TIPNIS National Park, Bolivia

by BoliviaBella.com
(Santa Cruz, Bolivia)

Map of the TIPNIS National Park in Bolivia

Map of the TIPNIS National Park in Bolivia

The TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure) is the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park. As both a park and a native reserve it is doubly protected by the Bolivian constitution and laws. The TIPNIS is one of the most biologically diverse areas of Bolivia and is believed to be home to nearly 15% of all flora and fauna species in Bolivia. It is also home to the Moxeño, Chimané, and Yurakaré indigenous groups, who live from the land and are mostly hunters, fishers and gatherers.

The TIPNIS made international headlines in mid-2011 when over 1000 of the approximately 11,000 natives who live live in this area began a well-publicized march covering over 300 miles from Trinidad, in the state of Beni, to La Paz, in protest over the construction of a highway that will cut the TIPNIS in half. The highway, proposed by Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, is being funded by Brazil and a Brazilian company has been contracted to build it. The highway will run from Villa Tunari in the Chapare region of the state of Cochabamba (Bolivia's primary coca-growing region) to a small town in the state of Beni called San Ignacio de Moxos. Because of this, some are referring to the highway as the "cocaine road".

Per Bolivian law, the government must consult natives living in protected areas or autonomous indigenous territories and must obtain their approval prior to planning and/or initiating any activities in the area that may affect their land. The natives of the TIPNIS vehemently oppose the construction of this road because their territory has already previously suffered invasions by illegal coca growers, lumberjacks, and others. They fear the road will not only destroy the environment but will open up the park to illegal settlers and coca farmers. They have proposed four alternate routes for the new highway and have attempted eight times to dialogue with the government, to no avail. Bolivia's president Evo Morales is very determined to build this road and initially stated it will be constructed with or without their approval. His position is that the road is necessary for development and integration.

The TIPNIS natives set out on their march. Men, women and children began the long 300+ mile walk from Beni to La Paz and were immediately met with criticism by the government. On Sunday, September 25th, a contingency of 500 police officers surprised the TIPNIS natives as they were resting at a private ranch and violently attacked them with weapons and tear gas, beating and tying them up, resulting in some 100 injured, over 200 arrested and numerous adults and children disappeared. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not there have been any deaths.

These actions were immediately repudiated by Bolivia's general population touching off protests and strikes throughout the nation, as well as responses from many international organizations, throwing the TIPNIS into the limelight. But what is the TIPNIS and why are the indigenous groups who live in this area willing to risk their lives to protect it?

Legal Background

The TIPNIS was declared a national park by means of Supreme Decree 7401 on 22 November 1965 and was declared a protected Indigenous Territory by means of Supreme Decree 22610 on 24 September 1990.

Geographical coordinates:

65º04’ – 66º40’ Longitude West

15º27’ – 16º47’ Latitude South


The TIPNIS covers an area of approximately 1.236.296 hectares (12.363 km2).


The TIPNIS is located between the states of Beni (the Moxos province) and Cochabamba (the Chapare province). The municipalities involved are San Ignacio de Moxos and Loreto in Beni and Villa Tunari and Morochata in Cochabamba.


The climate varies according to the altitude from moderate to cold in the highlands to hot in the lowlands. Average annual temperatures range between 15ºC in the mountains to 32ºC in the foothills and central forested plains, to 25ºC in the Moxos plains to the North.

Annual precipitation also varies from 1900 mm per year in the northern sector (along the confluence of the Isiboro and Secure rivers) to 3500 mm per year near Puerto Patiño (along the southeastern border); however, 80% of the area receives an average of 2000 to 3000 mm of precipitation per year.


Altitudes range from 180 to 3000 meters above sea level with an average of 300 to 400 meters above sea level. The topography varies widely from the Sub-Andean foothills to the Moxos Plains.
The southern and western sectors are primarily mountainous with abrupt slopes and includes the Mosetenes and Sejeruma mountains. The central and southern regions are mostly flat alluvial plains.
The area has been formed by the Sécure, Ichoa, and Isiboro rivers and their associated streams. A large portion of the park is regularly flooded during the rainy season.


The area belongs to the Amazon sub-basin of the Mamoré River. The Sécure River is one of its main effluents and empties into the Isiboro River, which also has several important effluents. The Sécure and Isiboro rivers are located to the North and South of the TIPNIS, respectively. Both are navigable. The Ichoa River, an effluent of the Isiboro River, runs through the central portion of the TIPNIS.


The vegetation varies greatly in the TIPNIS covering cloud forest, humid to very humid forest, sub-Andean rain forest, very humid piedmont, basal seasonal humid forest, wetlands palm forests, floodplains, Cyperaceae wetlands, and a great many lagoons. The topography plays an important part in the type of flora found in the TIPNIS. Where drainage is good, soil is deeper and consequently there is a greater variety of vegetation: 402 flora species have been recorded at the park and an estimated 3000 additional species have not yet been classified. The extraordinary diversity of flora includes species such as: Alnus acuminata, Podocarpus spp., Juglans boliviana, Cedrela lilloi, Cedrela odorata, Swietenia macrophylla, Calophyllum brasiliense, Tabebuia spp., Euterpe precatoria, Geonoma deversa, Geonoma spp., Dictyocaryum lamarckianum and Mauritia flexuosa.


Fauna is equally diverse and over 714 species have been recorded. Some of the most outstanding are: Tremarctos ornatus, Priodontes maximus, Ateles paniscus, Alouatta seniculus, Pteronura brasiliensis, Panthera onca, Odocoileus dichotomus, Harpia harpyja, Cairina moschata, Myrmotherula grisea, Grallaria erythrotis, Terenura sharpei, Ampelion rufaxilla, Podocnemis unifilis, and Melanosuchus niger.

Human Communities:

The human population of the TIPNIS is distributed primarily along the most important rivers (the Isiboro and the Sécure) and in the southern piedmont region (part of the Chapare region of Cochabamba which has been colonized). The central or interior floodplains are only sparsely populated, mainly due to the difficulty in accessing the area and strong seasonal flooding.
The southern mountainous region (the Mosetenes mountains) is also only sparsely populated due to the abrupt topography and high precipitation levels.

The TIPNIS is inhabited by the Moxeño, Yuracaré and Chimán ethnic groups. There are over 50 indigenous communities and small, dispersed settlements of extended families. The Moxeño are the most numerous (72% of the total population), followed by the Yuracaré and the Chimán.

On the other hand, 47 unions of colonizers now live within the red line over an area covering about 92,000 hectares while the indigenous communities are distributed throughout the remaining park area. An estimated 4000 colonist families live in the highlands of the southeastern portion of the park (numbering approximately 7000).

In addition, about 15,000 colonists (mostly farmers) organized into unions and communities live within the external buffer zone in the central and southern area of the province of Chapare.

Sources: SERNAP Servicio Nacional de Áreas Protegidas and CEJIS Centro de Estudios Jurídicos.

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