September 25, 2007

The completion in 1990 of an asphalt highway connecting Ciudad Guayana in the northeast to Santa Elena de UairCn on the Brazilian border has encouraged more tourists tu travel to Venezuela's Amazon region. The tourism indthstry. while a welcome source of income, has had serious ecological consequences. Dozens of :epuis-flat-topped. free-standing land masses rmging up to 9tXX3 feet in height-are endangered. The governmentrecognizesthetepuis-one of which contains Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall-as national monuments. As such, most are off urn-its to the general public, though enforcement of this restriction has been notoriously poor. "Members of the economic elite organize parties in the tepuis just to have the satisfaction of boasting of their stay at such an exotic place," conservationist Alexander Luzardo says. "The chal-ofamusement for the children of these families." The visitors leave garbage and sometimes start forest fires, he added. Adventure tourism, in which tour-isIs are led off the beaten track. is also contributing to the ecological destruction. "Adventure tourism trips to protected areas are frequently advertised in the media" says Rafael Elino MartIne?. president of the Environmental Corn-mission of the Chamber of Deputies. "Foreigners are flown in without any government control." People participaling in scientific missions also smuggle valuable tropical species out of the country, tie said. "UnlikeEuropeans, we Venezuelans take for granted the forests which occupy a large pt of our national landscape." Elino says. "Until attitudes change and an infrastructure is in place to oversee activity, tourism in the region will inevitably result in much destruction."

Tags: Venezuela, tourism, Amazonas, environmental destruction

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