Biodiversity refers to the variety of animals, plants and everything else that surrounds them, which is an undeniable aspect of the Colca Canyon, which currently hosts a large quantity of species of flora and fauna.
The Colca Canyon is a synonym for extensive biodiversity, observations and studies in the canyon show the existence of an assorted flora and fauna, which given the particularities of the Andes, are fully adapted to extreme conditions of coldness and altitude.
The existing flora in the Colca Canyon includes about 300 species, which are sometimes used as medicine, fuel, in dyeing and as a nutritious food for and wild and farm animals. The plant species consists of three groups: trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, these exist in different plant communities according to the altitude at which they are found.
In the area of the Colca Canyon, floristic species are varied, such as the cactus that grows and develops more easily in low areas near the river Colca and are locally known as: “Chiri-Chiris”(Grindelia bergii), “Corotillas”(Tephrocactus corotilla) , and Tuna (nopal). Shrubs grow in abundance in the valley such as the “Cantuta”(Cantua buxifolia , Cantua candelilla); the “Chillko” (Vulpia megalura); the “Chinchircuma” (Mutisia comptonaeoifolia) and “Sullun Sullu”(Alchemilla pinnata).
In the upland areas located more than 3500 meters above sea level, the “ichu” (Stipa ichu, Stipa obtuse), dominates the landscape giving the appearance of a land covered by tall usually yellow colored grasses. The land over 4000 meters high is the habitat of rural meadows and Polylepis, a kind of trees and shrubs known in Quechua as “Queñuales”, wetlands and swampy areas are also found here.
In the higher plant community known as Yaretal located over 4500 meters above sea level, grows an extraordinary plant with a cushion form and which grows up to 1 m tall known as yareta (Azorella yarita, Azorella diapensoides). Yareta has managed to survive in a place of critical conditions and extreme cold and grows at a slow rate of one millimeter per year.
Wildlife is just as extensive and varied as flora, including 32 species of mammals, 5 carnivores, over 130 species of birds, rodents, amphibians and reptiles. The canyon and its surroundings are home to an important, substantial and diverse fauna, specially adapted to the environment of the Andes and its extreme aridity.
A species considered as representative of the Andes is the majestic Condor(Vultur gryphus), known as the king of birds, it is here in this deep canyon where this scavenger bird is flourishes given the ideal conditions it finds.
The giant hummingbird deserves special mention as it’s the largest in the world, 23 cm long including the thick 3.5 cm long peak. These special birds have developed a unique feeding strategy. They have long peaks and a tongue even longer, which are inserted into certain tubular flowers that can only feed them. The plant attracts them with its color and gives them its sweet nectar in exchange for this, the hummingbirds carry pollen to other flowers allowing the polenization of the flowers. They feed especially on the flowers of cacti and “Cantuta”.
Among the most important carnivores in the Colca valley you can find: the fearsome puma, the wild cat or "Osjollo" (Felis colocolo), the Andean fox (Pseudalopex culpaeus), recognized as the most significant predator of the Andes, the skunk or “añas”, and the weasel known as "Achocalla”.
The Puma is the largest animal in the canyon and therefore demands enormous quantities of food. It is solitary and is remarkable adaptative to to different environments. Their scarcity in the Colca is due to the little food they hunt here. They feed on animals including foxes and wild cats.
The “viscachas” (Lagidium peruanum) are very abundant in this region especially in rocky areas of the high Andes. Their appearance is quite similar to a rabbit, but with a long and hairy tail. It appears to be the main victim of carnivores such as foxes and birds of prey. They live by eating many plant species of their surroundings and have a habit of sunbathing in the morning.
Reptiles and amphibians are rather scarce in this part of the country, represented by three amphibians and five reptiles.
The Colca Canyon is the natural habitat for different species of flora and fauna, from the majestic Andean condor, the puma, white-tailed deer, foxes, vizcacha, wild cats and birds of all shapes and sizes, therefore the importance of conserving the ecosystems that keep alive the variety of animals and plants that this canyon has, is a primary goal in keeping this place a true natural wonder.