I knew the Iberá marshlands when it was still a remote, inhospitable, wild land. There was nothing to suppose that three decades later it would become the Mecca of nature tourism in Argentina.
In its million and a half hectares the water sends, but it is not the only thing: there are abundant lagoons, streams and bathed that alternate with grasslands and some forests in the higher areas. It is said to be the second most important wetland in America after the fantastic Pantanal of Mato Grosso in Brazil.
The mats provide sustenance to hundreds of species of birds, several endangered mammals and huge alligators or “alligators”. But what made this place one of the favourites to observe and photograph wildlife in Argentina? To count this process we can separate it in “ages”, as if we were studying history.
The ancient and Middle Ages: from abundance to scarcity
From the old age, before the arrival of the European, we do not know much but we imagined a place of enormous abundance of fauna, sustenance of the Guarani peoples.
Iberá remained almost oblivious to the authority of the Viceroyalty and Argentina until the early nineteenth century. Some of the first Creoles arrived, mixed with the Guarani, were pawns of stays. Others took to the deepest part of the wetlands and emerged a emblematic figure that marked the life of Iberá for almost two centuries: the shellfish. Dedicated to the hunting of mere subsistence, they were baqueanos and connoisseurs of the fauna like no one. They roamed the vastness with their canoes, armed with machete and spear. The growing value of some skins and feathers caused the shellfish to hunt for the Acopiador, in charge of the trade in the cities.
This precarious way of life came well into the second half of the twentieth century, when the enormous hunting pressure decimateded the populations of some species forcing the shellfish hunters to more and more long and unproductive hunting days.
The Jaguar and the wolf choker, among others, succumbed to extinction in the Iberá. By the end of the century, growing social awareness of the need to protect nature prompted the dictation of laws prohibiting hunting or limiting trade. Iberá was no longer of an infinite abundance and people lived in worse conditions.
The modern Age: protection begins
In 1983 the province of Corrientes took a crucial initiative for the destination of Iberá: It was declared a Natural reserve. And something significant happened, the shellfish were invited to integrate the body of Rangers of the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. Hunters as wildlife guardians? A risky idea with no background in the region. Some accepted, sensing the possibility of improving their living conditions, and took their new role very seriously.
The hunt was controlled and the fauna slowly recovered in the area of Pellegrini. Some very emblematic species, such as the marsh deer, the capybara and the Yacaré, became less surly, knowing that they were not persecuted.
The voice ran away among nature lovers: In that unknown Iberá you could now see and photograph abundant fauna. There were more and more visitors to this distant place that were approaching with the only objective of “seeing Bugs”.
Contemporary Age: Ecotourism and nature production
With the new century rose the first inns in Colonia Pellegrini to provide services to these new visitors, initiative of locals, Corrientes of other towns, other cities of the country or even abroad. Being the strong ones to observe fauna, the inns needed Baqueanos guides: A new source of work for park guards, their children and other neighbors. They opened canteens, lodgings and crafts business. This spontaneous process improved the quality of life of the villagers of Pellegrini. The youth were no longer obliged to exodus and were able to undertake if they so wished.
This stage is now in full development, with other towns around Iberá adding as ways of access, the declaration of part of the reserve as a national park, and the novel concept of production of nature that aims not only to take care of what you have , but to reintroduce extinct species to expand the nature offer.
The challenge today is to consolidate what is achieved and grow in a sustainable way. The future is being written together with the children and grandchildren of those old Iberá shellfish.
On December 5, 2018 the Congress of the Argentine Nation approved the creation of the Iberá National Park.