- Population growth and land use changes
- Forest fires
- Lack of personnel and infrastructure
- Lack of funding
- Presence of telecommunication antennas
- Exotic species introduction
- Lack of research and outreach
Population growth and land use changes
Since the creation of the park, settlements within the park have grown at a steady pace and are encroaching on areas that were still totally unoccupied in 1974. Farms that bordered the park have extended their surface area usage, and the construction of roads has led to the development of other services. This situation improved to some extent in 1991, when the park's management plan was decreed. However by that time, the La Sierra sector was already highly affected, which led to its classification as a special use zone. Since 1991, INPARQUES has maintained relatively strict control on further development, especially concerning construction and the modification of existing dwellings. In addition to this, the park now benefits from the low tolerance for immigrants displayed by the locals, which keeps immigration at very low levels. Nevertheless, the landscape around La Sierra's landscape does not correspond to that of a protected area. A private clinic and a restaurant for tourists were recently added to the picture. The latter generated a great deal of animosity among the town's inhabitants, since INPARQUES prohibits them to make changes to their houses. It should be noted that the restaurant project never received INPARQUES' approval. The State governor, a personal friend of the restaurant owner and previous president of the country, ordered its construction.
The hospital is located directly inside the park
The villages of Tacarigua and San Luis have some of their shifting cultivation plots inside the park, and these have not been relocated since the park's creation. INPARQUES maps and keeps records of the amount of land utilized and the type of crop cultivated. Tacarigua specializes in the production of a variety of tomato called margariteño, while San Luis and Fuentidueño farmers concentrate on corn and fruits.
People from La Sierra, El Chorro and other nearby villages, hunt within the park's boundaries. The impact of this activity on the local fauna has not been evaluated. The superintendent believes deer and rabbits are the preferred game; both of these subspecies are endemic to the island. Hunting is practiced both for subsistence and commercial reasons. It is common for Margarita inhabitants to have deer as pets (Rosa Moscarella, pers. com.).
Traps and lures are used in Tacarigua town to catch doves (eared dove, Zenaida auriculata, and the common ground dove, Columbina passerina). Monitoring activities were able to eradicate 70% of the installed traps. Towards the end of 2001, the hunters attacked the rangers after they destroyed 80 traps, which angered hunters, who attacked them on one occasion.
The park does not have sufficient equipment, personnel or material to halt forest fires. In 2001, about 30 ha were destroyed by 15 fires. This figure may seem insignificant, but with its 7,130 ha, Cerro El Copey is among the smallest national parks in the country. The proportion of land affected by fire in Cerro El Copey is comparable to El Ávila National Park for the same year; El Ávila is one of the most severely impacted of Venezuelan national parks (See news from March 2001). The Firemen and National Guard do not appear to be providing much help.
Lack of personnel and infrastructure
Cerro El Copey has seven park rangers, who are also in charge of the islands other protected areas. Even though most of them have worked in this area for more than eight years, Casto Rivas, the most experienced park guard, just retired due to lack of professional stimulus and salary problems. After 18 years of service and pursuing studies in environmental educational, this ranger was never promoted nor rewarded with salary increases. He is now a schoolteacher. At present, no new park ranger is being trained.
There is only one vehicle and one ranger station, which is insufficient for controlling the areas surrounding Fuentidueño, Tacarigua and other communities with access to the park. Even though there is a plan to increase the size of the park, the park is currently short on personnel, logistical support, and sufficient infrastructure to guarantee the adequate functioning of a larger park.
Lack of funding
INPARQUES is currently going though a serious budget crisis, which threatens to paralyze national parks around the entire country (See PW News "budgcrisis"), Cerro El Copey is no exception. Most personnel receive salaries less than 35,000 Bs. per month (US$ 23), and this is used to pay for park expenses such as gasoline and other maintenance costs. The superintendent spends approximately half her salary in park related activities. INPARQUES does not have the money to pay for overtime or night shift bonuses. Park staff suffers from a total lack of motivation, which is evident in their work and the park's protection. Nightly shifts are no longer implemented and only a minimum amount of park surveillance during the day. At one point, surveillance operations were in place 24 hours a day, but this has been limited to between 7 am and 4 pm.
The leisure area cannot provide the services it advertises and users are displeased by the absence of bathrooms and the poor state of the trails. Vehicle access to the road leading to the telecommunication antennas has recently been restricted due to poor maintenance. (The maintenance of this road is not only the responsibility of INPARQUES but also of the Ministry of Infrastructure (Minfra), Nueva Esparta's local government and Nueva Esparta's Roadway and Transport Institute). A commission was recently named to carry out the maintenance operations.
The Venezuelan National Telephone Company (CANTV), a formerly state-owned company, built a telecommunication antenna station on the island's highest peak, which now happens to lie in the middle of the Cerro El Copey National Park. As long as it was state-owned and CANTV had jurisdiction over the antennas and the land set aside for their installation, there had been no conflict with park interests. But the company's privatization led to an authority problem in the area. Several television and telephone companies, the Venezuelan Air Force and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) currently own antennas at this station. It is actually a paradox that a geographic area involving national security interests could be placed under the jurisdiction of a private company. INPARQUES' personnel occasionally suffer the consequences of having these antennas in the park and their station on the road leading to them. During the country's recent coup in April, people trying to sever communication with the island violently removed park employees from their workplace. Trespassers that install illegal communication equipment also represent a threat to the staff's (and visitor's) security.
A private company has jurisdiction over the antenna station, which suffers from inadequate zoning
Introduction of Exotic Species
Margarita islanders are very fond of pets, most of which were taken from the wild. Apparently, populations of weeper capuchin (Cebus olivaceus) have been brought from the mainland and released in certain locations on Margarita, such as Cerro El Copey. This represents a great threat to the endemic and endangered populations of Cebus apella margaritae (Martínez et al. 2001).
Lack of research and outreach
It is strange that a park of such importance as a refuge for endemic and threatened species should not bee studied more thoroughly, especially with respects to biodiversity inventories of invertebrates and other taxa. Similarly, even though islanders recognize Cerro El Copey as a tourism attraction and respect it as a national park, they do not show much interest in park-related activities. With the exception of Fuentidueño inhabitants, who show an inclination towards nature tourism, local inhabitants need to be motivated in order to become advocates of the park and participate in its protection, especially those who live or cultivate crops inside Cerro El Copey.
The enlargement of the park is not a threat in itself. However, in order for it to be successful, budget problems need to be solved and the number of park rangers and vehicles must be increased, along with improvement of the existing infrastructure as the park increases in size.