Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Gran Chaco, dubbed by some as "the last South American frontier", is an arid, sparsely-populated, very hot, semi-desert, lowland region of the La Plata basin and is a region divided between Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and a small portion in Brazil called Matto Grosso. The word "chaco" means "hunting land" in the Quechua language. It is about 250,000 square miles in size (or 647,500 square kilometers), though estimates differ, and located west of the Paraguay River and east of the Andes in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. It stretches from about 17° and 33° South latitude and between 65° and 60° West longitude, though, once again, estimates differ. Closer to the mountains in the west, the Alto Chaco, is very dry and sparsely vegetated, but as you move eastward, to the Bajo Chaco, you encounter lots of thornbrush jungle with quebracho trees and grassy clearings with a wealth of insects. The landscape is mostly flat and slopes at a 0.04 degrees gradient to the east.
Mennonites came into the Paraguayan part of the region from Canada in the 1920s and more came from the USSR in the 1930s and even more from the USSR after World War II. They created some of the largest population centers in the Gran Chaco.
Gran Chaco was a disputed territory since 1810. Officially, it was supposed to be part of Bolivia, but Paraguay began to push the natives out and settle there while Bolivia ignored it. It was the scene of The Gran Chaco War (1932-1935) (though violence started as early as December 5, 1928) between Paraguay and Bolivia over supposed oil in the Chaco Boreal (a region north of the Pilcomayo River and to the west of the Paraguay River). Bolivia sought the Paraguay River for shipping oil out into the sea and Paraguay claimed ownership of the land (and, generally, to cease being a land-locked country after the loss of its coast in the War of the Pacific). Eventually, a treaty was signed in 1938 which gave Paraguay three quarters of Chaco Boreal and gave Bolivia a corridor to the Paraguay River with the ability to use the Puerte Cosado and the right to construct their own port. The oil that was supposed to be there wasn't there and many lives were needlessly lost in the war.
The area is mostly inhabitable only in the east and a bit west of the Paraguay River. It is a great source of timber and tannin, which is derived from the native quebrancho tree . Special tannin factories have been constructed there. The wood of the palo santo from the Central Chaco, is the source of oil of guaiac (a fragrance for soap). Paraguay also cultivated mate in the lower part of the Chaco.
In September of 1995, Kaa Iya del Gran Chaco National Park was established in an area of the Chaco in Bolivia. It is administered and was established solely by the indigenous peoples which include the Izoceño Guaraní, the Ayoreode , and the Chiquitano .
In the 1960s the trans-Chaco highway was built.
The ecosystems of the Gran Chaco are unique and are slowly being destroyed by civilization with the introduction of cattle, burning of vegetation and irresponsible agricutlural decisions. Many groups are trying to protect this unique set of ecosystems.
Provinces/departments in the Gran Chaco
- Alto Paraguay
- Catamarca Province, Argentina
- Chaco Province, Argentina
- Chuquisaca, Bolivia
- Córdoba Province, Argentina
- Formosa Province, Argentina
- Jujuy Province, Argentina
- La Rioja Province, Argentina
- Puerto Hayes
- Salta Province, Argentina
- Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
- Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia
- Santa Fe Province, Argentina
- Santiago del Estero Province, Argentina
- Tarija Department, Bolivia
- Tucumán Province, Argentina
- Villa Hayes
Indigenous Peoples of the Gran Chaco
- The National Museum of Natural History's description of Gran Chaco
- Chaco ecoregion (World Wildlife Fund)
- Food and Agriculture Oranization of the United Nations' description of the Gran Chaco - focuses mainly on agriculture.
- Some stamps showing the dispute over the Gran Chaco before the war - some people claim this was the spark that ignited the war
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