People and the Falls

People have lived in this area for more than 10,000 years. First, the Kaingang. Then, the Guaraní. In 1541, Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to see the falls.

Religious missionaries arrived in 1609. But, the Spanish forced them to leave in 1767. It wasn’t until the early 1880s that Western interest surfaced again.

Following a scientific expedition to the area, the first tourist trip was organized in 1901. The first national park, Iguazú National Park, opened in 1934. Five years later, its sister park opened in Brazil. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites. And Iguazú Falls is one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature.”

In Argentina, people speak Spanish. So, the falls are called the Iguazú Falls. In Brazil, they speak Portuguese. So, they call them the Iguaçu Falls.

This sign says, "Iguazú National Park, Argentina" in Spanish.

Trouble in Paradise

People want to protect the Iguazú region. Yet, people are its biggest problem. Poachers come into the parks illegally to take trees and animals. People accidentally injure or kill animals while driving through the parks.

Outside the parks, logging and clearing land for farms are two of the biggest problems. When trees disappear, plants and animals lose their homes. Some species go extinct. Water sources like Iguazú Falls are affected, too.

People also built hydroelectric dams in the area. The dams help supply electricity to the area. But they also affect the water level in the rivers.

The Itaipu Dam on the upper Paraná River is one of the largest hydroelectric projects in the world.

Tourists take a boat tour of Iguazú Falls.

More than 1.5 million tourists visit the falls each year. The region depends on the tourists to survive. If the falls run dry or plants and animals disappear, people may no longer come.

Working Together

One challenge in preserving the Iguazú Falls region is its location. The falls are near the borders of three countries. Each has its own ideas on how to manage the land. Argentina and Brazil, for example, established national parks in the 1930s. Paraguay never did.

These countries disagree about dams. Yet, they have come together to create a plan on how to manage the land. This includes more patrols, species monitoring, education, and research.

Recently, jaguars became a sign that the plan is working. In the early 2000s, jaguars had nearly disappeared from this region. The countries increased patrols. They planted camera traps to deter poachers. Farmers who used to kill jaguars that preyed on their livestock started planting corn instead. As a result of these actions, the number of jaguars has doubled.

Jaguars are making a comeback in the Iguazú region.

People’s efforts to make the parks better are working. The beautiful falls and other Iguazú splendors are worth seeing. And they are worth fighting for.

This view from above shows part of the spectacular falls.