Posts Tagged ‘animals’


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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Caripe, in the state of Monagas, Venezuela, is home to a nocturnal bird called the guácharo or “oil bird.” The guácharo (steatornis caripensis) uses echolocation to navigate through the dark cave that bears his name. La Cueva del Guácharo is an enormous cavern that goes deep into the earth of eastern Venezuela. There are underground rivers and many types of cave critters in this national park.

A visitor to the cave probably won’t see the resident birds, but will definitely hear them. From the roof of the cave, they squawk in protest at the intruding flashlights that interrupt their sleep. At sunset, the guácharos wake to leave their cave in search of breakfast. Popular legend says they fly to Brazil for seeds, but the park guides will assure you that this is impossible, since the oil palm fruits they eat are close to the cave. If they went to Brazil, they could never get back in time for bed in the morning.

The cacophony and the spectacle of thousands of guácharos leaving the cave are amazing, and make the cave a favorite attraction for tourists and locals. Many people camp out to see and hear them return in the morning. La Cueva del Guácharo is one more example of Venezuela’s wonderful and diverse natural heritage.

Click for more photos and info in English and Spanish

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In Caracas, and throughout Venezuela, the number of stray animals is striking. Street dogs or “cacris” live without a home, human companionship, or veterinary care. Generally the animals are unsterilized, heightening the overpopulation crisis with each season. Meanwhile, the very few Venezuelan animal shelters are packed to capacity.

To help alleviate the crisis, a group of Venezuelan youths took action, and “La Red de Apoyo Canino” (or the Canine Support Network) was born in 2005.  The mission of La Red, is to share information, encourage sterilization, and find homes for cats and dogs through a network of foster homes. Through its listserve, supporters voice concerns, ask questions, and find homes and supplies for rescued pets. The Network supports a number of caring citizens who have turned their homes into animal shelters.

Notably, in Caracas, Mrs. Maria houses 30 to 40 dogs at a time in her apartment. Volunteers from “la Red” visit her each week to help her clean the house,  wash the dogs, and give them walks and attention. They usually bring a load of dog food along, too. Mrs. Maria’s home is pictured at the top.

The number of stray dogs and cats in Venezuela is still increasing, but there are a growing number of active, concerned citizens who are connecting with each other and educating the public to help save the animals and give them the loving homes they deserve.

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If you can’t go see the wonders of Venezuela’s “lost world” in Canaima National Park yourself, do the next best thing: watch this video from Public Television’s “Wild Chronicles.”

The five-minute documentary follows a group of Venezuelan biologists and researchers to one of the most delicate and diverse parts of the world to collect specimens. Along the way, they discover a new species of catfish, climb up into the forest canopy to check out plants, and delve into the dark world of bats.

All of this is part of a multi-disciplinary attempt to measure local biodiversity and use that knowledge to create policies for environmental preservation. Venezuela’s wild spaces are home to a vast amount of flora and fauna, a natural patrimony that is definitely worth saving.

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For those with an interest in the wild world of big cats and other critters, two news stories from this week will surely delight.

First off, archaeologists have discovered the only known remains of the long-extinct scimictar cat (of the saber-toothed tiger family) on the South American continent. Fossils of 6 of the big cats dating back 1.8 million years were found alongside those of panthers, wolves, camels (!), condors, ducks and horses.

Any guesses as to how these archaeological gems were unearthed? Yep, while digging for oil! Employees of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) came across them while prospecting in Monagas State.

Researcher Ascanio Rincon of the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Investigation told AFP, “It’s South America’s most important discovery in 60 years.”

Now, to bring our story up to the present day, Venezuelan zookeepers are looking forward to a little help from their counterparts in Cuba. The Cubans will send animals to Venezuela in exchange for medical equipment as part of an ongoing barter between the countries. Some 10 specimens are under negotiation, including a six-month old giraffe named “Evo” in honor of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales. Reuters has the scoop.

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