The Peruvian Government today announced the creation of one of the largest combined protected areas and indigenous territories in the world. WWF, which has been involved in the establishment of the 2.7 million-hectare Alto Purs area nearly the size of Belgium in the Amazonian forest, says it is a significant move in improving protection of indigenous people.

The global conservation organization stresses that representatives of the nine indigenous groups who live there supported the designation and demarcation of the Alto Purs Reserved Zone. The new protected area is also home to rare animals such as the jaguar, harpy eagle, scarlet macaw, giant river otter and black spider monkey. Furthermore, it is one of the last refuges for large populations of the highly-valued big-leafed mahogany.

The Alto Purs Reserved Zone combines a traditional national park, a communal reserve for indigenous communities, and a territorial reserve which will increase protection of the land rights of the Mashco-Piro, an indigenous group which has chosen to avoid all contact with the outside world in order to safeguard its centuries-old culture. Indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation are especially vulnerable to outside pressures, as well as to diseases for which they have little resistance. Alto Purs covers vast expanses of lowland tropical moist forests, unique flooded savannas dotted with palm trees, and extensive bamboo-dominated forests. While it is relatively undisturbed, development pressures from cattle ranching, commercial agriculture, illegal logging, and infrastructure building are increasing.

WWF believes that the government's decision to create a special commission which will oversee the drafting of regulations to respect and protect the way of life of indigenous people living in voluntary isolation in the Peruvian Amazon is a major step in the right direction.

"We are very happy about the establishment of the park, communal reserve and special commission because it will help our communities better manage their territories according to the traditions of our ancestors," said Fredy Lopez Tranbeca, Chief of the 180-inhabitant Gasta Bala community in Purs.

With financial and technical support from WWF, Peru is also reforming its forest concession bidding processes all in the Peruvian Amazon. This has resulted in the allocation of 7.3 million hectares of permanent production forests about the size of Ireland to forest concessionaires for sustainable management. It is part of the Peruvian government's efforts to modernize the country's forest sector by replacing a socially and economically unsustainable system of small contracts plagued by illegal harvesting and corruption with a system of large forest concessions managed according to responsible forest management and operations plans.

WWF also welcomes the creation by the government of a multisector commission against illegal logging, and hopes it will mitigate the negative environmental, social and economic impacts associated with this illicit industry.

"The Peruvian Government's commitment is a critical advance for the conservation of the countrys biological and cultural diversity," said Dr Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International. "It clearly recognizes the need for synergy between conservation and the rights of indigenous people."

In recognition of the Peruvian governments leadership in protecting the countrys rich biological and cultural diversity, WWF today presented President Alejandro Toledo a "Gift to the Earth" award, the global conservation organizations highest mark of distinction.