Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is a national park in northeast Santa Cruz Department, Province of José Miguel de Velasco, Bolivia, on the border with Brazil. Noel Kempff Mercado National Park covers 750,000 hectares of land, much of which consists of the Serrania de Huanchaca. The park is located on the Brazilian Shield in the northeast Santa Cruz Department in Bolivia. The Rio de Itenez is its eastern and northern border separating it from the neighboring Brazil.
It is situated in a transition zone where the Amazonian rain forests and the dry forest and savannas of Cerrado meet. The park is made up of five distinct habitats, including upland evergreen forest, deciduous forest, upland cerrado savanna, savanna wetlands, and forest wetlands. As a whole, the region can be described as having a marked dry season in the winter and a mean annual precipiation of 1,500 mm.
In 1908, Peter Fawcett first explored the area that is now the national park. It was not until almost 70 years later that the area was looked at again. In the 1970s geologists were sent to the area to survey the rock formations of the Precambrian Shield region in Bolivia. This expedition attracted the attention of Noel Kempff Mercado, an esteemed conservation biologist of the time. Mercado recognized the global significance of the area enough to propose a campaign to preserve it. Unfortunately, Mercado was murdered by drug traffickers and never saw his dream become a reality. Many of his fellow citizens responded.
Climate in NKMNP is distinctly seasonal with approximately 1400-1500mm of mean annual precipitation. There is a dry season of about 4–6 months (May to September), when rainfall declines. Precipitation occurs mostly in the austral summer, originating from deep-cell convective activity over the Amazon Basin and southerly extension of ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone). Mean annual temperature is 25026 C but during the dry season temperatures can drop to 10 degrees C for several days when cold dry Patagonia air masses (surazos) reach the park.
The Huanchaca Plateau (within NKMNP) is 600–900 m above sea level and is composed of pre-Cambrian sandstone and quartzite of the Brazilian Shield. There are patches of evergreen forest on the soils that are deep and nutrient rich in the Plateau. Deep fertile soils support forest, while heavily weathered sandstone rocks with a thin layer of soil sustain open savannah. The adjacent low land plain to the west is blanketed by Cenozoic alluvial sediments and dominated by wet rain forests which transition into dry forests at the southern border of NKMNP.
It is estimated that the park is home to approximately 4.000 species of vascular plants, including bromeliads, passion flowers, heliconias, aroids, and palms. There are also important woods like the "Mara" (mahogany). The area encompasses five important ecosystems ranging from Amazonian rain forest, gallery forest and semi-deciduous tropical forest to flooded savanna and dry cerrado. The diversity among vascular plant species in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is noteworthy. So far, 2705 different species of plants have been identified. Because there is such a wide range of different habitats that exist in the park, this number is split into different sections of the park.
The park is also home to more than 130 species of mammals (rare river otters, river dolphins, tapirs, spider and howler monkeys, the giant armadillo, giant anteaters and endangered jaguars, including a population of black jaguars), 620 species of birds (nine species of macaw, possibly the highest number of species in any one protected area), and more than 70 species of reptiles, including the black caiman (Melanosuchus Niger).
The cliffs of Huanchaca Plateau (also Caparu Meseta) rise up to 300 m tall and in many locations there have formed waterfalls. The best known are the 88 m tall Arcoiris Falls, 25–45 m tall Frederico Ahlfeld Falls, approximately 80 m tall El Encanto Falls and many others.
NKMNP is of global importance, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2000. Its importance is partially because the vegetation in NKMNP is essentially “pristine”, with only minor human impacts from minimal logging activity experienced in the 1980s. NKMNP encompasses the Huanchaca Plateau, which is one of the largest protected tracks of undisturbed cerrado (upland) savannahs in the Neo-tropics. This area has some of the most threatened mega-fauna in the Americas, including Ozotoceros bezoarticus (Pampas Deer), Blastocenus dichotomus (Marsh Deer), Chrysocyon brachyurus (Maned Wolf), Rhea americana (Greater Rhea), and Myrmecophaga tridacyla (Giant Anteater).