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Venezuelan government takeover of Hato Pinero (1 Viewer)


Active member
Well I guess I got to answer my own thread. I was just at Hato Pinero. First time I've returned to the country since birding there a few years back and since the ranch was taken over. Venezuela has really taken a dive since I used to travel there frequently so I was happy to see Hato Pinero looks the same as ever if touched by drouth. Lots of yellow knobbed curassows and the usual wildlife with caimans ocelots and such. The guides and farmhands there were cheerful as ever but very concerned about the future, not knowing what the government will do with the ranch. They are afraid that usually the government takes over businesses sells the capital and then they close down and many ranches they know have already gone that way. All they know for certain is Hato Pinero is going to be turned over to growing crops but noone said what will happen to the workers or the tour business. There were lots of government people and military types around the main property and out on some of the dirt roads but they avoided talking with us. When cornered one of them did explain that the ranch will be run as a socialist government farm for growing basic foods like rice bananas coffee beans and corn the same as in Hato Cedral and Hato Frio. It sounded as if some of the pools will maybe be drained for irrigation and forest felled to make furniture and for agriculture. Another guy in a Joseph Stalin T shirt said that the tourist camp is going to be a socialist education unit for poor farmers. I told them about it being a world class area for the wildlife and maybe a biosphere park but they just laughed and said the wildlife would be "exploited for the people" too. They said that there is enough bushmeat to feed a city. Wow! I guess I'm just glad to have had the privelege to experience it.

Chris Sharpe

Well-known member
As I understand the situation, over the last year or more Hato Piñero has been in the process of being transferred into government hands. President Chavez publicly ordered the Minister of Lands / Socialist Party Leader Jaua to take over to the ranch and I believe that the Land Institute have been carrying out inventory work there over the last couple of months based at Piñero's Biological Station. When the take over happens (if it has not already happened), all three of the internationally renowned llano private conservation lodges - El Cedral, El Frío and Piñero - will be under management by State "Socialist Agroecological Cooperatives". From what I can gather Hato El Cedral is now a "Socialist Formation Unit", while Hato El Frío is a "Socialist Production Unit" and I think the plan is to turn Hato Piñero into one of the latter. It is unclear exactly what this means in terms of management, though the plans announced by the President some months ago are for significantly increased agricultural output in all three ranches. Rice has been planted at both El Cedral and El Frío and there are apparently plans for further production of rice, sorghum, maize and other crops at both ranches. Official information is scant, but as far as birders are concerned, Hato El Cedral and Hato Piñero are operating normally and being visited by individual birders as well as the usual suite of European and North American bird tour operators. I don't know what has become of Hato El Frío - it seems to have closed to international visitors (perhaps someone knows more?). In resume, ownership and management of these ranches has changed, but the visiting procedure remains virtually the same - at least for Hato El Cedral and Hato Piñero. In terms of conservation and sustainable use - all three ranches are of national and international conservation importance (Important Bird Areas, for example) - one would like to hope that the political declarations need not be taken too seriously and that the ranches will continue to be managed as conservation areas, perhaps even as part of our national system of protected areas.


Active member
Agree. Chavez already said how much he admires Idi Amin and Mugabe. He gave Mugabe Venezuela's highest award and wants to do a Zim in Venezuela. Friends in country are really spooked. So sad. But are the environmental organizations going to sit and do nothing on this? Greenpeace? WWF? TNC? Bird life? They should be getting the message out and hitting Chavez and his band of thieves with this. More grim news this week on Cedral and Frio and I hear Pinero is going exactly the same way.

Tractors ploughing up one of the world's most important wetlands? This from last Saturday's Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/jan/23/venezuela-wildlife-trekking-ranch-roraima Hugo Chávez's roots are in Los Llanos, and his influence is still felt here today. As part of government land reforms, many hatos are effectively being nationalised. The idea, it seems, is to make idle land productive; Venezuela, after all, is reported to import more than 70% of what it eats. El Cedral had been targeted not long before we arrived, and the feeling among the workers I spoke to was that this was a good idea. That may be, but when you see huge tracts of land being ploughed up by tractor after tractor, it is hard to believe this unique ecosystem will be unaffected.

And Frio is going down the tubes too. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/global-green/100121/tourism-venezuela-farmland At nearby Hato El Frio, where soldiers with AK-47s man the entrance, such ambitions remain in the planning stages. The gate is freshly painted bright red, and adorned with the ranch’s new name: The Marisela Socialist Ecological Livestock Farming Company. But inside, activity seems to have come to a standstill. Some 20 tractors, assembled in Venezuela with Iranian help, sit idle. At the main office, a woman plays solitaire on the computer while a handful of other employees stand by. The first of five milk production centers should be finished this year, while authorities aim to plant some 3,000 hectares of rice — 125 times the size of last year’s crop, he said. The ranch, which previously housed some 60 guests at a time, has also been closed to tourists since the takeover.


The plans the government of Venezuela under the ladership of Chavez have for Hato Pinero, is a disgrace! My heart bleeds for the Hato Pinero, such a beautiful place when I visited all those years ago. Something must be done, we should not allow this to happen. :-(


Well-known member
Xenopsaris, Chris and others

Do you think Hato Piñero will still be worth visiting in December this year? I have never been to the Llanos and would like to go before it is gone. A terrible tragedy and one which I suspect is beyond any of the conservation agencies to solve.

cheers, alan

Chris Sharpe

Well-known member
Hello lewis20126! As I mentioned below, Hatos El Cedral and Piñero are currently operating as normal. Only Hato El Frío has closed to the public. What will happen to these areas in the long term is anybody's guess. The government (and its proxies, the State Socialist Cooperatives) have issued very little information, nor do they respond to queries from the press or public. So we are all waiting to see what happens. According to the political speeches (an increasingly unreliable source of information), agricultural activities are to be greatly increased in all three ranches. This seems to have been corroborated in Hato El Cedral and Hato El Frío, parts of which are apparently being transformed into rice paddies. Nothing has happened in Hato Piñero yet, except for the apparent closure of the biological station (those of the other ranches have also been closed).

My guess is that these three internationally important llano lodges will continue to be worth visiting in the medium term, for the next several years at least. Who knows? The government may even decide to stop the conversion to farmland and to manage them in a more intelligent way to preserve their environmantal capital for future generations. In any case, they are such unique and wonderful areas for anyone interested in wildlife that I recommend you come and see them while they are still there to be enjoyed. There is nowhere like Hato Piñero for Yellow-knobbed Curassows, or Hato El Cedral for Orinoco Geese. If it is any comfort, all the major British and US tour companies maintain Hato Piñero or Hato El Cedral on their itineraries for 2010 / 2011, so if I were you I would not hesitate. Enjoy that December trip and let us know how you get on!
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Chris Sharpe

Well-known member
But are the environmental organizations going to sit and do nothing on this? Greenpeace? WWF? TNC? Bird life? They should be getting the message out and hitting Chavez and his band of thieves with this.

I think TNC is the only one of those NGOs that still has a programme here, though WWF may continue to be active through Fudena. But what might their role be? Perhaps the most appropriate action would simply be to objectively document what is happening and make interested parties aware. Even hard-line governments are sensitive to international opinion - and ours is no exception! As the areas affected are IBAs and home to species of conservation concern, I have kept BirdLife abreast of developments. Maybe Wetlands International and IUCN would be interested?

Chris Sharpe

Well-known member
Hato Piñero is closed to visitors with immediate effect from today. Hato El Frío remains closed. Hato El Cedral is still operating.


Well-known member
Hato Piñero is closed to visitors with immediate effect from today.

That's very sad news. I've just been looking at these photos from 20 years ago - happy memories


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Well-known member
That's very sad news. I've just been looking at these photos from 20 years ago - happy memories

Very sad and a conservation disaster for the Llanos. With the current government in Bolivia, it is possible that the same thing could happen in lowland Bolivia with the likely extinction of Blue-throated Macaw.



Well-known member
I was at El Cedral last week and the place was amazing. Huge clouds of whistling ducks, 1000s of ibis and herons, and individual flocks of over 100 Orinoco Geese. Yellow-knobbed Curassow, Zigzag Heron and many others including tapir, Giant Anteater and Llanos Armadillo demonstrate what an amazing site this is - one of the most impressive birding spectacles I've ever witnessed.

I was alarmed at the number of heavy machinery, JCBs and the like around the buildings. What this means for the future of the site is difficult to say and apparently staff report business as normal for now. The news about Pinero shows how quickly things can change, however. Of course, any major change in land management will be potentially disastrous.

Chris Sharpe

Well-known member
Hello Antshrike! Were you at El Cedral with Birdquest? I called Mark van Biers on his way to the airport on Friday, precisely to find out the group's impression of Hato El Cedral. This superb ranch has always been one of Venezuela's top birding and wildlife spectacles and an internationally significant site as well. I remember a trip in 1999 with a Birdquest group during which Mark Beaman compared it to Bharatpur - the only spectacle he had seen to beat it.

For now, Hato El Cedral is taking bookings as normal, but given that the authorities have closed the other two ecotourism ranches and that the official declarations talk about El Cedral changing over to intensive crop production, one has to be concerned. Most ecologists agree - and the research backs them up - that intensive agriculture on these soils is incompatible with wildlife conservation, so draw your own conclusions. Extensive cattle ranching did allow the owners of these ranches to set aside large tracts of land for conservation. The government views that land as fallow, and maintains that it must be farmed to satisfy the demand for staple foods. It would be nice to have a spokesperson from the State Socialist Cooperative comment on this and clarify the situation.


Well-known member
There seemed a lot of activity at Cedral. Some was aimed at the rubbish tipping area, where they were clearing the trash and setting fire to it. But there was also clearance of vegetation in the area between the accom and the main lagoons - opposite the Orinoco Croc nesting area if that makes sense. Presumably new buildings are planned.
I also noticed a truck bearing a fisheries logo - is there an existing fish harvesting operation here? Or is this another route being considered by the govt I wonder.

In the meantime, the site is still knock-out. I've never seen such diversity and numbers of wetland species anywhere eg 7 species of Ibis in a single scan!


Well-known member
I feel sad seeing history repeat itself, as though nothing was learned from the past. I know that land use is complex, but this quote below is a popular understanding of what happened when people simplistically said "growing food is most important" and used the land for any purpose they wanted rather than a purpose suitable to the conditions:

"One of the main culprits of the desertification in the Mao era was Mao's plan to raise grain in areas where grain didn't grow well, such as Inner Mongolia. This deprived the land of grass which prevented soil being blown away by the fierce winds that ravage this region. " (http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=389&catid=10&subcatid=66).

I think everyone is regretting what took place here 50-60 years ago in terms of its impact on not just birds and animals, but humans too now as much fertile and semi-fertile land has become desert. See for example this pop press article and this scientific one. I'm not an expert on these matters at all, but I feel sad because this approach to land management hurts people.

Though with a different geography, Venezuela won't have the exact same problems, but certainly we cannot "conquer nature" - it will conquer us if abused.
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New member
about Hato Piñero and Hato El Cedral

Good afternoon!

Apologies for the long posting.

I have read with great interest the comments about the ranches in Venezuela and specially about the current situation of Hato Piñero and Hato El Cedral. Since the comments and worries cover a great deal of topics I am listing my contribution in the hope to bring a better understanding of the current situation of Hato El Cedral and the proposed actions. I intend to do the same for Hato Piñero and post it over the next week.

1. History.
This ranch was part of a huge ranch back in the 20’s named La Fuentera which covered almost a fourth of the state of Apure. Later, it was purchased by the King Ranch (back in the late 60’s. Date not accurate) and operated for few decades until they sold it to a corporation owned by a Venezuelan bank (This was between the late 70’s and the early 80’s). During this period is when the dikes and bridges were built allowing water storage during the peak of the dry season (Reason for huge concentration of waterbirds). That bank (Banco de Maracaibo) sold the ranch to another bank (Banco Progreso) in the early 90’s. Following a finnancial crisis in the mid 90’s and a huge bank collapse in Venezuela the government took control of the ranch as it was given as a guaranteed for a bank finnancial assistance program launched to fight the bank crisis. Later, in the late 90’s the ranch passed again hands to a cattle operating firm based in Venezuela. In order to be able to buy the ranch the firm got a loan from a local bank and such credit became difficult to pay as the cattle business became unviable due to price regulations defined by the early years of the Chavez administration. Although the ranch was never in fact in the scope of the government the owners decided to start talks about the possibilities to sale part of it to them. Such agreement became effective in 2008 when the government bought between 80-90% of the ranch and left about 10-20% of the share to the cattle firm. Fortunately the deal involved the whole ranch as an unit not parts of it. In review, for the last 80 years the ranch has passed ownership 7 times and it has always been run with a corporate vision rather than a family vision (case of Hato Piñero). During these years the ranch has passed under various management plans and in all of it there was always the hope to turn some of the wetlands into huge rice fields and the wild grasses into large pasture areas. None took effect due to lack of cash flow, until now.

2. Tour facilities.
I have been working with the ranch since 1985 when the tourism facilities were built for visitors. The ranch opened with 8 rooms, and today it has 27 rooms. In those days the argument used to convinced the owner to open a tour department was because they were in need of US$ to import cattle semen for artificial insemination. In those days we were under an exchange control so accessing to US$ via the commercial banks was forbidden (This has happened in Venezuela in various times for long periods and we are currently under a very tied exchange control). To give an idea about the profits of the tourism department of the ranch I can say that in the early 90´s they declared a mark-up of approx half million dollars for one year. Despite the continuous change of ownership the tourism operation was never left behind. Interesting enough, under the current administration there has been an important investment for the tourism department including new safari trucks, new boats and outboards (expected to arrive late in this year) and improvement of pumping machines and infrastructure.

3. Economic activity.
This ranch was originally intended for breeding cattle, mostly Brahman. Santa Gertrudis was brought in the late 70´s but such project failed. In the 80´s about 5000 hectare were turned into pasture. Water Buffalo was introduced in the late 90´s and the current plans involve to turn a wetland into a rice field and increase the water buffalo production. Tourism has been heavily invested and seems like the government will continue to support this activity. Fishing is another economical activity taken in the ranch for the last 20 years. The presence of trucks fishing in the ranch have been taken place for several dry seasons and it is not related with a recent government decision to use this resource. Also, the amount of new machinery is not large enough to work even in one sixth of the ranch landmass.

4. Viability of the current agriculture projects and use of the resources.
The rice crop in unviable due to the population of Capybara. Nevertheless, given the size of the ranch some crops might be viable specially if done in areas of the NW section of the ranch. Fishing in the dry season appears to be viable as it has been done for almost two decades. Tourism remains viable but it is not the main product of the ranch. The viability of water buffalo is unknown and this species requires special investment in fences and land preparation.

5. Under the current ownership the threats for Hato El Cedral are:
• Loss of richness of wildlife due to conflict of rice fields vs whistling-ducks and capybaras (Rice consumers).
• Loss of richness of wildlife due to increase of water buffalo stock. This is due to the destruction of the wetland floor.
• Lost of biodiversity due to invasion in some areas or selective distribution of the land by the government.
• Loss of biodiversity due to the use of pesticides in the crop plantations.
• Lost of biodiversity due to practices derived by the uncontrolled tourism operation or social programs such as political activities or mass tourism.

6. The future in review.
This is not the first time the wildlife of Hato El Cedral and the ranch have been under threat. During 25 years of work with the birdlife of the ranch I have had the opportunity to see and give advice of many unviable plans within the property. I have also seen a lot of land destroyed there. The most shocking was the deforestation of the forest La Petrolia in the late 80´s. What we are facing today is a challenging situation where the clue is to educate the decision makers and this requires good relation with many employees of the current administration. We are not going to gain anything with confrontation, destructive opinion or assistance of international agencies (TNC or CI to mention some). Trust me, none of it will work. The strategy should be:
• Approach with the Ministry of Land and Agriculture to explain the importance of the ranch as an IBA. Action taken: Already requested a meeting and waiting for response.
• Meetings with the president and vice president of the government company running the ranch to explain and educate about the importance of the ranch as an IBA. Action: Some meetings have taken place. More meetings are schedule for the month of June.
• Meetings with the staff and manager of the ranch to raise awareness of the importance of nature tourism for their regular income. Action: Some meetings have taken place and more meetings will be held in June and July.

While the future of the ranch is uncertain I should emphasized that such reality is not new for many of us whom have work closely with the ranch in the past 20 years. As I said previously a lot of damaged have been done in the past and we are using such examples to try to educate those who are running the ranch in the present.

With my best,

David Ascanio

Lista de Fauna Silvestre del Hato El Cedral. Santuario de Fauna Matiyure. Estado Apure, Venezuela. 1996.


Research Associate
Colección Ornitológica Phelps

Ascanio Birding Tours.


Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
I hope your optimistic tone will still be there in a few years, because that will mean that you have prevailed. However, I am not greatly optimistic myself ...

And welcome to birdforum!



Well-known member
I find it difficult to believe that such ecological gems as Pinero and Cedral (the only two I have visited) are probably to be lost - at least in terms of their ecological value. I hope David Ascanio posts his outlook for Hato Pinero - however negative it may be.
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