Due to extensive human activities in the park, which began long before its formation, its biological integrity is threatened in several ways. Even so, El Ávila has certain strengths including a large number of rangers, posts, and resources available for the administration, and a keen interest of the Caracas populace in its well-being. The hikers and other people who visit and enjoy the park on weekends are its biggest allies. The degree of interest and environmental consciousness of these frequent users is unparalleled in other parks. Partly because of these regular visitors, new threats are promptly identified.
- Human encroachment
- Exotic plants
- The cable car
- The centralization of resources
This is the biggest threat to El Ávila. In the summer of 1960, an 11-day blaze torched 1,400 ha of the southern slope. In 2001, 384 ha burned (See news from March 2001) more than the total area burned during the two previous years combined (106 ha). The establishment of African grass species has facilitated the spread of fires, which are most often started by careless people. With fires having burned 40 ha thus far in 2002, the park has been forced to temporarily close several access points.
Numerous neighborhoods and a highway are within the park's Environmental Protection and Recuperation Zone. The government does not have the resources to relocate the inhabitants.
- Agricultural communities
In areas where the park limits are not well marked, the surrounding agricultural areas have encroached into the park. In some areas, access is difficult and information regarding the number of people present and what they are growing is difficult to assess.
- Homeless people
The Avenida Boyacá highway in Caracas marks the beginning of the park in Caracas at 1,000 m above sea level. This limit is well marked and defined so people often use this area to access the mountains. However, homeless people and criminals who pollute the area and endanger park visitors recently occupied the area. They often make bonfires in the grassy areas, which have led to forest fires on several occasions. The relocation of the homeless and arrest of the criminals is not INPARQUES's responsibility, yet the safety of the park is endangered by the lack of help from the responsible government agencies.
Environmental Protection and Recuperation Zone
Most of this area is covered by slums, which predate the park's creation and have grown uncontrolled since. When the park was created, 70,000 people already lived in these areas. The addition of such areas to the park did not increase its biological value since the area was completely inhabited and practically without vegetation. By 1980, 234,161 people lived within this zone in 120 different towns. In 1990, it was estimated that 600,000 people lived there and today the number is no doubt higher, but the data stemming from the most recent census (2000) is not yet available. The living conditions in these areas are poor and conducive to disease. The inclusion of these areas in the park does not serve the park's purposes in any way.
Species introduction to the park has been happening for a long time, mostly prior to its creation, but its effects are still visible today. The list of exotic species is long and their origins are varied. The main groups are represented by flowering plants, which were grown commercially at some point during the 17th and 18th centuries. Among these are the morning glory (Ipomea nil) from Mexico; Thumbergia alata, Ricinus comunis, Gladiolus hortulanus, Agapanthus orientalis and Impatiens sultani from Africa; Hydrangea macrophylla, Iris confusa, Eriobotrya japonica and Zyzygium jambos from Japan; Morus alba, Holmskioldia sanguínea and Heydichium coronarium from China and the Himalayan regions; and Veronica polita, Plantago mayor, Papaver rhoeas and Taraxacum officinale from Europe. Some fruit trees such as Manguifera indica from India, Emilia coccínea from Asia and Africa, Ficus caria from the Mediterranean, and the grasses Bambusa vulgaris from Asia, and Panicum maximun and Melinis minutiflora from Africa were also introduced (Steyemark & Huber 1978, Manara 1998). The latter two cover large areas of the southern slope of the mountain and increase their coverage with each fire. This "savanization" of El Ávila is the most serious consequence of introduced species. Its effects on the original ecological dynamics of the mountain lead to the annual fires, which in turn, reduce the forested area.
The cable car
After being out of service for 20 years, the cable car reopened in February 2002 (see PW News "cablecar"). This required the construction of a new paved road in the Boca de Tigre via Galipán stretch in order to transport building materials. Some of the old structures were taken apart and left abandoned in the forest.
The significant rise in the number of people who can now easily reach the park's peak could potentially generate problems. According to data provided by the company that runs the cable car (Inversiones Turísticas Caracas), approximately 600 people ascend from Monday to Thursday, 800 on Friday, and during the weekends the number jumps to approximately 4,000 visitors a day. At the peak times, the summit hosts 3,000 people.
In spite of being a recreational area within a national park, there is no guard station or information center where the ecological importance of this protected area is presented to visitors. Actually, the construction of a casino is proposed for the near future, which, of course, does not comply with the permitted uses of the park land. Although currently there are enough signs and garbage containers in this recreational area, the reopening of the Humboldt Hotel and the management of its sewage, garbage and supplies poses another serious threat to the park.
The Humboldt Hotel seen from the cable-car
Information gathered by ParksWatch regarding the above inconsistencies in park management (from sources which did not wish to be identified), revealed the fact that the company that runs the cable car does not contribute any of its earnings to the park itself. It operates as a parallel entity and does not feel compelled to follow park regulations. The lack of communication between the cable car company and the park is worrisome, and at this point it is uncertain that regulations will be considered before construction on the casino begins.
The centralization of resources
Although El Ávila has more resources and infrastructure than any other national park in Venezuela, they are all concentrated in the area closest to Caracas. This is because millions of people living in the capital can see the park from their homes, and INPARQUES wants to monitor the management of these areas closely. For this reason, the institution dedicates many resources to this park, specifically to this area of the park, which only represents an eighth of the entire park area. On most maps of El Ávila, the only area shown is that which is located directly in front of the city, and most of the published information regarding El Ávila is only about this sector.
In contrast to the amount of park resources concentrated near Caracas, the Silma ranger post does not have a vehicle and only houses the ranger. All repairs in the area have been carried out and covered by the ranger himself. In addition, there is no National Guard post in charge of environmental protection anywhere close by. On the north side of the park, there are no ranger posts, and the few rangers who work there do so from home. The posting of limits and trails in the area close to Caracas is excellent, but in all other areas signs are virtually nonexistent.
ParksWatch was recently informed that six ranger posts on the south side were closed for remodeling. Bad timing in the destruction of the existing buildings and problems in paying the construction company have resulted in a work stoppage since January. The rangers have had to move or sleep in tents, and they are, for all practical purposes, unable to carry out their duties. This situation will no doubt become dire if it is not resolved before the rains begin.
Hunting is common in the eastern sectors of the south side of the park and originates from towns near Birongo and El Salmerón among others. It is only subsistence hunting, but there is no information about what is being hunted due to the lack of personnel in this area. Even so, because this area of the park is near populated areas and urban centers, hunting is much less a threat than in other national parks.