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Peru Geography, Climate, Flora and Fauna

Peru features wildly diverse flora and fauna, thanks to its great natural and geological diversity. One of Peru's leading scientists, Dr. Javier Pulgar Vidal, completed extensive studies of the country in the 1930s, describing no less than eight climatological zones, divided into 96 sub-zones, each of which represents a different biological niche. The eight zones are Chala, or coastland; Yunga, lowland valleys; Quechua, a temperate, middle-altitude zone; Suni, highlands; Puna, inhospitable highlands; Janca, snowy mountain peaks; Omagua, high interior jungle; and Rupa-Rupa, lowland jungle.

The Chala region that lines the coast, with a name that means "maize plant" in Quechua, features islands, mangroves, beaches, some marshes and inland areas rise up to about 500 meters (1640 ft) above sea level. The flora of the Peruvian Chala region is marked by palm trees, coconuts, olive trees, papayas, mangroves and the variety of grape from which Peruvian pisco is made. Reed and rush plants are utilized by the locals, who weave baskets, mats, etc... many of which are sold commercially. The fauna includes most sea animals, such as fish and sea lions, and you´ll no doubt witness frigates and boobies swooping overhead.

The lowland valleys and hills that make up the Yunga ("warm valley") region (500-2300 m above sea level, or 1640-7545 ft) are marked by beneficial trees such as the avocado, plum and citrus trees including orange, grapefruit and lime. Peru's extensive sugarcane fields are found in the Yunga region. The region is famous for orchids: more than 200 species are thought to exist in the Yunga. It features many species of birds, including the rare white-winged guan. The region is also home to some small species of wild cats and many reptiles, including boas and several types of lizard. The Andean spectacled bear makes its home in the Peruvian Yunga. The Yunga is currently considered a highly endangered ecosystem: agriculture and deforestation are contributing a great deal of damage.

The temperate Quechua region (2300-3500 m above sea level, or 7545-11482 ft) is the most important agricultural zone for Peruvian grains, such as maize and wheat. Tomatoes, papayas and peaches also grow well in the Quechua zone.

The Suni region (3500-4100 m above sea level, or 11482-13451 ft) is a cold, dry region which includes some glacial lakes. "Suni" means "high" in Quechua. The flora of the region is tough, hardy plants and bushes, with very few trees. Little agriculture takes place in the Suni region, but quinoa (a local grain) does well, as do some potatoes, barley, oats and the broad bean. The famous guinea pig, long a food staple of Andean cultures, is native to this region. The Lake Titicaca basin is considered to be a combination of Suni and Puna regions.

The Puna zone is the highest zone able to support human populations: the Janca region is too inhospitable for people to stay put for long. The Puna ("Puna" literally means "altitude sickness" in Quechua) is home to iconic Andean creatures such as the llama, vicuña, guanaco and alpaca. Sheep, which were introduced into the region, also thrive in the Puna. The Puna is home to several highland lakes which are important stop-overs for migratory birds. Potatoes grow well in this zone, as do certain cacti.

The Janca ("white") region is the highest in Peru, and is characterized by glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Some hardy grasses, moss and lichens thrive there, but little else can survive. There are some animals and birds that reside here as well, including the Andean condor.

The Omagua region, or high jungle, gets its name from an indigenous word meaning "region of the fresh water fish." In Peru, there are vast stretches of virgin rainforest classified as Omagua. It is home to several species of mammal and reptile as well as many birds and insects. There are also, naturally, several species of fish that thrive in this climate zone, the largest of which is the paiche, which can grow up to three meters long (about 10 ft) and weigh more than 400 lbs. There are several important species of plants, including the Brazil nut tree, Mahogany, and the hallucinogenic ayahuasca.

Peru's steamy interior jungle lowlands are classified as Rupa-Rupa, from a Quechua word meaning "ardent." A thriving, vital ecosystem, it is home to countless species of plant and animal life. Many trees from this region are considered of commercial value, including the balsawood, rubber and oil palm trees.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
14 Jun 2012

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