Archive for the ‘Nature & Environment’ Category

Disney’s animated movie “Up!”, featuring the striking landscapes of southeastern Venezuela, has opened in many theaters around the U.S. In an interview to the Associated Press, the film’s director and story supervisor discussed the trip they took to Angel Falls and the tepuis (a table-top mountain) of Venezuela and Brazil during the making of the film. They described it as “the most magnificent trip that most of us would take in our lifetime” and called on tourists to be “respectful of the locations” and not “ruin them ’cause they are really beautiful places.” Watch the trailer featuring Angel Falls below.


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Venezuela’s plains region is home to the capybara (in Spanish, chigüire), which is the world’s largest rodent. These herbivores can weigh up to 100 pounds and live most of their lives in water. When they are born, they actually swim better than they walk, according to a zookeeper in Parque del Este in Caracas.

Sadly, chigüires are sometimes hunted and eaten for Easter dinner despite the fact that, during Lent, there is a religious prohibition against eating meat. During the time of colonization, the native chigüire was misrepresented to the Catholic church by the Spanish conquistadors, who wrote to the church officials for permission to eat the animal, which was unknown in Europe. The Spaniards said that chigüis lived in the water and resembled fish, conveniently leaving the hair and four feet out of the description.

By and large, chigüires are friends, not food, and people in the llanos keep them as pets. Recently,  the chigüire has become a subject for popular art, and can be found on t-shirts and logos everywhere in Venezuela.

Spanish-speakers will enjoy a popular sytirical news blog in Venezuela known as El Chigüire Bipolar.

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Venezuela is the nation with the 10th-largest amount of biodiversity in the world. Efforts to protect that biodiversity are highlighted in a new study by RAISG, or La Red Amazónica de Información Socioambiental Georreferenciada.

According to the study, Venezuela has the second-highest proportion of its Amazon region protected. The Amazonian basin covers an astounding 3 million square miles in South America, overlapping several different countries and encompassing a population of perhaps 33 million. Venezuela has already protected 71.5% of its share — second only to Ecuador’s 79.7%, and far ahead of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru.

RAISG measured Indigenous territory and other protected lands, which are generally the best conserved. Venezuela has 43 national parks. A respect for nature is enshrined in the constitution of Venezuela under a chapter that guarantees all citizens the right to a safe and healthy environment.

Since the Amazon Rainforest is often called the “lungs” of South America, we can breathe a little easier thanks to Venezuela.

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The “Metrocable” that is set to revolutionize transportation in crowded Caracas will open next month. It will reportedly travel 1.8 kilometers through the following neighborhoods: Parque Central, Hornos de Cal, La Ceiba, El Manguito y San Agustín.

What’s so cool about the Metrocable, you ask? For one, it whisks travelers overland through the clouds to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. It also helps reduce travel time to work for low-income residents in the city’s peripheral areas.

A Reuters article yesterday suggested that this project is well-liked in San Agustín. It prompted one resident to call Hugo Chavez “the only president who has really worked for the poor.” This sentiment is reflected in the statistics: a recent UN study shows poverty has dropped by 16.5% in the last five years.

And while the Venezuelan leader has been known to tout those numbers, he stressed earlier this year that the newest government-funded transportation project was designed for the good of all citizens:

None of the projects promoted by the Venezuelan government does [have political colors]; they will benefit all Venezuelans.

The technology and materials used to build the Metrocable were purchased from Austria and Brazil. The project may have been inspired by an existing aerial transportation system in Medellin, Colombia. Investments total $149 million, and it should create 200 direct jobs and 250 more indirect ones. It will carry 1,500 people an hour for a total of 15,000 commuters every day. See more pictures of the construction phase here.

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Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced today that Bolivia will soon begin building recycled “petrocasas” with the help of Venezuela. These low-cost plastic dwellings are built with waste generated by oil refining, and are providing a solution to economic and environmental pressures. Tens of thousands have already been erected in Venezuela as well as Cuba and Peru. It was in Peru where Morales first saw the petrocasas and the role they played in the country’s recovery after a 2007 earthquake.

With an investment of $80 million, Bolivia will open a factory to produce petrocasas in Oruro. The first recipients will reportedly be the relatives of the victims of Bolivia’s “gas wars” of 2003. The eco-friendly houses will go up in low income areas, including El Alto and Trinidad. The project was announced at an event commemorating the 228th anniversary of the first uprising against the Spanish colonists.

See our last post on petrocasas here. For coverage in Spanish, see Reuters.

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S. Schaefer

Hey science fans! Did you know that Venezuela is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world? You can find animals there that live nowhere else.

Ichthyologists Francisco Provenzano from Universidad Central de Venezuela and Scott Schaefer of the American Museum of Natural History have found a previously unknown species of climbing catfish. Lithogenes wahari appears to be an evolutionary marvel.

One fish was discovered in a remote region of Venezuela’s Amazonas state nearly 20 years ago, but good and plentiful specimens weren’t found until recently. The catfish was eventually found in large numbers in the Cuao River, a tributary of the Orinoco.

The fish are bony and armored, have a “specialized pelvic fin” and a “grasping mouth” that allow them to climb onto rocks in a locomotion similar to that of an inchworm. Lithogenes wahari evolved to adapt to rapidly changing water levels in the Venezuelan Amazon.

Check out these links from Live Science to learn more.

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Sunflowers (girasol in Spanish) grow wild in Venezuela. They are a common sight in fields and on the sides of highways. Despite their beautiful abundance, Venezuela doesn’t produce much sunflower oil. The cultivation of sunflowers has languished for decades while the nation still largely relies on an imported supply of edible oil.

All of that is changing now, as Venezuela’s mission to achieve food sovereignty includes the cultivation and production of sunflowers. Sunflower production was up by 175 percent in the 2006-07 period, increasing from 5,600 tons to 15,500 tons.

President Chavez had this to say about the girasol:

Venezuela has a great potential to grow sunflower. I grew up among sunflowers, but the governments of AD and Copei (the two traditional parties in Venezuela until the late 90’s) put an end to sunflower production (…) They chose to import edible oil… now we have reduced imports. There will come a day when Venezuela will export this product rather than importing it.”

To achieve that goal, the Venezuelan government will build an industrial compound in Turén, Portuguesa state, which includes a sunflower oil processing plant. Portuguesa has particularly impressive sunflower crops.

Use these links to read more in English or in Spanish.

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