Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Death of the Chaco

14 August, 2009 - 10:47 -- John Burton

I have just returned from a visit to Paraguay, where I found it very depressing to see the alarming rate of destruction of the Chaco. One of the last great wildernesses of the world, the Chaco is being caved up, and bulldozed at a rate of around 1000ha (2,500 acres) a DAY.

Chaco destruction

An aerial view of the Chaco shows the extent of the destruction.

The incredibly fragile habitat of the Chaco is home not only to a unique biodiversity, but also to an indigenous human population, some of which remain isolated, choosing to avoid contact with the rest of the world. But the bulldozers move ever closer. In fact it appears that one of the few factors controlling the destruction is the lack of sufficient bulldozers, and restricted supplies of diesel to fuel them.

When I asked who was behind the destruction I was repeatedly told it was companies and farmers from Brazil and Uruguay and other countries where land prices have risen sharply, and where there is virtually no more forests left to chop down. Why is the Chaco being destroyed? Primarily to create grazing for beef cattle. And of course the end product is almost entirely for export.

Paraguay is having its patrimony asset stripped, and the end result, as I witnessed during my visit to the Central Chaco last year, is desertification -- with little evidence that the habitat will ever fully recover. So protection of as much as possible is a real priority, but unfortunately, most of the information about the impending disaster is in Spanish, and is receiving little publicity in Britain (or many other parts of the world).

The World Land Trust (WLT) has signed an agreement with Guyra Paraguay, our local projects partner, and SEAM, the under-resourced Ministry of Environment, to support the Chaco's national parks totalling over 1 million hectares, and I saw the results of the tiny amounts of funding we have been able to provide so far. The improvements are truly staggering: $5000 or $10,000 can have a real impact in supporting the rangers patrolling these vast areas.

As well as buying key areas with funds from the WLT, Guyra Paraguay are also protecting land that was previously only protected on paper, by working in tandem with the National Park authorities. Please help support their work, by making a donation to WLT's Chaco/Pantanal Project, or by passing this link to your friends. The world's media may not have caught on to the fact yet, but this wilderness area is in just as much need of protection as the tropical rainforests.

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