In Febrary of 2007, my kids (Coral & Philip Waters) and I went to Venezuela. One of the places we went was a large ranch called Hato El Frio in the Los Llanos region. Los Llanos is often reffered to as the New World equivalent of the African plains. Such a tremendous abundance of wildlife! And among those swamps and plains roam the world’s largest rodents, the capybaras.
Capybaras have disappeared in parts of their range where they are over-hunted or where there has been significant habitat destruction due to farming, daming and deforestation. Hato El Frio was one place where they still occurred in large number due to the ranche’s progressive attitudes.
Hato El Frio (and Hato El Cedral, although I did not visit there) were experiments in sustainable ranching along with ecotourism. Dams were built to encourage wildlife to remain year-round and to provide more habitat for aquatic or semi-aquatic species. In addition, cattle and water buffalo were raised for meat. Capybaras were also “harvested” but in a sustainable manner. For decades the ranch maintained a science station that studied the affects of ranching on wildlife populations.
The following photos show some of the interesting animals that we saw on our week-long stay.
I could go on but you are probably wondering what the point is. So let me get to it. The Venezuelan government, under Hugo Chavez, has nationalized Hato El Frio and Hato El Cedral. See this article, Venezuela Coverts Tourist Destination into Farm Land.
I doubt that they are even now maintaining the Hatos’ programs to rebuild populations of the seriously endangered Orinoco crocodile, red-footed tortoises, Orinoco side-neck turtles or river dolphins. I doubt that they are concerning themselves with sustainability. These ranches have served as a beacon to the region as to what can be done to use the land while retaining wildlife. Now all of that is gone.
This is a terrible tragedy made even worse by the fact that most Americans–who live so close–don’t even know what the world is losing. Most Americans don’t even know what a capybara is. Caplin and I are devastated. No species is safe if people and governments don’t care.
(Follow this link to see more of my photos of Hato El Frio including more capybara photos.)