Rare, owlish, spectacled bears amble along in high moist cloud forests in far northern extensions of the snow-capped Andes while jaguars and tapirs make their way in lowland savannahs and forested jungles on fringes of the Amazon basin.
In between stretch vast plains known as Los Llanos, with ocelots, giant anteaters, and some of the continent’s densest, most varied bird populations, covering a third of the country and extending south into Colombia and east to the 1,335-mile-long (2,150-km) Orinoco River and its great delta crisscrossed by mazes of channels. In the southeast, flat open savannah is dotted with steep-sided 3–6,000- foot-tall (1–3,000-m) mesas or tepuis, each mesa so isolated from others they have evolved separate ecologies over millions of years, in eerily dramatic scenery made famous in A. Conan Doyle’s science-fiction novel Lost World.
Dazzling marine life inhabits Caribbean islands and brilliant coral reefs off the north coast.
More than 15 percent of Venezuela’s 352,144 square miles (912,052 km2) has been set aside in national parks and monuments protecting some 250 mammal speciesincluding pumas, ocelots, chattering monkeys, and prehensile-tailed porcupines, plus, among reptiles, formidable anacondas up to 30 feet (10 m) long, weighing up to 500 pounds (225 kg), and five kinds of crocodiles, including huge caimans del Orinoco 16 feet (5 m) or more long.
Venezuela has more bird species than in all of Europe and North America combined—some 1,360 including brilliant hummingbirds beating their wings 80 times a second, high-stepping coral-hued flamingos, yard-long (1-m) scarlet macaws, and fat, cave-dwelling oilbirds that never see daylight and fly by echolocation—plus a breathtaking butterfly array.
Temperatures vary mainly by elevation, dropping about 10°F (6°C) for every 3,000-foot (1,000-m) going up. Dry season is usually December–April.
International jets touch down at Caracas. From there serviceable roads go almost everywhere, and there’s an excellent internal air network, though travel arrangements can be unreliable during Easter, Christmas, and Carnival celebrations.
Environmental threats are many and serious—indiscriminate deforestation for lumbering, pastureland, farming, construction, and industry, leading to widespread erosion; ill-advised hydrological schemes; oil drilling; mining using mercury which has poisoned rivers and endangered not only wildlife but human health; poaching. Almost universal lack of environmental awareness means some of the best environmental laws in South America are not enforced, swamped in a sea of bureaucracy, corruption, and a weak judicial system.
More about the Reserves in Venezuela
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