Globalizing a Lost World: Beauty or Benefit, What Drives Conservation? Part 1

In 2009, I wrote an article for the The International Relations Journal of San Francisco State University, with the intention of determining what international relations theories best fit the conservation activities in Venezuela's Canaima national park. After a number of revisions, the article was published in The International Relations Journal Volume 28, Spring 2009 under the title "Globalizing a Lost World: Beauty or Benefit, What Drives Conservation?" The Journal is available at in PDF form, however I am placing it here so that it can be seen in the context of other work and projects.

Globalizing a Lost World:
Beauty or Benefit, What Drives Conservation?1

Laszlo Barkoczy

Abstract: As global climate changes continue to alter the environment of the planet, ecosystem conservation is increasingly an issue of human survival as well as preservation. As such, the impetus behind conservation must be established in order to examine the realities of conservation for the long term-survival of human civilization. Two theories are combined to form the thesis of this paper; liberal conservation theory and constructivism. The goal is to demonstrate that conservation is driven by a combination of economic and institutional concerns and constructed inter societal narratives. Utilizing Venezuela's Canaima National Park as a case study and representation of national park establishment across the world, it is established that conservation occurs in a two-step process; constructed narratives establish the impetus for park creation, and rational actions, including profit-making, maintain the park. There are economic benefits for conservation in terms of money saved through watershed protection in the Caroni basin, and benefits are instrumental in maintaining the existing park structure. As global warming continues to generate extinctions in mountain ecosystems around the world, greater conservation efforts must be undertaken to preserve Canaima National Park and its unique and irreplaceable Tepui ecosystems, which exist as the cornerstone of highland fauna in Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil.


Recent scholarship and developments in popular opinion have convinced a growing number of activists, academics, and politicians that the phenomena of rapid global climate change must be promptly mitigated in order to maintain a reasonable level of quality of life on earth. Nascent environmental regimes are attempting to change the way in which energy is delivered to human actions (nuclear and/or alternative sources) as well as preserve endangered flora and fauna through the maintenance of conserved areas in the form of national parks. National park or the creation of protected areas, is fundamental to the maintenance of global biological diversity and is a critical element of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).2 Within the broader context of environmental preservation regimes and the field of international relations (IR), this paper focuses on the establishment of protected areas, in order to understand the international and transnational influences and implications of local-level conservation efforts. In an effort to better understand these global trends this paper explores 3 central questions: (1) what factors construct the impetus for conservation? (2) Are national parks established based upon a subjective value of natural beauty and aesthetic, or do they serve a purpose which is derived from profit and human benefit? (3) What is the relationship between national parks, international conservation efforts, and the global structure?
This paper argues that national park establishment is based upon a combination of subjective social narratives initially, and rational choices which derive profit and gain secondarily. As such, the thesis incorporates social constructivist theory in IR as well as its liberal conservation equivalent to demonstrate that while the impetus for conservation may be subjective, its implementation and maintenance can be understood within a rationalist framework.
The Canaima National Park in Venezuela provides a valuable case study due to a number of unique characteristics. Primarily, the park’s establishment predates the environmental debate within the field of IR, which began in earnest during the 1980s.3 Thus, little is understood concerning the impact and influence international organizations and environmental regimes have on the park. Moreover, Canaima is recognized as a United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNSECO) world heritage site, containing all four of UNESCO’s status qualifiers for unique biological diversity and uniqueness in global biota.4 The park’s location along the border with Guyana and Brazil make its preservation crucial to the goal of regional biodiversity.5 Third, Canaima overlies and contains extremely rich mineral bearing strata.6 It’s continued conservation despite the extreme mineral wealth of the region demonstrates that a value beyond mining exploitation exists in the area.

Historical Framing

Since the 1980s the debate over the existence of global environmental change has gained increased attention both in political and media discourse as well as within the field of international relations. The scientific recognition of ozone depletion led directly to a major environmental crisis of international magnitude and the creation of the 1987 Montreal Protocols, which banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and ozone damaging chemicals.7 Climate change and biodiversity have become high politics issues.8 The resulting debates and summits created an expansion of international environmental regimes. A critical development which demonstrates this expansion was the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.9 Many theoretical schools within IR now incorporate environmental issues within the context of their framework, indeed some have identified global environmental degradation as the third major issue area in IR.10 The basic tenants of environmental protection, such as park creation and the scientific analysis of global biological diversity, are relatively new concepts within IR analysis and are now addressed by specific IR theories. The history of environmentalism as a topic of discussion in IR dates back to the 1960s and the revolution of behavioralist methodology. Environmental issues are analyzed in the traditional realist and liberal theories within the context of security issues, or as a global challenge to be solved by institutions. In their authoritative work The Environment and International Relations, John Volger and Mark Imber address the differences in IR theory with regard to environmental issues, and the impact of IR theory on the concept of global environmental governance. IR issues and environmental destruction range from refugee movements caused by drought and global climate change to non governmental organizations (NGOs) negotiation tactics in global conferences on climate change.11 They conclude that after the advent of environmentalism, the world of IR has a good deal of catching up to do to explain the phenomena and offer meaningful solutions to environmental problems. The international regime on climate change exists with a complex interplay of NGOs, international organizations (IOs) such as the U.N. and participating nations.12
Theoretical Framing

Constructivist analysis can be applied to environmental issues within the context of human activity. The normative aspects are that environmental issues are ideational, based upon both science and human political actions, transcending IR epistemology and focusing on the politics of science, social construction and biological science to understand environmental change.13 Maarten A. Hajer argues that the political reaction to specific environmental issues depends heavily on the social construction of the issue itself.14 He cites imagery as contributing to humanity’s view point with regards to the earth itself; specifically that the 1969 Apollo photographs of the earth alone in space changed humanities relationship with the earth itself.15 Constructivists focusing on environmental issues recognize that the primary conservation actors are multivariable; being composed of governments or individuals acting on all levels, from the international to the domestic. The interplay of Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) and individual action may lead governments to act to conserve a rainforest or sign a treaty, but this is not an indication of an international conservation structure per se, but rather the expression of the narratives constructed by people. Constructivist analysis demands that environmental issues be viewed from the view point of sociological conditions and schemas which are invented. They state that environmental problems do not objectively exist, but rather are fundamentally constructed by individuals and organizations who define the terms of the problem.16 While this analysis which assumes that issues are framed subjectively by human society is correct, it ignores the basis of environmental science which is rooted in biology, and based upon empirical data, not subjective thought. The fact that environmental organizations adapt to advances in the biological sciences can be seen in the behavior of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a US ENGO. TNC had difficulty maintaining the integrity of reserve areas purchased in the 1950s due to the isolation of certain preserves. Areas which were purchased in North America as conservation areas were becoming isolated as development occurred around them. These “Island” ecosystems were not stable, and were being negatively affected. TNC scientist Bob Jenkins summed this phenomenon up by stating “We look at some of our earlier projects now-quarter-acre cemeteries and twenty acre timber tracts- and realize they are becoming ecological islands that might not remain viable.”17 In the light of new scientific evidence, TNC has been forced to produce a new methodology for maintaining its mission, leading to its Conservation by Design (CbD) program.18 Advances in field biology, and ecosystem levels of analysis in the 1970s and 1980s made it extremely clear that ecosystems must be preserved as a unit, rather than in part. This constitutes an adaptive behavior on the part of environmental action groups and demonstrates a rational reaction to empirical data.19
In liberal conservation theory, the focus is on international institutions and the primacy of market forces to ensure effective conservation. The norms of liberal conservation theory are liberal International Political Economy (IPE), free markets giving rise to free speech, greater wealth through an inherently positive sum-trade system, and finally environmental protection through sustainable development. Liberal theory is positivist; it proposes that international action will occur and is occurring to the benefit of people and the environment. Liberal IPE analysis proposes that positive action occurs best if people are free to make profit, in this case with conservation efforts. Thus, the mechanism for environmental action, such as conservation, is inherently driven by market forces.20 Institutional liberalism posits that the creation of international organizations and NGOs creates a peaceful world; liberal conservation theory adapts this concept to focus on the actions of NGOs and sovereign states in the establishment of U.N conventions and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites. NGOs can act to effectively bridge the gap between corporations, governments, and local populations.21 Institutional liberals argue that under conditions of interdependence and global integration, states need institutions and regimes to foster and oversee cooperation. These institutions oversee implementation, develop and provide transparency, identify problems and punish non-compliance. In this way, international organizations coerce states away from relative gain toward overall gain for the entire community, and develop a positive sum system where all derive benefits.22 The implication here is that states interact rationally and change their behaviors and identities to foster greater gain.
The integration of these two dissimilar view-points stems from the observation that their mechanism for action are broadly based upon the same phenomena; the changing of narrative identities.23 In the case of liberal institutionalists, they rely on the transformation of identity to provide the operational maintenance for International Organizations (IOs).24 Thus, constructions of institutional identity do evolve, in a similar manner that biological sciences evolves based on theory development and empirical analysis. Neoliberal institutionalists argue that the environmental circumstances in the international arena are constantly evolving.25 This assertion allows for an analysis of conservation efforts which can integrate both the inter-subjective and collective relativity of constructivism with the rational choice international regime building of. liberal institutionalism.26
Canaima national park challenges some assumptions that both constructivist analysis and liberal conservation theory maintain regarding national parks. Constructivist arguments regarding the utility of national monuments and parks is that they are a source of national pride. Liberal conservation theory would argue through the rationality of liberal IPE that parks that make more profit are more successful. The small operational budget of Canaima challenges the concept of national parks as sites of national pride, and a source of interest for the population. This outlying fact will be analyzed latter in the case study. The two competing interpretations of national park establishment and are outlined below for clarity.
Constructivist argument: National parks are established due to their national, international, and scientific value as areas of unique beauty, and that the ideational values of biodiversity and ecology have been the driving force behind their inception and maintenance. In the case of Canaima, recognition of the uniquely beautiful geography of the park have led to the creation of a global inter-societal consensus which promotes conservation.
Liberal Conservation argument: National parks such as Canaima and other parks in Maracaibo (located along the Caribbean coast) present an economic incentive for conservation, following liberal IPE analysis. They contribute vital income to the Venezuelan economy at the international level through international tourism, carbon sequestration offset purchases. National parks work with international institutions to conserve natural resources for the benefit of the international system by maintaining global biodiversity and reusable resources. NGOs lobby governments and engage in U.N conventions to support conservation.27
The synthesis of these two arguments is that Canaima national park was created due to its inherent natural beauty, expanded due to practical concerns, and latter integrated into the global environmental regime as a rational extension of the process of combating global net biodiversity loss.

The Lost World Overview
The impetus for conservation is multivariable, and extends into the practical and the social spheres of human activity. In terms of practicality, some benefit must be derived from conserving an area as opposed to exploiting it. The central question here is “why conserve as opposed to exploit?” According to mineralogical surveys conducted by the Untied States Geological Survey (USGS) and Corporacion Venezuelano de Guayana, Tecnica Minera, CA, the strata underlying the geological unit known as the Venezuelan Guayana Shield is extremely rich in terms of gold, diamonds, and other industrial minerals.1 To put this in perspective, this is the geological region which separated from Africa after the breakup of the super continent Pangaea, some 200 million years ago. Thus, the mineral wealth of this region may be comparable to the Gold Coast of Africa, the location of lucrative gold and diamond mines.2
Despite the mineral wealth, large portions of this area are protected or listed under the national park system. In terms of non-material wealth, the biological diversity of the area is extremely high. In terms of biodiversity, Venezuela is rated as one of the ten richest countries in terms of biological diversity, containing 14% of known birds, 10% of known plants, and 7% of known mammals in less than 1% of global terrestrial territory.3 Venezuela also maintains an extensive national park system, Instituto Nacional De Parques (INPARQUES),4 which is responsible for national parks, national monuments, and protected areas. The map below does not include partially protected areas, or areas with restricted agriculture.5

Map of Canaima National Park, detailing topography of Tepuis.6

Large portions of the national park system overlay a geological unit known as the Venezuela-Guiana Shield, an extremely ancient and mineral rich craton.7 Although the area is rich in gold and diamonds, there is very limited mining in Venezuela’s national park -- all of the mining is conducted by small low scale illegal operations.8 The primary characteristics of the Canaima national park are the Pan-Tepui region, which is composed of Auyan-Tepui, Chimanta-Tepui and Roraima-Tepui. The word “Tepui” is a Pemon Indian word meaning stone-bud9, and refers to the high, flat topped mountains in the park similar to the mesas of the South Western USA, only much larger and much more extensive in area. This area is analogous to the Galapagos in terms of the study of evolution and endemism, making it a haven for environmental scientists. The park is also home to the world’s tallest waterfall, Angel Falls, which was only discovered in 1938, testifying to the remote nature of the park.10

Characteristics of Canaima.

The Canaima National park was established in 1962 under executive decree 770 by the Venezuelan government at a size of 10,000 square kilometers. It was expanded in 1975 to a total size of 30,000 square kilometers to protect the watershed of the Caroni River, with mining and logging activities strictly prohibited.11 Thus, the conservation of Canaima has an official twofold purpose: protect unique ecosystems and the Guri dam watershed. While national parks across the world are traditionally cherished areas filled with natural beauty, it is unusual for them to be located in areas which are not easily accessible to tourists. Indeed, the tepuis themselves are primarily accessible by helicopter. The cost of maintaining the national park system is not a high priority of the Venezuelan government, and the operational budget of INPARQUES is estimated at 25 million USD per year, for all parks.12 Thus, the benefits of the national park system need to be analyzed not in terms of demand side economics, but rather by the intrinsic utility of the parks in the nation.
In the course of Pablo Gutman’s analysis of Venezuela’s National park system, he discovered that many national parks in Venezuela are located in upper basins of hydrological development sites which produce either electric power, urban water supply or irrigation13 One of the largest ongoing hydroelectric projects in Venezuela is located in the Caroni river basin, and is the site of roughly 95% of Venezuela’s current and planned hydroelectric power development. The largest hydroelectric dam in Venezuela, the Guri dam is located on the Caroni river. The company which runs the project, Electrificacion del Caroni (EDELCA), has been aware of the need to conserve the Caroni watershed from the onset of the project to prevent silting.14 Silting is a problem for all dams, and reduces not only the flow of water, but can eventually compromise the structural integrity of the dam itself. In the case of the Rio Caroni projects, EDELCA managed to successfully lobby the government to not only conserve new watershed, but also ban agricultural development in the basin, effectively conserving large areas of the basin. This is relevant in terms of the economic utility of Canaima national park, which makes up large portions of watershed of the Rio Caroni. In terms of replacement and repair cost to the hydroelectric projects and dams, it is estimated that “Conservation in the Canaima national park is saving Venezuela present value replacement costs of 90 million to 134 million dollars.” 15 Thus, the conservation and expansion of the Canaima park is based upon scientific empirical evidence, as well as the value in preventing future loss.
In terms of direct money earned, ecotourism and vacationing is the a realistic way to measure the benefits of Venezuela’s national park system. In this case, the study moves from Canaima to the Coastal regions of the nation, located on the Caribbean coast. However, it has been noted that “a high percentage of Margarita Islands tourist (one million per year) as well as visitors to the Andean States (hundreds of thousands each year), make a point of visiting the Laguna de la Restinga in Margarita and the Sierra Nevada and Tama Parks in the Andes.”16 These are mostly the native Venezuelan tourists, who naturally gravitate to their native parks for recreation. Foreign tourists contributed an estimated $28 million in visits to all of Venezuela’s national parks combined, which compared to Venezuela’s GDP of approx $106 billion is financially non-significant.17 Indeed, the Venezuelan economy is not based on tourism, but rather on its oil industry. Petroleum production accounts for 30% of GDP, 80% of all exports and 90% of government export earnings.18
The goals of environmentalism are ultimately conservation and preservation; in a broad sense, the use of natural resources in a manner which is sustainable and minimally damaging to the natural world.19 In the case of the Canaima national park, the Venezuelan government has preserved over 30,000 square kilometers of land from human interference and exploitation.20 The only human interference in the park is from indigenous Pemon Indians, who practice limited agriculture and hunting. The decision to preserve the area has two primary causes: Preservation based upon ethical values and conservation based upon energy needs. The impetus for conservation which established the park was the recognition that this area was a defining feature of the nation of Venezuela.21 Furthermore, the Tepuis contained in the park have been the subject of public fascination since the publication of “the Lost World” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- a literary achievement which lead to the mystique of the park in the public mind.22 The expansion of the park to its current size is the direct result of lobbying by EDELCA to preserve that watershed which prevents the silting of the GURI dam. This decision to expand the park is thus not based upon a current gain, but rather the anticipation of future losses. Furthermore, as Venezuela expands its hydroelectric capabilities, the state and private companies have come into limited conflict with Pemon groups living in Canaima. These conflicts have been mediated by the government, demonstrating the commitment the nation of Venezuela has made to the conservation and preservation of both native peoples and environmental protection. The NGO The Nature Conservancy also maintains a presence in Canaima national park, where they work with the Pemon Indians on conservation and fire control issues.23

The creation of Canaima can be explained by a synthesis of constructivist analysis and liberal conservation theory explaining the park establishment. Societal narratives of aesthetics and biodiversity encourage park establishment, which then produces direct and indirect profit. Utilization of the park as watershed further strengthens that conservation is a public good, which led to an increase in the size of the park. The status of Canaima as an UNESCO Heritage site confirms that it holds value in the international conservation regimes. The presence of international ENGOs such as TNC verifies its integration in the global scheme of NGO monitoring. In the case of Canaima, TNC acts as a monitoring and development agency, promoting indigenous rights, acting as negotiating body as well as a partner in conservation with indigenous NGOs.

Professor Challenger and the Guri Dam

Some details of the nature of the park make its integration into specific theoretical constraints difficult. Primarily, it suffers from staffing problems, a lack of elaborate tourist facilities, and budget constraints.24 The park also contains minimal tourist facilities for an area which defines the natural beauty of the Venezuelan jungle, which seems to contradict profit driven tourism and makes its economic status questionable. Liberal IPE stresses the relevance of international markets and free trade, which is irrelevant to a park system where ecotourism is minimal. Furthermore, the creation of Canaima did not coincide with market reforms or greater liberalization. Beginning in 1970s the Venezuelan government began economy and market reforms encouraging free trade following the models of liberal IPE.25Yet, within environmental policy making, the critical aspects do not conform to IPE predictions of environmentalism following free markets.. The impact to the environment resulting from Venezuela’s policy change remains unclear. The nation’s environmental protection policies began long before economic liberalization and no casual relationship between market reforms and environmental policy can be determined.26 Current president Hugo Chavez’s institution of socialist economic policies further complicates this matter.
It is thus the government of Venezuela which is the driving force behind conservation issues for the practical purposes of protecting watershed and public health, as well as supporting indigenous people rights by placing large reserves around their hunting grounds. Venezuela was the first Latin American nation to develop an environmental ministry, and has a long history of environmental and conservation awareness.27
For a brief theoretical comparative analysis, the excerpted table below addresses the difference between what drives conservation, in a comparison between Liberal theory and Constructivist theory. This table is adapted from Eero Palmujoki,’s “Liberal Norms And Global Environmental Governance.”28
Economic rationalism, liberal institutional evolution
Market based
Natural resources are used to fund conservation, NGOs facilitate global and domestic conservation
Socialization, national/international constructed value.
Collective interest equates to identity, government legislation and public authorities regulate .
Identity formulation based on preservation of aesthetic and biological properties.

The difference in rationale clearly indicates a need to synthesize constructivist analysis with liberal conservation theory. In the case of Canaima, it is clear that a constructed value is the rational and original impetus for park establishment, which is best explained by constructivist theory. In constructivist theory, the ideational value of beauty, national pride, and uniqueness combine perfectly with the objective realities of conservation and economic benefit to create a viable, pristine park known as Canaima. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez capitalized on the natural beauty of Canaima when he invited Cuban president Fidel Castro to Angel Falls celebrate Castro’s 75th birthday.29 This event demonstrates the predicted constructivist outcome; that national parks help form identity in a nation. This identity can be utilized to frame relationships, in this case Venezuelan-Cuban friendship. However, the presence of The Nature Conservancy operating in cooperation with indigenous NGOs and EDELCA supports the assertion that liberal conservationism has an major impact on the park in its current state. According to McNeely, indirect values are more difficult to quantify in terms of the market: “Indirect values, which deal primarily with the functions of ecosystems…do not normally appear in national accounting systems but they may far outweigh direct values when they are computed.” 30 Pablo Gutman’s cost-benefit analysis shows that an economic incentive for conserving Canaima clearly exists. In terms of the general values of conservation efforts, these can be broken down in a variety of sub categories, including biodiversity, sustainable resources, human rights (often indigenous rights), and slowing climate change. Focusing only on biodiversity there exist two types of values: direct values and indirect values. Direct values include ecotourism, green agriculture and organic farming, and other values which are consumptive.31Preserving global biological diversity is considered an international value, as outlined in the U.N. Convention on Biological diversity.32 In terms of biological diversity, Canaima contributes to scientific knowledge of the development of South American faunal systems, and acts as a climate change barometer.33 The regional position of Canaima, near the border of Guyana and Brazil, makes the conservation of the region critical to maintaining the biological diversity of Brazilian and Guyanan fauna and flora as well. According to Peter Willetts, “environmental outcomes may be significantly determined by market processes, involving the aggregation of many separate decisions, but governments are expected to set the framework within which these markets themselves operate.”34 He cites ENGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Amnesty International as being secondary actors, as they have a narrow field of operation and intent, and pursue a single value. This seems to be the case, where the decisions of the Venezuelan government to establish Canaima lead to a secondary benefit in watershed preservation. It can be concluded that a synthesis of constructivist theory and liberal conservation theory explain the establishment and maintenance of Canaima. The writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have had as much of an impact on conservation in Canaima as ELDECA and the Guri dam project has.

Environmental action and the need for environmental governance is based on objective, scientifically testable facts regarding the natural world. Critical elements such as conservation, preservation, and sustainable use extend into the political and economic spheres of human activity. A synthesis of constructed values and rational choices based on profitability and international institutions explains conservation. An effective way to analyze conservation is using constructivist and liberal theory, in a case specific manner, until other IR theories can generate coherent theories to explain and predict environmental actions. One of the failings of constructivist analysis is a general refusal to allow for the creation of ideational schemas within the context of interaction to alter state behavior.35 This assertion is supported by the role which NGOs play in the creation of global environmental regimes and consensus. David Humphreys proves conclusively that NGOs influence state interests and behavior during policy creation processes in U.N conventions by defining the narratives of treaty creation and acting as advisors.36 Institutions and their actors, in this case NGOs, are diversifying and specializing to act with states on environmental issues toward global environmental governance, further supporting liberal conservation theory by incorporating rational action as the reason behind conservation initiatives.37 TNC has formalized this process internally with the Conservation by Design program, which specifically chooses to conserve areas across the world based on global biodiversity assessments.38 Thus, while social narratives for conservation may be constructed to some degree, global institutions are formalizing these narratives and behaving upon rational choices in the light of global environmental destruction. These facts strengthen liberal conservation theory, and the hybridization of the two concepts seems to explain national park establishment . As natural resources continue to be depleted, it may be that a coherent economic model supporting conservation can be developed based on projected savings and cost-benefit analysis. According to liberal conservation dictum, global environmental change is not localized to nation-states; multilateral cooperation and common interests and actions among nations and organizations are required to successfully address the problem.39 If humanity is to be successful at stopping environmental degradation, then we must integrate new values for the natural world which still allows for our technological material growth.

Postscript- Threats to the Lost World.

The unique ecosystems of the Tepuis may be currently facing a threat which stems from global climate change rather than local mining or pollution. Due to global warming, a net loss of high altitude biodiversity is expected across the planet as glacial melt changes the ecology of mountain chains, allowing lowland organisms to invade the highlands. This process is a kind of vertical migration, where lowland animals move to the midlands, and formerly highland animals move into former glaciers. The Tepuis have a unique problem in this respect; they are flat-toped plateaus with no glacial accumulation and therefore offer no new habitats to colonize should global temperature increase and make vertical migration a necessity. In terms of paleoecology, the tepuis have been proposed as a site of refuge for vascular plants and endemic animals and an important element in the speciation of South American fauna and flora.40 In recognition of the importance, the Tepuis play in the evolutionary history of Northern South America, the Pantepui region (a biogeographical unit comprised of the largest tepuis) are included in the World Wildlife Federations global 200 project as a Neotropical Plant Diversity center.41 The tepuis have a history of being impacted by global environmental change, and theoretically protected tropical plants during glacial periods. Temperature fluctuations allowed plants to spread out across the lowlands or recede into the Pantepui region throughout geological history. Human caused global warming changed this pattern principally by accelerating the rate of temperature change to a point that makes adaptation nearly impossible.42
An indication of global warming caused extinction would be the presence of lowland animals already penetrating the tepuis. Rull states “Another element that can enhance extinction is the successful establishment of introduced and/or invasive species which in this case would arrive from lower altitudes pushed up by the warming trend.” This phenomenon seems to be currently occurring. Footage of a lowland coati was recorded in 1990 by a ZDF film crew exploring Auyan Tepui for the Terra-X documentary “Islands Above the rainforest”.43

Screen shots of a Coati on the summit of Auyantepui, taken from the Terra-X documentary “Islands Above the Rainforest”

The coati in these frames is probably a Nasua nasua (common coati), as some slight banding on the tail can be seen. If this particular coati is foraging on the summit of Auyan-Tepui and represents a single invasive individual, then its presence is unusual. However, if an undiscovered population of coatis exists on the summit of Auyan tepui, then ecology dictates that the population density will be roughly 6.2 individuals per square kilometer. As an omnivore, the presence of these animals on the summit indicates that sufficient insects and small reptiles exist as a food source. This is significant itself, as the implications of a living coati population on the summit of Auyantepui implies that large to medium sized animals can exist there for extended periods of time, and develop breeding populations. If this is the case, then it is a recent development, as larger mammals are unknown on Tepui summits. The presence of this coati seems to indicate that an invasive species phenomenon is occurring, validating Valenti Rull’s thesis.
On another note, the same 1990 expedition to Auyan Tepui also observed some very unusual swan-like animals in large lagoons on the summit of Auyan Tepui. These animals were swimming in a small group of three individuals. Although not positively identified, the general consensus is that migratory Torrent Ducks (Merganetta armata) were present on the plateau and engaged in fishing.44 If this is the case, then lowland invasion has been occurring since at least 1990. Due to the remote nature of the tepuis, these animals could be native or invasive. Complete surveys of the region have been attempted but not necessarily completed. The Smithsonian Institute only recently published “The Checklist Of The Terrestrial Vertebrates Of The Guiana Shield” in 2005. The Smithsonian Institute admits that the checklist is incomplete due to the remote nature of the region, and the relative difficulty in accessing both the higher altitude tepuis and highlands, as well as surveying the lowlands near the border regions.45 More field research needs to be undertaken to assess the realities of tepui species, and what effect global warming has on the pristine tepui ecosystems.

1Floyd Grey, Geology and mineral resource assessment of the Venezuelan Guayana Shield (US Geological Survey, Corporacion Venezuelana de Guayana, Tecnica Minera, C.A 1993)
2 Gold estimates are approximatky 5-30 grams per ton. This is impressive, considering that an economically viable mine can produce 2 grams per ton. Over 200 gold mines are active in the region. Floyd Grey Geology and mineral resource assessment of the Venezuelan Guayana Shield (US Geological Survey, Corporacion Venezuelana de Guayana, Tecnica Minera, C.A 1993), 91.
3 Pablo Gutman. “Putting a price tag on Conservation: Cost benefit analysis of Venezuela’s National Parks” Journal of Latin American Studies 34 (2002): 43-70
4 Floyd Grey, Geology and mineral resource assessment of the Venezuelan Guayana Shield (US Geological Survey, Corporacion Venezuelana de Guayana, Tecnica Minera, C.A 1993)
5 Map taken from Accessed on October 31, 2007
6The Lost World. “Canaima Map.” Accessed on October 18, (Accessed November 2007)
7 A craton is an ancient, stable section of the earths crust which survives continental drift and melting.
8 Otto Huber,. “Conservation and Environmental Concerns in the Venezuelan Amazon”, Biodiversity and Conservation 10. (2001): 1627-1643
9Valenti Rull, “Biogeography of the ‘Lost World’: a palaeoecological perspective” Earth-Science Reviews, 67 (2004)
10 Parks watch “Park Profile: Venezuela Canaima National Park Eastern Sector” (Accessed April 20, 2009)
11 ibid
12 Pablo Gutman. “Putting a price tag on Conservation: Cost benefit analysis of Venezuela’s National Parks” Journal of Latin American Studies, # 34. pgs 43-70, (2002), 50.
13 Pablo Gutman. “Putting a price tag on Conservation: Cost benefit analysis of Venezuela’s National Parks” Journal of Latin American Studies, 34. (2002) Cambridge University Press, 50.
14 Lawrence S. Hamilton, “Are wildland watersheds safest and best?” USDA Forest Service Proceedings, RMRS 49 (2007)
15Pablo Gutman. “Putting a price tag on Conservation: Cost benefit analysis of Venezuela’s National Parks” Journal of Latin American Studies, 34, (2002) 53
16ibid 57
17 Pablo Gutman. “Putting a price tag on Conservation: Cost benefit analysis of Venezuela’s National Parks” Journal of Latin American Studies, 34, (2002) 57
18European Commission, “Relations with Venezuela” (Accessed on November 2 2007)
19 Eero Palmujoki, “Liberal Norms And Global Environmental Governance” (Paper presented at the Sixth Pan European Conference on International Relations, Torlno, September 12-15, 2006)
20Parks watch “Park Profile – Venezuela Canaima National Park Eastern Sector” Accessed April 20, 2009.
21 World Heritage Nomination- IUCN Summary Canaima National Park, Venezuela (1994)
22 “Tepuis, Venezuela Islands in Time” National Geographic May, 1989
23 Iokine Rodriguez,. “Pemon Perspectives of Fire Management in Canaima National Park, South Eastern Venezuela” Human Ecology, 35 (2007)
24 Parks watch “Park Profile – Venezuela Canaima National Park Eastern Sector” Accessed April 20, 2009
25 Gordon J. Nielson , Daniel MacDonald, Marc A.Stern Latin American Environmental Policy in International Perspective .(Westview Press, 1997), 126
26Gordon J. Nielson , Daniel MacDonald, Marc A.Stern Latin American Environmental Policy in International Perspective .(Westview Press, 1997), 126
27 Mariapia Bevilacqua et al. “The State of Venezuela’s Forests”, World Resource Institute, (2002) 7
28 Eero Palmujoki, “Liberal Norms And Global Environmental Governance” (presented at Sixth Pan European Conference on International Relations, Torlno, September 12-15, 2006),10
29 Nancy San Martin “Castro: ‘This is the best birthday ever’” Miami Herald, August 13, 2001
30Jeffrey A McNeely,. Economics and Biological Diversity: Developing and Using Economic Incentives to Conserve Biological Resources. ( International Union for Conservation of Natural Resources, 1988),19-20.
31 ibid
32 NGO Diplomacy The Influence of Nongovernmental Organizations in International Environmental Negotiations. Edited by Betsill and Corell, MIT Press, Cambridge 2008
33Valenti Rull,. “The Guayana Highlands: A Promised (but threatened) Land for Ecological and Evolutionary Science.”, Biotropica, 39(1): 31-34. (2007):33
34John Volger, The Environment & International R elations, (Routledge, London. 1996). Page 114
35 Wendt states “Interests are formed outside the interaction context, and then the latter is though it only affected behavior. This can be merely a methodological presumption,…but it may also be seen as an implicit hypothesis about world politics; systemic interaction does not transform state interests. “Collective identity formation and the international state.” American Political Science Review, 99(1994)
36 Michele M. Betsill, Elisabeth Corell, NGO Diplomacy (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008) 173
37 Salafsky, Nick et al. “Improving the practice of conservation: a conceptual framework and research agenda for conservation science”. Conservation biology, no6,16 (2002)
38 The Nature Conservancy, “CbD outline.” (accessed April, 2009)
39Mark F Imber, John Volger, The Environment and International Relations: ( Routledge, London ,1996 ) 51-52.
40Otto Huber, “Guayana Highlands versus Guayana Lowlands: a reappraisal”. Taxon, 37, 3. (1988)
41 Valenti Rull, Teresa Vegas-Vilarrubia. “Unexpected biodiversity loss under global warming in the neotropical Guayana Highlands: a preliminary appraisal” Global Change Biology 6 (2006)
42 With regard to the rate of temperature change, Rull states “This represents a rate 80-160 times higher than the ‘normal’ for GH taxa.” (p. 5) He estimates that some 35% of endemic species are threatened by habitat loss, and may become extinct by 2100 A.D. Global warming is a direct threat to the biodiversity of the tepui summits. ibid
43Volker Artz. Terra-X “Inslen uber dem regenwald,- die such nach dem saurier”. Episode 33 (1991) ZDF
44Volker Artz. Terra-X “Inslen uber dem regenwald,- die such nach dem saurier”. Episode 33 (1991) ZDF . Correspondence with expedition member Jorge Gonzales, Armando Michelangeli, Uwe George and Volker Artz has not yielded a confirmed identity for the organisms observed. Three different organisms were proposed; an errant torrent duck from the Andes, a meter long lizard of the genus Neocecurus, and a meter long, white swan like reptile.
45 T. Hollowill & R.P Reynolds “Checklist of the vertebrates of the Venezuelan Guayana Shield.” Bulletin of the Biological Society of Washington 13, 1 (2005)