintings in a single rock wall, which makes Chiribiquete the widest complex of rock art in the Colombian Amazon.
The existence of many indigenous ethnic groups belonging to the Tucano, Uitoto, Arawak and Carib language families, inter alia, in the area and who preserve traditions such as dancing and manufacturing a number of devices, suggests the possibility of reconstructing the meaning of rock art, as some of the motifs represented on the walls are commonly used in the material culture of these ethnic groups for whom the Chiribiquete mountains are places of great mythological and historical importance. Excavations carried out in specific areas yielded the conclusion that Chiribiquete was not used as a housing site but as a ritual site, visited seasonally.
Analysis carried out on the rocks ruled out the presence of organic matter in the paintings (which has hindered their dating), and iron oxides, which abound in the area, have been found instead. The identity of the authors of the pictographs is unknown, but possibly it is the ancestors of the Carijona indigenous people, the last group of the Carib indigenous family which still lives in the Colombian Amazon (in some areas of Vaupés and Caquetá) and who lived in the area until the early twentieth century.
Apparent evidence of migration of Carib groups has been found among the Chiribiquete pictographs. Based on the above, an in - depth study conducted on the rock art in this area, will almost certainly yield significant data for the reconstruction of prehistory in the Amazon.
The sites which house rock art are areas of archaeological interest, and are protected by the Colombian legislation as per Act 397 of 1997 and Act 1185 of 2008. The character of State – owned areas by the Nation provides it with characteristics of imprescriptibility, inalienability and unattachability.
Chiribiquete National Park is preserved as an unexplored area north of the Amazon. Difficulty of access to this place has preserved almost intact various ecosystems that house both a variety of biological wealth rarely studied in depth so far, and a witness to the passing of human beings in this area, leaving rock art sets of special beauty reflected in the rock wall, which are regard as the important vestiges in this area and the key to understanding the lifestyle and worldview by the ancestors of the current inhabitants of the northern Amazon.
Criterion (i): Chiribiquete is the largest, densest and most impressive pictographic archaeological complex of northern South America, and represents a masterpiece of human creative genius because of the aesthetic refinement of the paintings, and a monument of universal value because of the anthropological importance of the representations of hunting, dancing and mythological scenes.
Criterion (iii): Chiribiquete’s paintings are an exceptional testimony of a cultural tradition that has disappeared but that relates to the worldview of existing indigenous peoples in the central and eastern Colombian Amazon region. Chiribiquete’s paintings are of great importance for ethnohistory and for the cosmologies of surrounding indigenous groups and constitute a keystone for the understanding of past human migrations, warfare and traditional land use, in the north-eastern Amazonian area.
Criterion (vii): Chiribiquete’s paintings are an exceptional testimony of a cultural tradition that has disappeared but that relates to the worldview of existing indigenous peoples in the central and eastern Colombian Amazon region. Chiribiquete’s paintings are of great importance for ethnohistory and for the cosmologies of surrounding indigenous groups and constitute a keystone for the understanding of past human migrations, warfare and traditional land use, in the north-eastern Amazonian area.
Criterion (viii): Chiribiquete constitutes an outstanding example of the relictual geological testimonies and physiographical features of the most westerly part of the Guyana biogeographic province. Nowhere, west of the Roraima complex in Venezuela and northern Brazil, does such an extended, high and totally conserved testimony of this ancient formation, exist.
Criterion (x): Chiribiquete contains a large diversity of biological communities with Andean, Guyana and Amazonian elements because of its geological history and its geographical position at the cross road of the Andean mountain range, the Pantepuy in Venezuela and Brazil and the Amazon lowlands. It includes at least five endemic species and over ten vulnerable or critically endangered species. Because of its large extension and very well conserved status, it guarantees the perpetuation of these ecological features, better than any other area in the Colombian Amazon.
Due to its isolation and extremely low population densities the archaeological paintings and the rest of the archaeological remains have remained guarded from any type of intervention or deterioration except the one caused by natural agents (Botiva, 2003). Chiribiquete’s pictographic complexes were recently discovered and have been the subject of only preliminary studies by experts. The only previous references to their existence could be found in myths gathered over the last 30 years by anthropologists (Hildebrand, 1979; Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1986; Correa, 1996; van der Hammen, 1992). The Chiribiquete region has been totally uninhabited since 1923 (Schindler, 1973) and before that only by indigenous peoples from the Carijona group. The location of the pictograph complexes corresponds to places of very difficult access, so much so that the majority of those discovered to date were found by means of helicopter explorations (Castaño, 1998). The painting complex of Chiribiquete is a unique example of Rock Art expression of the vanished prehistoric societies of Northern South America.
Rock Art sites in Colombia, including Chiribiquete sites, are Cultural Interest Properties of the Archaeological Patrimony (Law 397, 1997). The archaeological sites in Colombian Constitution of 1991 are defined as belonging to the Nation and cannot be subject of alienation, seizure nor prescription. Its intervention, only with scientific and cultural purposes, always needs a special permit issued only by the Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, the state office responsible of preservation of the national archaeological heritage. Colombian law thus gives a high degree of protection to archaeological sites and this ensures future preservation and integrity.
The proposed area includes, in its entirety, the complex of rocky outcrops of the Serranía of Chiribiquete, the Serranía Ajajú-Mesay, Cerro Negro at the source of the Mesay and the Iguaje Serranía between the Mesay and Yari rivers. In addition, it includes all of the structural plains associated with these rocky formations, as well as the whole of the Pretertiary sedimentary plain which extends between the San Jorge and Amú rivers, to the east of the Park. The remaining geoformations (alluvial plains and the denudative sedimentary plains of the Tertiary) surround the previous physiographical units and extend towards the rest of the Amazon region, not being exclusive or particular to the Chiribiquete region. Therefore, the Park includes the key elements that interrelate with the large complex of rocky outcrops. Furthermore, it includes physiographical units that extend from base plain (200 m.a.s.l. ca.) to the highest point of the region (800 m.a.s.l. ca.). Finally, it includes the entirety of the watersheds of the Cuñare, Amú, San Jorge, Majiña and Sararamano rivers and all of the minor watersheds of the Tunia, Ajaju and Apaporis rivers associated with the rocky outcrop complex (Hernandez et. al, 1989, Nuevos Parques).
Concomitant with the integrated variety of physiographical units, there exists a mosaic soils complex with textures that vary from totally sandy to caolinitic clay and lime associated with floodable areas. There is also a large variation in the soils development and depth (Montoya et. al, 2002). These, in turn contribute to the presence of varied types of vegetation with at least six types that grow in areas that are seasonally flooded or badly drained, eight types of mainland forest and four general types of open/scrubby vegetation, which are associated to lakes, ancient meanders, waterfalls, fissures/canyons and caves and have not yet been sufficiently studied, (Hernandez, 1995; Rangel et. al, 1995); Estrada et. al, 1993; Phillips et. al, 2002).
The ecological integrity of the area and its large expanse (12.800km2) guarantee the perpetuation of natural processes and elements such as the conservation of ecosystem biodiversity, of communities and species. If we consider, as mentioned previously, that there has been no human pressure in the last eighty years, and before that the region was inhabited by indigenous groups dispersed along the rivers, then it becomes clear that Chiribiquete is one of the few places of basically pristine humid tropical forest, in the Colombian Amazonia.
In 1989 the Chiribiquete region was declared a National Natural Park by the Colombian government and became part of the System of Protected Areas. In 1991, its status was elevated at the level of the National Constitution, which accorded it the attributes of intransferibility and imprescriptibility. This means that Chiribiquete could only lose its protected area conservation category if there were a change in the Constitution, which would imply two different processes in different years in the Congress, and qualified voting (2/3 part) of the Chamber and of the Senate.
Its long-term administration and management is the responsibility of the Unidad Administrativa Especial del Sistema de Parques Nacionales Naturales (UAESPNN) of the Ministry for Environment and is implemented according to the guidelines of the Management Plan for Chiribiquete National Park (see annex). This Plan not only includes programmes for the conservation of land and aquatic ecosystems but also includes programmes for the conservation of historical and cultural values.
Tassili n 'Anjer (Algiers)
Included in the World Heritage List under criteria number i, iii, vii and viii. This place houses one of the most important collections of historic rock art, with more than 15,000 drawings and engravings which allows to track climate change, wildlife migration and evolution of human life itself in the middle of the Sahara from the year 6000 B. C. to the early centuries of our era. This site is also of interest because of its exceptional geological formations as sandstone forests.
Kakadu National Park (Australia)
Included in the World Heritage List under criteria I, vi, ix and x. Located north of Australia, this park is an archaeological and ethnological reserve as it has been uninterruptedly inhabited by human groups for about 40,000 years, leaving a testimony of their passage in pictograms showing aspects which range from techniques of hunters - gatherers from the Neolithic period, down to the lifestyle of its current dwellers. Their ecosystems, made of lowlands, sandy shores, plains and flood plains, are home to many endemic plants and animal species.
Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park (Australia)
Included in the World Heritage List under criteria number v, vi, vii and viii. This site is recognized by the presence of geological formations which dominate the sandy plain of central Australia and are part of the "ancestral belief system of one of the oldest human societies in the world." The monolith of Uluru has a special symbolic importance because of its religious significance, in whose caves pictographs can be found, some of which are considered to be antique.
Ecosystem and Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda (Gabon)
Included in the World Heritage List under criteria number iii, iv, ix and x. This site reveals ecological processes and biological evolution "from the point of view of adaptation of species and habitats to post - glacial climatic changes." There are also traces of human settlements of the Neolithic Age and Iron Age, as well as rock art and samples which demonstrate the existence of populations of migratory routes in the area.
Ukhahlamba / Drakensberg Park (South Africa)
Inscribed on the World Heritage List under criteria number i, iii, vii and x. In this rugged landscape site have several endemic species habitat, especially birds and plants. There are a number of rock shelters and caves containing the largest concentration of rock art in sub-Saharan Africa, held for 4,000 years. The pictograms, which are represented in animals and humans, are known for their refinement and show the lifestyle of the San people, currently extinct.