Noel Kempff-Mercado National Park

Noel Kempff-Mercado National Park

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is located in the province of Jose Miguel de Velasco in the department of Santa Cruz in the eastern part of Bolivia, on the border with Brazil. The area of the park is 15,838 km2, making it one of the largest parks in the entire Amazon basin. The park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The park was named after the famous Dr. Noel Kempff Mercado, who devoted his life to the study of nature and the history of the reserve.

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General Information.

The main landforming element of the park is the Caparo Plateau, which has settled on the solid crystalline surface of the Brazilian Shield. Elevations within the boundaries of the plateau range from 200 m to almost 1,000 m. This explains the significant landscape diversity of the Noel-Kempff-Mercado Park: from wooded savannas, called here “campos serrado,” to evergreen mountain Amazon forests.

The natural boundary of the park is the Rio de Itenec River, also called Guaporí, which flows in the east and north of the country and separates the park from neighboring Brazil. As an integral part of the park, the Guaporí River is a prime example of its biological uniqueness: of its 250 fish species, 25 are endemic.

The rivers in the park form waterfalls all along their course – at hard rock outcrops. The most famous is the Arcoiris Waterfall (means “rainbow” in Spanish), located on the Pauserna River. Its height is 88 m and the width of the falling water reaches 50 m. The name fully justifies itself: here and indeed over the waterfall in the afternoon you can see a bright rainbow for a long time. Like other attractions of the park, it is not easy to get to the waterfall: it takes 10-12 days of travel by pirogues.


Temperatures in the national park area vary little throughout the year, but during the dry season (around May to September) they can drop as low as +10°C when cold and dry air masses, called surazos, arrive from Patagonia. The Kaparu Plateau serves as a natural barrier to the humid air masses, producing heavy precipitation and over the past three thousand years shrinking savannas and increasing areas of rainforest.

But global climate change has already slowed this process: particularly tall trees have become more susceptible to withering, droughts bring forest fires, and many endemic species of fauna and flora are on the verge of extinction.

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Europeans were first introduced to the lands that now form Noel-Campff-Mercado National Park in 1908, when the British archaeologist and traveler Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett (1867-1925) and his expedition were able to walk through the jungle of the future park. He was not followed until 70 years later, when geologists explored the rocky landforms of the crystalline shield in Bolivia. At the same time, the first maps of these wild places were made.

The work of the expedition attracted the attention of Bolivian biologist and naturalist Noel Kempff Mercado (1924-1986), who began to promote the need to preserve the jungles of Bolivia. On June 28, 1979, a national park was created, which in 1988 was named after Noel Kempff Mercado. The naturalist had died two years before, in 1986. At that time, he and several other explorers on an expedition stumbled upon a cocaine factory in the Bolivian jungle. The drug dealers, not wanting to be exposed, killed Mercado.

Flora and Fauna

Vascular plants dominate all the park’s plant diversity: bromeliads, passionflower (passiflora), heliconia, aroids (aronnii), and palms. There are so many species that hardly half are described today, and others do not even have names.

The fauna of Noel-Kempff-Mercado National Park is as diverse as the flora. Typical inhabitants of the park are such rare species as the river otter, river dolphin, tapir, spider monkey (koat and howler monkey), giant armadillo (armadillo), giant (three-toed, large) anteater, jaguar. Of the feathered birds, the most famous is the mako parrot, and of the reptiles the black caiman. The extermination of the black caiman has a negative impact on the ecosystem of tropical areas, in the rivers of which the number of piranhas increases significantly.

Amphibians occupy a special place in the biosystem of Noel-Kempff-Mercado National Park. There is no greater diversity of amphibian species than in this national park anywhere else in South America: there are 127 of them, and the number of studied species may increase in the near future. They live mostly along the Brazilian border in northern Bolivia. About half of them belong to species characteristic of the Amazon. Almost all of them are threatened with extinction, in particular: the yellow and green anaconda, whose meat is highly valued by many Indian tribes, the yellow spotted river turtle, the coal (red-legged) turtle, the Chapara turtle, the giant Brazilian turtle (aka toothed, forest or shabuti). The rivers are home to about 254 species of fish.

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Noel-Kempff-Mercado National Park is of particular value to science and humanity, because nature has remained intact. There are no large and valuable deposits of minerals. The economy is reduced to serving the few groups of tourists and explorers. At one time – in the 1980s – they tried to log here, but quickly abandoned it, because it was simply impossible to remove the wood: the rivers are shallow and rapids, no roads at all, except for the Indian hunting trails.

National Park Protection

Noel Kempff-Mercado National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meeting the following criteria:

(a) The site is an outstanding example of ongoing ecological or biological processes in the evolution and development of ecosystems, plant and animal communities;

b) the site includes the most important or significant natural habitat for the conservation of biological diversity, including endangered species of exceptional global value.

One of the reasons why Noel Kempff-Mercado National Park has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the fact that it preserves the largest areas of the serrado (Portuguese for “closed”, “inaccessible”, “isolated”), an ecoregion of tropical savannah characteristic of Brazil. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Cerrado is the most biologically diverse savanna in the world. The serrado in Noel Kempff-Mercado National Park has avoided the fate of other savannas in Brazil that have been affected by human activity: the savannas were usually burned to cultivate monocultures such as soy and sugarcane.

Only the pampas deer, marsh deer, maned wolf (guara, aguarachai) and the common nandu have survived in the serrado.

Interesting Facts

  • It is believed that the English writer Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his novel “The Lost World”, being impressed by the diaries and photographs of the explorer of this territory Percival Fawcett.
  • A typical inhabitant of the rivers in the park is the ternetia, of the freshwater fish of the characin family, very popular with aquarists. Ternetia can change color when conditions deteriorate. When frightened, the body of fish becomes a silvery-muddy hue.
  • Passiflora (Passiflora) has medicinal properties and is used in folk medicine: the plant, known as “bat”, is used by Indians to treat liver disease.
  • The spider monkey koat lives in the upper tiers of humid rainforests, at an altitude of 25-30 meters, and rarely comes down to earth. Its tail is so tenacious that the monkey can use it not only to hang from branches, but also to pick up various objects with it. The howler monkey got its name for its terrible timbre of voice, thanks to which it can parody all the animals in the jungle, from the pig to the jaguar.
  • The giant armadillo is the largest in its group: its body is 75100 cm long and weighs 18-32 kg. It has up to 100 directed back teeth, which is the largest number of teeth among land mammals. Large claws on the front limbs, especially on the third toe, are up to 20 cm long and are considered one of the longest claws in the animal world.
  • The giant anteater ejects its 60-cm-long tongue at a rate of 160 times per minute, extracting 30,000 insects in a day.
  • The longest green anaconda was 11.43 meters long. Currently, the largest known anaconda is about Amy’s length and weighs about 130 kg and is kept at the New York Zoological Society.
  • In 2013, a specimen of the coal turtle (a representative of a rare and poorly studied species) was found in Brazil, which had been considered missing for 30 years. It had been living in a pantry and was presumably feeding on termites.
Ergaki Nature Park on the map of Krasnoyarsk region, Russia


There are 2 entrances for visitors: Flor de Oro on the north side of the park and Los Fierros on the south.

The Lost World of Bolivia – Noel Kempff Mercado National Park

The Lost World of Bolivia - Noel Kempff Mercado National Park

Arthur Conan Doyle once attended a talk by the British naturalist Percy Fawcett in which he recounted one of his trips in 1908 to the jungles of Bolivia to delineate the border with Brazil on a map.

In this speech, Percy Fawcett spoke of a lost plateau and no trace of tribes. This inaccessible plateau was replete with “monstrous traces of unknown origin.

Conan Doyle, with his rich imagination, was greatly inspired by this performance, and the result was the popular novel The Lost World. Fawcett did not see any dinosaurs like those described in the novel, but the truth is that the fauna of Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, organized in this area, is enormous. It is a transitional zone between the Cerrado savanna and the Amazon rainforest, where there is a mix of different habitats. And if you add to this the total absence of human intervention for several thousand years, you get an absolutely pristine nature. Only Fawcett, who eventually died in search of El Dorado, risked setting foot on this land.

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Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is located in northeastern Bolivia, bordering the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil via the Itenes River, the largest in the park. The national park is at a low altitude of 200 to 1,000 meters. The upper part of the Park is the Serrania de Huanchaca with huge cliffs. The Huanchaca Plateau is the dominant part of the park, covering 750,000 hectares and thus becoming one of the largest in the Amazon basin.

This plateau rises 300 meters, was formed about 20 million years ago, and its sandstone and quartzite structure sometimes erodes to form spectacular waterfalls, such as Rainbow, 88 meters high. Among the five different habitats of Noel Kempff Mercado Park are swamps, savannas and jungles. What is interesting is the fact that the rainy season has been more intense and longer over the past 3,000 years, leading to an expansion of the jungle. At least that was the case before the onset of current climate change, which seems to be reversing the situation.

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Noel Kempff Mercado National Park was established to protect 4,000 vascular plants, of which only 2,700 have been identified, among which legumes predominate. Some are common in all five habitats, some have fairly limited habitat.

Various species of orchids, bromeliads, passiflora, heliconia, arachis and palm trees grow in the Park. Species important from an economic point of view, such as mara (a species of mahogany), oak, cedar (Cedrela odorata), rubber tree, various types of palm trees such as açai or palmito, and a large variety of orchid species typical of the area are highlighted.

The wide range of habitats also contributes to the diversity of fauna, which is the main attraction of Noel Kempff Mercado National Park. 149 species of mammals have been identified, most of which inhabit the jungle.

Among all the animal life in the park, the puma, jaguars, and black jaguars are the first to be singled out. There are also river dolphins, small South American deer called mazama, tapirs, white-bearded peccaries, koats, spider and howler monkeys, giant armadillos and giant anteaters. And such rare species as the bush dog, guara (or maned wolf), pampas deer, marsh deer, and Brazilian otter.

The bird population is not far behind: 677 species have been identified, accounting for 20% of South America’s diversity. Of these, 29 bird species are threatened with extinction.

Some of the common bird species are the bronze Penelope (or mountain turkey), 9 species of ara, parrots, toucan, American kestrel, wavy hidden-tail, Brazilian yabiru of the stork family, black-bellied whistling duck, whistling heron, kingfisher and others. Endemic species of the region, such as the finch bunting, the endangered harpy eagle, and the nandu, are also found here.

The park is also home to reptiles and amphibians. There are 74 recorded reptile species in the park, including black and Paraguayan caimans, terrestrial turtles, green and yellow anacondas, the Amazon giant tortoise, bushmeister or surukuku (the largest venomous snake in South America), chonono rattlesnake (viper), iguanas and many others. In the last few years, 7 species of reptiles new to Bolivia have been recorded here, of which 3 are new to science and therefore endemic to the region.

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Also 62 species of amphibians have been recorded in the Park, all of them from the order of tailless amphibians, toads and frogs. Fish are the least studied vertebrates of this region. A recent expedition described about 250 species of fish.

Only 70 years after the Fawcett Expedition did humans set foot on this land again when a group of geologists arrived here in the 1970s to analyze rocks of Precambrian origin and make the first maps of the area.

This expedition sparked the interest of Noel Kempff Mercado, the man who gave the park its name. He was a noted Bolivian naturalist. His activities in pursuit of a National Park nomination came to an abrupt halt when his plane landed at the Serranía de Caparucha airfield while traveling with several colleagues.

The Lost World of Bolivia - Noel Kempff Mercado National Park

The landing was not entirely successful, as it was an airfield belonging to local drug traffickers who killed the scientist. When a National Park was declared there in 1988, it was named after the deceased scientist Noel Kempff Mercado. This status was declared very timely, because a few years earlier, logging had begun in these pristine areas. Thanks to the designation of these lands as a National Park, they were stopped. This small logging is the only human activity that ever took place on the lands now occupied by the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia.

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Due to the absence of ever human activity, the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park lacks any infrastructure and can only be accessed by private aviation with accredited guides on your best Bolivian tour.

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