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Canaima National Park

From the World Conservation Union (IUCN)details of Canaima National Park, with kind permission of Jim Paine

COUNTRY Venezuela 

NAME Canaima National Park


II (National Park)

Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria i, ii, iii, iv


GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION Canaima national park is located in the south-east of Venezuela in Bolívar State (Piar and Roscio districts). The park protects the Venezuelan (north-western) section of the Guayana Shield. It is bordered by the Río Carrao and the Lema Mountain Range to the north, the Pakaraima Range as far as the Brazilian border to the south, the headwaters of the Río Venamo and the Roraima Range as far as Roraima-tepui to the east, and the Río Caroní to the west. The nearest city is Ciudad Bolívar some 600km to the north. 4° 41'-6° 29'N, 60° 40'-62° 59'W

DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT Canaima was established as a national park on 12 June 1962 by Executive Decree No. 770, and management is regulated under the Forest Law of Lands and Waters, 1966. Its size was doubled to the present area under Executive Decree No. 1.137 of 1 October 1975. National park objectives are stated in the 1983 Organic Law of Territorial Planning as natural areas unaffected by human disturbance where recreation, educational activities and research are encouraged. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994.

AREA 3,000,000ha

LAND TENURE Government. The traditional occupants, the Pemón, have claimed land rights (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

ALTITUDE 450m to 2,810m

PHYSICAL FEATURES Canaima includes the uplands of the Gran Sabana and the eastern table mountains (tepuis) of the Roraima Range, as well as the sandstone plateau of Chimantá and Auyán-tepui and the north-western Canaima lowlands. It comprises Precambrian rocks which have been subjected to 600 million years of erosion to form a spectacular landscape. It is composed mainly of horizontal sandstone and lutite strata with inserts of igneous rocks (diorite dykes and colse). There are three disjunct physiographic units: undulating lowlands between 350 and 650m; the flat plateau of the Gran Sabana (800-1500m); and the tepui summits (2000-2700m). The summits reach 1000-2000m above the surrounding plateau and their surfaces are often scarred by gullies, canyons and sinkholes of several hundred metres depth. Water drains from the flat summits forming hundreds of waterfalls. The Río Caroní, with its many tributaries arising within the park, supplies the Guri dam which provides electricity to large areas of the country. There are many waterfalls in the park including Angel Falls, the world's tallest at 1002m (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

CLIMATE The climate of the great savanna plateau is temperate with a mean annual temperature of 24.5° C with the temperatures on tepui summits as low as 0° C during the night. Precipitation varies greatly depending on local orographic features though mean annual rainfall is 2600mm. In the north-west of the park, there is a dry season between December and April, whereas in other areas rainfall is more or less constant throughout the year (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

VEGETATION The most important types of vegetation are: savanna, moriche Mauritia groves, shrublands, montane forests and pioneer vegetation on the summits of the tepuis. Savannas can be divided into two types. On poor sandy soils, extensive grass savannas dominated by Trachypogon plumosus (IK) and Axonopus pruinosus (IK) are found. On more localised damp, richer soils, herb savannas consisting of Stegolepis ptaritepuiensis (IK), S. guianensis (IK) and Brocchinia steyermarkii occur. Forests are only found along rivers, in damp depressions and on the lower slopes and gullies of the tepuis. Tepui vegetation is characterized by endemic species and carnivorous plants, for example Heliamphora spp., Drosera roraima (IK) and Utricularia humboldtii (IK). The Canaima national park contains an estimated 3000-5000 species of phanerogams and ferns. The tepui system (comprising all the tepui formations and known as Pantepui) contains a high proportion of endemic taxa. For example, 900 species of higher plants have been identified from Auyán-tepui, of which some 10% are endemic to this massif. Canaima is also famous for its diversity of orchids, with an estimated 500 species recorded in the park (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

FAUNA The fauna is diverse, though not very abundant: 118 mammals, 550 birds, 72 reptiles and 55 amphibians have been recorded (Government of Venezuela, 1993). There are six species of mammals of conservation concern: giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla (V), giant armadillo Priodontes maximus (V), giant otter Pteronura brasiliensis (V), bush dog Speothos venaticus (V), little spotted cat Leopardus tigrinus (K) and margay Leopardus wiedii (K) (Groombridge, 1993). The only endemic mammal is the rodent Podoxymys roraimae. The avifauna is varied and contains over thirty species endemic to Pantepui (ICBP, 1992). The less mobile orders, amphibians, reptiles and fish, exhibit even higher levels of endemism.

CULTURAL HERITAGE The forests and savannas have been occupied for 10,000 years by various groups of Amerindians of the Carib family, collectively known as the Pemón. Indeed, the savanna formations of the Gran Sabana itself are almost certainly a product of regular burning by indigenous inhabitants in prehistoric times. Two archaeological sites, containing various hand-fashioned stone tools estimated to be 9000 years old, have been found in the park (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION The park is sparsely inhabited, mostly by Pemón, with less than one person per km² and a total population of 10,000. The Pemón live mainly in the eastern sector of the park in scattered communities of 40-100 individuals. Many Pemón maintain traditional lifestyles of swidden agriculture, hunting and gathering. They also trade artifacts. They now have access to drinking water, electricity, schools and basic medical care (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES Tourism is encouraged but restricted to designated areas such as Laguna de Canaima in the western sector of the park which can only be reached by air and where a limited number of concessionaries provide visitors with board, lodging and recreational services. A main road from Ciudad Bolívar runs along the eastern border of the park through the Gran Sabana, bisecting its south-east corner. There are no other metalled roads within the park, the western section being accessible only by air.The park currently receives 100,000 visitors per year, 90% of whom visit the Gran Sabana (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The first scientific research was carried out by the naturalist Sir Robert Schomburgk in 1838. The first tepui summit was reached in 1884, and research on these areas has continued ever since (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

CONSERVATION VALUE Canaima National Park exhibits an exceptional geomorphology produced by weathering processes. The distinctive tepui formations give rise to numerous waterfalls, including Angel Falls, the world's highest. The high level of endemism found on the summits of the tepuis has led to the recognition of Pantepui as a unique biogeographical entity. Canaima is the homeland of one of the largest Amerindian populations in the country. The park protects the headwaters of the Río Caroní which supplies Guri, the country's largest hydroelectric power station and source of 60% of the nation's energy (Government of Venezuela, 1993).

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT Santa Elena de Uairén, a town lying 20km to the south of the park, is the main administrative centre. The park is divided into two sectors for administrative purposes. A management plan and regulations for the eastern section of the park were issued under Decree No. 1,640 dated June 5 1991. Objectives formulated in the management plan include provisions for indigenous agricultural production under strict regulation. Other activities are strictly controlled and hunting and collection of wildlife is forbidden. There is no management plan for the western sector of the park (Government of Venezuela, 1993). The park is currently under the administration of INPARQUES, the National Institute of Parks (IUCN, 1997).

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS According to the Government of Venezuela (1993), most of the threats to the park result from poor on-site management which is a product of insufficient financial and human resources. The conservation of the park is in jeopardy due to lack of qualified personnel and appropriate visitor facilities and the inability of the management to control activities within the park. The main problems are: illegal gold mining activities causing siltation and mercury contamination of watercourses; excessive burning of vegetation by indigenous people; and soil erosion, soil compaction and litter resulting from tourism (Government of Venezuela, 1993). Mass tourism is rapidly growing, with road construction, illegal airstrips, and helicopter flights opening up previously inaccessible areas. there is also a tangible risk of fire accidently spreading from campsites (WWF and IUCN, 1997). The park is also under threat from a project supported by the Government of Venezuela to construct a series of power transmission lines running 160km from the Guri Dam to the north of the park to Brazil and to a mining site north of the park. Local people were not consulted about the scheme, and no adequate Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out. The development may encourage mining and logging in the park, and will damage the cloud forests on the low table mountain of Sierra de Lema in the north of the park, one of the areas richest in endemism in Venezuala (Sharpe and Rodriguez, 1997, IUCN, 1997). Large-scale mining operations have started up outside the park over the over the past few years causing deforestation and contamination of local rivers (IUCN, 1997).

STAFF Until recently there were no staff monitoring the park, although there is now a team of 10 park guards and 3 technicians (Sharpe, 1996).

BUDGET The budget was Bs. 150,466 (US$37,000) for the 1982 financial year (IUCN, 1982). More recent information is not available.

LOCAL ADDRESSES No information

See Maps


  • CVG-EDELCA (1986). Caroní. Corporación Venezolana de Guayana - Electrificación del Caroní, C.A. (CVG-EDELCA), Caracas. 68pp.

    CVG-EDELCA (n.d.). La protección de la cuenca del Río Caroní. Corporación Venezolana de Guayana - Electrificación del Caroní, C.A. (CVG-EDELCA), Caracas. 52pp.

    Gorzula, S. and Medina, G. (1986). La fauna silvestre de la cuenca del Río Caroní y el impacto del hombre. Evaluación y perspectivas. Interciencia 11(6): 317-324.

    Government of Venezuela (1993). World Heritage List Nomination: Canaima National Park, Venezuela. 53pp. + Maps and Annexes.

    Groombridge, B. (Ed.) (1993). 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. lvi + 286pp.

    Grupo Ingenería de Arborización (GIDA) (1986). Incapacidad Gerencial y Falta de Planificación Ambiental: Destrucción en el Parque Nacional Canaima a Causa del Asfaltado de la Carretera El Dorado - Santa Elena de Uairén. Unpublished Report. 9pp.

    ICBP (1992). Putting biodiversity on the map: priority areas for global conservation. International Council for Bord Preservation, Cambridge, UK. 90pp.

    IUCN (1982). IUCN Directory of Neotropical Protected Areas. Tycooly, Dublin, Ireland. 436pp.

    IUCN (1997) State of conservation of natural World Heritage properties. Report prepared for the World Heritage Bureau 21st Session, 23-28 June 1997, Paris, France.

    Miller, K.R. (1963). A Proposed Plan for the Development of Canaima National Park, Venezuela, based upon National, Regional and Local Influence. Thesis, University of Washington.

    Romero, A. (1992). Canaima. Palmaven, Caracas. 67pp.

    Sharpe, C. (1996) Threat analysis and conflict resolution begins in Canaima national Park, Venezuela. Mountain Protected Areas Update. June 15th 1996.

    Sharpe, C. and Rodriguez, I. (1997) Powerline at Canaima N.P. (Venezuela), World Heritage Site. Mountain Protected Areas Update. June 1st, 1997.

    Schubert, C. and Huber, O. (1989). La Gran Sabana: Panorámica de una región. Cuadernos Lagoven, Caracas. 107pp.

    Weidmann, K., Pérez Vila, M. and Huber, O. (1985). La Gran Sabana. Fundación Polar, Caracas. 184pp.

    WWf and IUCN (1997) Centres of plant diversity. A guide and strategy for their conservation. Volume 3: the Americas. IUCN, Cambridge, UK.

DATE 1982, updated March 1994, July 1997.

For further information please write to:
Information Officer, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 1223 277314; Fax: +44 1223 277136.

General email:
Email for World Heritage enquiries:
Document URL:
http:// /protected_areas/data/wh/canaima.html
Revision date: 26-February-1998

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