The Chinchilla Incident: Wildlife Regulations in Early Twentieth–Century Bolivia

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 11:30 AM
San Diego Ballroom Salon A (Marriott)
Robert L. Smale , University of Missouri at Columbia
In May 1914, a Bolivian official in the arid steppes of the Andean highlands near the Chilean border reported to his superiors: “two Chileans have appeared in this canton with no business.” The official feared that the two foreigners might seek to poach the protected chinchillas of the region. The two poachers were captured and deported back to Chile. Beginning in the late nineteenth century the Bolivian government sought to protect a variety of Andean fauna from poaching and over-hunting. The minor incident described above produced a significant correspondence between several levels of the Bolivian government; officials stationed near the Chilean border viewed the poachers as a foreign threat to a valuable natural resource. Nationalist paranoia fed by the lingering humiliation of Bolivia's defeat in the nineteenth-century War of the Pacific against Chile permeated the letters and telegrams related to the affair. These facts suggest that the politics of wildlife management and protection sometimes had very little to do with a scientific ethos of conservation. Officials strove to protect rare animals for both economic and nationalist reasons. The Bolivian government hoped that the country's wildlife might be rationally managed and harvested for the diversification of the country's exports. The broader complexities and contradictions of republican Bolivia colored even the seemingly apolitical and scientific discipline of wildlife management.
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