Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Old travel guides are a gold mine

8 May, 2013 - 16:23 -- John Burton
Photograph of the South American Handbook 1937

I love browsing old travel guides, particularly those that relate to countries where World Land Trust (WLT) has partner organisations.

One I bought  recently, The South American Handbook 1937, has some real gems in it.

I looked up Paraguay. Although the country only gets a few pages, some of the information was truly fascinating.

I read that “In the Chaco Territory practically the only timber cut is quebracho, and the forests are being rapidly depleted of the larger trees, which are taken in thousands to the tannin factories to be broken up…The export of quebracho extract has tended to decline.”

The summary continues: “The lumbering industry offers a good field for enterprise. Prime timber land, in blocks of 10 to 50 square leagues or more [very roughly 10,000 – 30,000 acres] can be purchased very cheaply. The forests in the vicinity of the railway, or semi-navigable streams, down which rafts can be floated, are being depleted of the finest trees, compelling lumbermen to go further afield.”

It would appear from this that all the forests that I have visited in Paraguay are far from pristine. Indeed I recall seeing Zoo Quest to Paraguay, a very early film by Sir David Attenborough, one of WLT's patrons, in which he filmed a massive quebracho – a tree the size of which I have never encountered in all my, by now, extensive travels throughout Paraguay.

Trees of this size must be several hundred years old. So even if we manage to curtail the massive destruction of the Chaco right now, it will be a couple of hundred years before it gets back to a state similar to that before the sawmills arrived.

Halting the destruction of the Chaco is a priority, as is managing the reserves that WLT’s partner Guyra Paraguay has created. But Guyra is currently struggling with a financial crisis with little or no funds to pay for the protection and management of land acquired.

WLT has helped fund land purchase in the Chaco, but protection is now a priority. A donation of £5,000 will keep a ranger in the field for a year.

This is a situation where every little helps.

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