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National Parks

Rescuing The World's Depleting Gems

      Every nation has areas of natural beauty. These areas almost always contain valuable and interesting plants and animals that often cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Therefore, these areas must be protected if they are to continue to add to society's enjoyment and scientific knowledge.

       For this purpose dozens of countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific have established more than 3,500 national parks and other protected areas. Included in these are many nature reserves that have been set aside to conserve a particular kind of plant or animal. A number of countries have also set aside areas or sites of great historical significance.

       In the United States, national parks are dedicated to recreational activity. In England they may protect cultural as well as natural landscapes, thus preserving traditional forms of land use. Elsewhere, such as in Peru, some national parks protect tribal peoples. This protection is also usually extended to include their hunting and gathering grounds as well.

      In 1872 the United States government established Yellowstone National Park. It was the first national park in the world. This set the example that has led other countries to develop parks and reserves. Canada was another pioneer in creating national parks. In 1885 it set aside an area of 26 square kilometres to preserve the hot mineral springs at Banff, Alta., on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This park now covers more than 6,400 square kilometres. In addition, it embraces several large ice fields and glacial lakes.

      The London Convention for the Protection of African Fauna and Flora was signed in 1933. It is a treaty that has stimulated conservation programs in many parts of Africa and other continents as well. The Pan American Convention on Nature Protection in the Western Hemisphere came into force on May 1, 1942, for the United States, Guatemala, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Haiti. The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil later signed the treaty, in addition to the nations that signed it earlier.

       The treaty provides for the creation of national parks, wilderness reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries in all these countries. The treaty protects migratory birds and vanishing species of wildlife. It also encourages cooperation in scientific field studies among researchers and controls the illegal import and export of various plants and animals, both of which are often in danger of becoming extinct.