Albion Monitor /News

One-Fifth of Argentina Species Risk Extinction

by Marcela Valente

(IPS) BUENOS AIRES -- Argentina is home -- at least for now -- to 2,500 animal species scattered throughout the nation's land mass of 3.7 square kilometers and in the surrounding sea. Some 500 species, however, are threatened with extinction, including deer, jaguars and whales.

Unlike the dinosaurs, which died 67 million years ago of natural causes, today's endangered species have been pushed to the brink by human activity. Worse still, political authorities have no mechanisms in place for dealing with the crisis. On the contrary, environmental groups allege that politicians and politics are part of the problem.

Hunting is the chief reason for declining wild animal populations
They point to Environment Secretary Maria Julia Alsogaray, who recently posed for a photograph wrapped in an animal pelt. In another expose of government environmental wrong-doing, an official of the national park system has been accused of hunting down a "huemul," the rare deer indigenous to Patagonia, Argentina's southernmost mainland region. Just a few decades ago it was common to find them grazing in large herds. Now, it's rare to see more than a few at a time.

Hunting is the chief reason for declining wild animal populations. The jaguar (yaguarete), a native American feline entered the list of endangered species as a result of the lofty price brought by their skin. After years of decimation, it seems that the species' days are numbered.

The Pampas deer is another species which was abundant in the central and eastern regions of Argentina at the turn of the century. Now it's a virtual relic of the past.

Claudio Bertonatti, a representative of the Wildlife Foundation, says that only 300 of the animals are alive today. Whales, which can be viewed in the South Atlantic from June to December, are also struggling to survive. It is estimated that when the conquistadors arrived in the early 1500s, there were 300,000 of these massive beasts. Today, their numbers have been reduced to 3,000.

Turtles used to be sold in Argentina as pets until the trade was outlawed some years ago. Nevertheless, environmentalists estimate that 100,000 of the hard-shelled amphibians are still sold each year.

In some cases, animals have not been able to adapt to changing environmental conditions, their habitat is being eroded, or their ranges are whittled away
Bertonatti points out that some endangered species are in jeopardy for reasons other than hunting. In some cases, animals have not been able to adapt to changing environmental conditions, their habitat is being eroded, or their ranges are whittled away so that mating pairs cannot form.

Bertonatti also notes, "Diminished populations are less resilient, and are more likely to suffer serious losses due to predictable calamities such as forest fires, floods, droughts and volcanic eruptions."

Furthermore, distinct ranges are being separated in ways that prevent occasional intermingling of different populations, traditionally a source of genetic variation and consequent survival advantage. This particular phenomenon has endangered the survival of a species of Argentine mammals known as "aguara guazu."

Another endangered species is the "tatu carreta," similar to an armadillo but larger. There is even a zoo in the central province of Cordoba named after these animals and dedicated to the preservations of endangered species as fewer than 50 are known to be alive today. A Swiss zoo has offered $370,000 for a single one.

The "tatu" is a jeopardized species partly because its carapace is used as the sound box for a stringed instrument.

The vicuna, a close relative of the llama, and highly prized for its wool, is another species that is under pressure. Illegal hunting has reduced the vicuna population in Argentina's northwestern region by 25 percent.

Although Argentina is well-endowed with a wide variety of bird species, a number have already been driven to extinction, among them the blue, green, red and yellow "guacamayos" or parrots.

Bertonatti explains that two other species once native to Argentina are now extinct and that eight species of birds once found in Argentina, now survive in ranges outside Argentina.

Fish are no better off and 80 of the 400 species which occupy Argentina's rivers are in danger, along with 60 varieties of fish native to Argentina's coastal waters. Amphibians are even worse off: of 145 species, 61 are in jeopardy.

Bertonatti says, "Many people say 'what difference does the extinction of this species make if there are so many others?' However, if we extrapolate this nonchalance, we might just as easily say, 'Who cares if one of Beethoven's symphonies disappears, there are still eight left.' Or, 'who cares if one of Neruda's love poems is lost: he wrote 20'."

"The world needs to conserve its artistic, cultural, historic and biological richness for the common good."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 27, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page