Rancho Grande Biological Station
Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez
Henri Pittier National Park has been a source of innumerable studies and research projects due to its outstanding natural features and biodiversity. A bibliographic inventory, finished in 2002, lists a total of 342 publications distributed among 200 magazines, 39 theses, 34 monographs and 66 books (Savini 2002). The primary authors of these publications are from local and foreign universities. One of the first researchers was Henri Pittier, who worked in the area before it was declared national park. His contributions to the inventory of the area’s fauna and flora, as well as his ideas to preserve the headwaters of the rivers that supply water to surrounding towns and cities, were a key part of getting his petition to protect these forests considered and accepted (Estados Unidos de Venezuela 1953).
One of the more outstanding conservation projects for this park is the “Pittier Project: Park, Man and Cacao” of the Tierra Viva Foundation. This project is part of the Henri Pittier National Park Preservation Development Program. Its objective is to “develop educational strategies to promote environmental awareness, as well as those oriented towards the restoring the cultivation of cacao, in order to encourage local stakeholders to protect the biological and cultural diversity of Henri Pittier National Park”. This program has been conducted since 1997 with quite satisfactory results (Fundación Tierra Viva 2001, Fundación Tierra Viva 2004).
For eight years Tierra Viva Foundation has contributed to the park’s conservation. The program has expanded from only one project in 1997, to four projects that allowed the formation of new alliances and greater commitments between the people and the park (Fundación Tierra Viva 2001, Fundación Tierra Viva 2004). These are:
• Pittier Project: Park, man and cacao. Seeks to develop educational strategies and other strategies oriented towards the restoring the cultivation of cacao.
• Project: Strengthening Manufacturers and Small Businesses of Ecological Cacao. Seeks to promote strategies for diffusion of information, environmental awareness and distribution of educational material.
• Project: Building the socio-environmental policy of our municipality. Seeks to involve young people from Ocumare de la Costa de Oro in processes of reflection, knowledge-building, and idea exchange that support municipal environmental policy.
• Project: Strengthening a small manufacturer of cacao products in the town of Cata. Seeks to improve the technological systems for processing cacao which contribute to a better quality of life for the manufacturers.
For fifteen years, the Venezuelan Audubon Conservation Society (SCAV), the Phelps Ornithological Collection, and (more recently) The Friends of Henri Pittier National Park Scientific Society have tracked migratory birds in El Paso de Portachuelo through annual ring marking workshops and collected data of biological interest. Thanks to this activity, the park has been recognized as an Important Bird Conservation Area (IBA) in Venezuela by Bird Life and Conservation International (BLI and CI 2005). The SCAV also promotes ecotourism-related activities such as guided tours to the park for bird watching, educational activities to train volunteers for the ring marking season in Portachuelo, and publications, such as the list of birds found in the park and the book “A Forest in the Clouds.”
Beginning in 1995, PROFAUNA and Fundacite-Aragua carried out a joint research program to recuperate the natural habitats of the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in the Turiamo Bay. This program continued and was evaluated until 2003, with fairly satisfactory results. It could potentially be continued in the future (Vargas et al. 1992, González and Lander 1995, Lander 2001).
The function of the Rancho Grande Biological Station is very important to the researchers and students that visit the park. Even though the equipment and the services offered by the laboratories are not quite optimal for this type of station, the lodging facilities in the middle of the cloud forest are of key importance to any kind of study, whether close to the station or in any other area of the park. The Biological Station not only offers its services to those who stay for long periods of time, but also to groups that are passing through and want to pay a quick visit to the facilities or the interpretive nature trail, or for bird watching.