This week is pretty much Chaco week on the blog. Unless you happen to live in South America or have a husband who constantly references the regions of South America, you might be wondering a bit about what this “Chaco” is. Here are 6 of your Chaco questions answered.
What is the Chaco?
The Chaco, often called the Gran Chaco, is a geographical region in South America. It’s hot, semi-arid, and landlocked.
Where Is It?
The Chaco isn’t bound by political boundaries and borders. The region is spread throughout parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. (Sometimes people use the terms Bolivian Chaco, Paraguayan Chaco, etc. to distinguish what country a certain part of the Chaco is in). The husband threw together this map for you and me.
What Does it Look Like?
Although the region is defined by its shared geography, it can be divided into separate sections: either the Northern, Central, and Southern, or the Dry and Humid Chaco. It really is hot and it’s full of cacti that I would have thought were found in deserts, but there are also entire areas (though less and less….see below) of dry forests with thorny trees, which blew my mind. I’d never seen something like it before visiting. There are also many pastures for livestock and fields for crops (often to feed the livestock). The Humid Chaco is a bit swampier and comes complete with the occasional palm.
Relatively speaking, the Chaco is sparsely populated. Of course, there are cities and towns within it, varying greatly in size and every other measure. Like good ol’ South Dakota (my second adopted home state), there may be more cows than people. That said, you might be surprised to learn about the diverse human population in the region. For starters, there are many indigenous groups still living within the Gran Chaco. At present, the omniscient Wikipedia lists 18 indigenous people groups who are living in the region. Beyond the indigenous people, there are many farmers and community members living in either the cities or throughout the countryside. Also notable, is the Mennonite population. Mennonites from Canada have been coming to the region since the 1920s to farm the land. With all this diversity, you can imagine how deep culture runs in the Chaco. There are local food dishes, Chaqueño folk music, and much more that I haven’t yet learned about.
The non-human whos of the Gran Chaco are also noteworthy.
Though at first the Dry Chaco seemed like a harsh and stark environment for animals, we quickly discovered it to be teeming with fauna. There are deer, monkeys, hundreds of species of birds, tapir (did anyone else write reports about these in elementary school?!), snakes, spiders, crazy amounts of insects and with them anteaters and armadillos. And yes, there are even jaguars. I, personally, like the turtles and the hilarious/amazing locusts and grasshoppers.
What’s It Used For?
Some of the land within the Chaco has been declared national parks or government land, etc. and therefore some of those natural grasslands and forests are being maintained. Obviously, these habitats play host to the animals mentioned above.
Much of the land is cleared for pastures or fields, as mentioned above. If it isn’t cleared, the land is still often used for livestock grazing. Don’t be surprised if you bump into a cow on your nature walk. 🙂 We also bumped into a carob (algarrobo) plantation during our trip.
Why Does It Matter?
The Chaco is South America’s second largest wilderness after the Amazon (source). It stores many, many treasures (more of our cool flora pics coming tomorrow!) and has so much potential, but as you might have guessed, conservation efforts are needed. Estimates say that the 2,300 football fields of Chaco forest are being cleared per day. Slash-and-burn practices, though illegal, are hard to curb. Fires even dotted the horizon while camping.
Clearly, as farm-kids-turned-adults, we understand the need for agriculture and support farmers. We love them! And food! But we also understand that agriculture needs to be as sustainable as possible and somehow work in harmony with biodiversity (now how do we make that happen?). With low land prices and new agricultural advancements, land is being bought and changed at crazy rates. This “development” is threatening the region’s rich biodiversity. Why do we care about biodiversity in the Chaco? Because people depend on biodiversity, even when they don’t know it. The livelihoods of many people, those same people that were so helpful to us when we visited, depend on it.
To learn more about the Gran Chaco, changes in the region, and some conservation efforts, read and check out the following:
- Poverty, Governance, and Conservation in the Gran Chaco (I like this article because it focuses on the people, not just the flora and fauna)
- Redes (Networks) Chaco
- Paraguayan Conservation NGO
- Okay, see more at the Wikipedia page
- A Guardian article about the area and a parabiologist training program; a similar Nat Geo write-up
And many more. If you have an article or link to share, feel free to e-mail me (I can add to the post) or leave in the comments for others to see.