The department of Cusco, one could say without fear of falling into unnecessary mistakes, has it all. It is, shall we say, a small country within another. Its varied climates, product of the profusion of ecological floors, its impressive relief and its proximity to the tropical zone of the planet determine the existence among its folds of a unique, incomparable biological diversity. We must not forget, furthermore, that Peru is considered one of the seven megadiverse countries on the planet due to the varied ecosystems created by the Andes mountain range when it rises above the continent and to the action of the marine currents that bathe its extensive coastline.
Geography treatises indicate that in the deep ravines and intermediate zones, forests formed by numerous tree, coniferous and broadleaf species are typical. In the lower areas, on the other hand, ferns, reedbeds, alders and ornamental plants with seasonal flowers are common. In the Quechua and Puna zone, ichu, queuña, waqo, achupalla de monte, raqui-raqui, moqo-moqo, jucucha, huejontoy, tabaquillo, paico and tintin predominate. Full life and nature on the roof of the world.
The situation of the native forests of Peru is doubly serious, by cutting them down or burning them, one of the activities that most damages Andean ecosystems, not only is the provision of valuable environmental services lost, but the flora and fauna that allowed the insurgency of life in the territory we occupy.
The Andean forests are varied, within each of them different tree species thrive. On the Ausangate Route, where queuñas, chachacomos, unkas, tayankas, wancartipas, wamaq’eros, chuyllures, jalastos, siracas, t’astas, capulí-pishay endure, natural life makes the difference.
The following are the most notable trees on the Ausangate Trek:
The Queuña (Polylepis spp):
It is an extremely resistant tree to the altitude and to the cold typical of the Andean high-plains. It has been proven that it can live beyond 4,500 meters above sea level. The Queñuales, especially those found in the Vilcanota mountain range, contain a very varied fauna and flora that is characterized by its high level of endemism. The forests of this species regulate the climate, prevent soil erosion and store large amounts of water that ultimately feed the course of springs and puquios.
The Pisonay (Erythrina edulis):
Pajuro, bean or red cedar is a tree common to the temperate zones of Peru, where it can be found adorning the main squares of some of its cities with its size. Its leafy foliage, its red flowers and its incomparable size distinguish it from other native trees, which are generally small and rugged. It is known that it was cultivated and used by the Incas. Its fruits, which are tasty, serve as food and its leaves, flowers, bark and roots are used to cure various ills and as a contraceptive in rural areas.
The Chachacomo (Escallonia resinosa):
It is a tree with a bright reddish trunk that was used by the Incas to dye beige cotton and wool fabrics. Its leaves were used to prepare infusions useful as a brain tonic. Its wood is an excellent fuel and chaquitacllas are made from its branches, the best-known plow of the ancient Peruvians; Possibly, the keros, the ceremonial vessels that dazzled the conquerors, were also made from the wood of this tree.
The Alder (Alnus jorullensis):
Huayau or Lambrán is a good-sized tree that can reach 10 to 15 meters in height and is distributed between 2,500 and 3,300 meters above sea level throughout the Peruvian highlands. It grows in the ravines and on the edges of the farms: it is a tree that, due to its open crown that allows solar radiation to filter, does not disturb the growth of agricultural plants.
The Ccolle (Buddleja coriacea):
Qolle, Quishuar or Puna Quishuar is a tall, straight tree with a dark green, globose crown. In the times of the Incas, its wood was used for the construction of houses and the manufacture of instruments and its leaves as an effective remedy against rheumatism. Currently, the peasants use it as a living fence or “retaining wall”. Its foliage provides good fertilizer to the farms. Apart from the uses mentioned, the Ccolle provides excellent quality wood for the manufacture of beams, doors, windows, lintels and for the elaboration of agricultural tools (yokes, plows, tacllas) as well as for handicrafts and props. It is resistant to rot and fungi even when it remains in the water, hence its usefulness for making gates and parts of irrigation canals.
The Sauco (Sambucus peruviana):
O Tilo is a 3-6 m tall tree that in good conditions can reach 12 meters. Its fruit, with a pleasant flavor, is edible and is used to make jellies and jams. A strong wood is obtained from its trunk, which is highly valued for construction in rural areas. Its leaves are used to dye and from its stems quenas and blowers are made to fan the fire. It is also used as a live fence, windbreak and pest repellent.
The Molle (Schinus molle):
It is one of the most visible trees in the towns and roads of the middle part of the province. It has been used since ancient times to cleanse and detoxify the urinary tract and kidneys. Also useful to combat rheumatism, with the branches, leaves and fruits a very effective bath is prepared to combat the evil of fright. The ash is used to make soap and the bark to dye wool or cotton yellow. Its fruits, dry and ground, are an ideal substitute for pepper. It is antifungal and a powerful remedy for bacterial and viral respiratory infections. It also serves, among other things, as an insecticide.
The Quishuar (Buddleja incana):
A tree that grows up to 8 m high, is characterized by having a straight stem and cracked outer bark, light ocher in color. It is common in the highlands of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It tolerates high stoniness and its moisture requirements are moderate. Due to its dense foliage, it is used to make perimeter fences and protection against cold winds. Due to its excellent quality, durability and resistance, it is used in construction, cabinetmaking and props.
The llama (Lama glama) and the alpaca (Vicugna pacos) are the two most representative species of the varied fauna of the province of Quispicanchi and much of the Peruvian Andes. In our country, apparently the domestication of both South American camelids must have occurred five thousand years ago. The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and the vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), the two remaining species of the quartet of these Andean mammals, have survived in the wild to this day. From an ecological point of view, South American camelids have perfectly adapted to the environment they inhabit. The natural grasses that they consume are appropriate for their nutrition and the padding of their hooves does not destroy the delicate soils of the high Andean plateaus where they are usually raised by the descendants of the llamichos and paqocheros of the high mountains of our country. Vicuñas and guanacos share the grasslands of the highlands of Cusco with an ungulate well known to walkers who go around Ausangate.
The taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis):
Andean deer, a deer of great beauty that inhabits the highest areas of the Vilcanota mountain range, in grasslands, very attentive to the presence of humans. Herbivorous, it usually feeds on lichens and wild grasses and, like deer, the species has striking antlers, in this case a double horn on the forehead. The loss of the quality of its species is in a vulnerable situation and it is estimated that in thirty years it will have lost, if the current conditions of degradation continue, thirty percent of its habitat.
Vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia):
A rodent related to chinchillas, very common in Peru, central Bolivia, throughout Chile, and in western Argentina. It could easily be confused with wild rabbits: its yellow or gray fur is thick and soft except for the tail, which is black. His ears are covered with hair. The vizcachas feed on ichu and are a food attraction for the wild cats that live in the Ausangate mountains:
The Andean Cat (Leopardus jacobita):
Osqollo, osqo misi or chinchay a severely threatened feline whose population in Peru is less than 2,500 individuals and the Pajonal cat (Leopardus colocolo).
Andean Puma (Puma concolor):
The second largest feline in America and fourth in the world after the lion, the tiger and the jaguar. Common in our continent from Canada to Patagonia, the variety that inhabits the Peruvian Andes is capable of adapting to almost all our ecosystems. It is characterized by being agile, elusive, silent and strong. Avoid unnecessary confrontations with other animals, including humans. Similar in appearance to African lionesses, males can weigh up to 100 kilograms, while females weigh up to 64 kilograms. It was a sacred animal in the time of the Incas, so much so that the city of Cusco, the Llaqta Sagrada, was built following the outline of its extraordinary anatomy.
If you are lucky and drive carefully along the rural roads of the province, you may come across some of the fabulous local fauna.
Quispicanchi is the habitat of the white-eared opossum or carachupa ittuto (Didelphis albiventris), the Andean long-eared bat (Histiotus montanus), the red fox or atoj, also the Andean fox (Pseudalopex culpaeus), the skunk, añas or skunk (Conepatus chinga). , the weasel or achocalla catay (Mustela frenata), the pajonal mouse (Akodon subfuscus), the Darwin mouse or big-eared mouse (Phyllotis darwini), the wild guinea pig, guinea pig or cowi kututo (Cavia porcellus), the sacha guinea pig, guinea pig bighorn or poronccoy (Cavia tschudii).
Also with some individual of the varied avifauna of the Ausangate route:
Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus):
For being a bird linked to the history of the men and women who populated Cusco and the Andean world. The Incas considered it “messenger of the gods” (Apu Kuntur) and together with the puma and the snake it was part of an animal trilogy linked to the sacred. The imposing bird is represented at one of the points of the chakana and one of the most visited rooms in Machu Picchu is precisely the so-called “Temple of the Condor”. Due to its ability to fly up to heights of 5 thousand meters above sea level, the condor was the only animal in the Inca worldview capable of communicating with the world of the gods and the stars. In Peru, the species is in danger as a result of the loss of its habitats and death by poisoning due to the profusion of carcasses to control livestock predators (pumas and foxes). According to the Red Book of Endangered Wildlife.
Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas):
A distinguished inhabitant of the middle part of the province is the Andean hummingbird or giant hummingbird, the largest hummingbird in the world. Intrepid aviator, it easily reaches 23 cm in size. Its beak, straight and thick, measures 5 cm.
It is generally found in arid habitats between 2,000-3,400 meters above sea level where it frequents shrubs, trees and cacti, preferably columnar. It is very territorial and aggressive, often chasing other hummingbirds while hovering with remarkably slow wingbeats, keeping its tail open. Their diet includes nectar and flying insects.
The Huallatas (Chloephaga melanoptera)
The Andean goose or huashua inhabits open land with short grass in marshy areas of the humid valleys. Also the surroundings of lakes and ponds. They are found in pairs or in scattered flocks, males are usually larger than females and reach a size of about 90 cm. Both are white with a pink beak and legs.
Another inhabitant of swamps, lake shores and flooded fields is the yanavico (Plegadis ridgwayi) or puna ibis, common between 3,200 and 4,500 meters above sea level.
Other very frequent birds in the areas visited by guides and hikers: neotropical cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) or cushuri, Andean duck (Anas flavirostris), puna duck (Anas puna), white heron (Ardea alba), huaco heron (Nycticorax nycticorax ), Andean bandurria (Theristicus branickii), puna hawk (Buteo poecilochrous), Andean caracara (Phalcoboenus megalopterus), black-winged stilt (Himantopus melanurus), cinnamon-tailed sickle-billed hummingbird (Eutoxeres condamini), Andean woodpecker, woodpecker or gargacha (Colaptes rupicola puna), royal cinclodes or royal churrete (Cinclodes aricomae), ash-breasted bull or queñuales bull (Anairetes alpinus), chiguanco thrush (Turdus chiguanco chiguanco), grosbeak-ventidorado (Pheucticus chrysogaster), yellow-billed cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus).