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By Marisa Valcárcel
As a whole, the Latin American region enjoys a privileged situation as it has one of the greatest natural resources on the planet. It has more than 2,000 million hectares, which represent 15% of the planet's land surface, and is home to the greatest diversity of species and eco-regions in the world.
According to CEPALSTAT data for 2012, Venezuela is the Latin American country among those analyzed with the largest surface area of protected land and marine areas, with a percentage that is close to half of its entire extension (49%). They are followed by Ecuador (37%), Nicaragua (32%), Guatemala (29%) and Brazil (26%).
In this area, the low percentage of protected territory in Argentina is striking, which despite its recognized and tourist natural riches, is among the last countries on the list, with only 7% of its terrestrial and marine areas protected. They are followed by Paraguay (6%) and Uruguay (2%), the last in the ranking.
With regard to the number of national parks, Brazil takes the cake, with 69 of them. It is not surprising, considering that its territory is the fifth largest in the world and by far the largest in Latin America, occupying approximately 47% of the South American land area. Closely followed by Mexico (66), and then Colombia (56), Venezuela (43), Chile (36), Argentina (34). The latter has four of its parks on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
UNESCO World Heritage sites are noted for their Outstanding Universal Value that transcends national boundaries and defines the paramount importance of these sites to the international community. In the number of parks declared this way by the international body, Brazil also surpasses the rest of the countries in the region, with seven of them.
Gathering 2013 World Bank data from the Latin American countries analyzed, with a figure close to 2,000 species (1,939), Ecuador heads the list of countries with the highest global number of fish, plants and mammals in extinction, although it is plants that are the that a greater number of species (1,842) are threatened with extinction.
For this reason, the Ministry of the Environment of the Andean country has launched the campaign "Protect Ecuador, everyone's responsibility", with the aim of informing the population about endangered species and promoting their protection. Among the direct causes mentioned by the Government are the destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats, overexploitation, illegal trafficking of species and the introduction of exotic species.
Although in third position and preceded by Brazil, Mexico is the country analyzed with the highest number of both fish (154) and mammals (101) whose existence is in danger.
Interestingly, some of the threatened species are symbols on the national shields of Latin American countries where they are in danger of disappearing. An example of species that run the risk of existing only in heraldry, are the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus), a type of deer from the extreme south of Chile. In addition, "close to being threatened" is the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), present in the shields of Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.
Also, although in no national shield, the tatu-bola, which has served as inspiration for the design of “Fuleco”, the mascot of the 2014 World Cup, is a small armadillo threatened in Brazil.
Looking again at the list of countries with the highest number of endangered species, the large total number of threatened Latin American flora (4,440 plants) is noteworthy, compared to fauna (747 fish, 506 mammals).
Protected natural areas (ANP) currently represent one of the most effective instruments for the conservation of natural wealth (species, ecosystems and environmental services). In this sense, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have made great efforts aimed at administrative reorganization, under the
concept of National Systems and the establishment of new protected areas in their respective territories.
The aim of these actions is to provide legal and operational protection to ecosystems and wildlife species, which are threatened by population growth, the expansion of the agricultural frontier and / or by their overexploitation.
However, the social problems and insufficient means that governments have to manage protected areas, mean that there is only the instrument to create them, and in many cases its provisions fail to be applied in reality.
Despite everything, in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in the world, the protected area has increased. As shown in the graph, from the Report “Protected areas of Latin America. Current situation and perspectives for the future ”(https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/documents/2011-019.pdf), in two decades Latin America has doubled the surface of protected land areas.