Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Expert

An intrepid explorer, naturalist, and diplomat, Francisco “Perito” Moreno is widely considered the father of conservation in Argentina. Part John Wesley Powell, part Teddy Roosevelt, Moreno’s exploration and vision led to the creation of the first National Park in Argentina.

In Spanish, ‘perito’ means ‘expert’, and Moreno got this nickname from his extensive surveying work along the Andean boundary between Argentina and Chile. Born in Buenos Aires in 1852, Moreno spent much of his twenties and thirties exploring Patagonia. Like Powell, he was an earnest geographer and a passionate student of nature and indigenous peoples. When a boundary dispute with Chile arose around the turn of the 20th Century, Argentina called on Moreno to represent its interests.

Historians credit Moreno with helping Argentina retain more than 10 million acres of land in the negotiations with Chile. In compensation the government gave ‘el Perito’ some 225 square miles of land. He sold most of it and gave the money to charity. In 1903, he donated the remaining 27 square miles (17,280 acres) back to Argentina on the condition that it become a nature preserve. In his donation letter, Moreno cites inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation advocacy.

The Argentine government made good on its promise, and in 1922 went one better, creating the nearly 2 million acre Parque Nacional del Sur (National Park of the South). Today it’s called Nahuel Huapi National Park after its iconic lake, and forms the centerpiece of Argentina’s national park system.

Photos, top to bottom. 1. Francisco P. Moreno; 2. Perito and me; 3. Grace enjoying Nahuel Huapi National Park.

-- Bas Hargrove, Week 3 of Coda Fellowship in Argentina.

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