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The World's National Parksno - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut                     back to TTN home page
by Joe Harkins - May 05, 99

    Before we get into the promised subject of the National Parks of other countries, let me add a footnote to last week's column about those here at home. Trading Away The West is a virtual seminar, complete with photographs and well-organized factual summaries, of the struggles over control of our public lands, all priceless tourism destinations and vacation resources.

    That said, let's continue on to the originally announced national treasures of other countries.

    The first isn't even on dry land. Banco de la Plata (Silver Bank, Dominican Republic) is the world's only national park devoted solely to the preservation of one species of mammal, the great humpback whale. In 1996 the zone was expanded to include the entire ocean around the island. The page for The Marine Mammal Sanctuary displays a handsome map of the area but you'll have to switch to the mapless English version for the translation.

    It isn't necessary to go into the original park to enjoy these awesome beasts up close. Whales Samaná is operated by Kim Beddall, a Canadian marine biologist who lives there the year around. A day with her among the behemoths is described in Whales of Samana, an article I wrote a few years ago when I was editor of a newspaper in that country. She has no web site, but direct dial her at 809-538-2494.

    Across the bay from the town of Samaná lies Los Haitises National Park, truly a rainforest primeval with Jurassic Park scenery. Accessible only by boat, you might see pelicans diving for fish, or flocks of frigate birds gliding over hundreds of loaf-shaped islands that look as if they are levitating above the water. Some of those islands are hollow, made so by millions of years of rain water that melted their limestone cores. The mangrove lagoons are fascinating. There's even a mysterious river that rushes out of a cave so large that an outboard-powered boat big enough to carry eight passengers can press against the current about 200 hundred yards into the cave to the point where the water surges out of the rock.

    The rest of the Dominican Republic's 14 Parques Nacional, each totally different, do not have their own web sites. However, a local hotel group's press kit only lacks the photos their varied wonders deserve. You'll need a licensed tour operator.  American-owned Iguana Mama's social-ecological conscience recommends her highly.

     Finding online resources for foreign parks is frustrating. For all my complaining last week about the shortcomings of web sites for America's public lands, those about the rest of the world are usually either incomplete or totally non-existent. For example, World National Parks Net offers a list of all the world's national parks. However, it turns out to be a hollow offer. Too many of its links lead to empty or dead pages.

    Wild Africa's site, as beautiful as it is, suffers from the same problem of promising more than it delivers. Links are especially incomplete for South African parks.

    Fortunately, the Official South Africa Parks site more than makes up for those failings by getting right to the goodies. Those include links to a private site of live video cameras.

    I just wish that the builders of AfriCam would get rid of the annoying banner ads that slow page loading to the point where the photos are almost useless. What I could see of wildlife action around a watering hole at dawn in Kruger National Park was tantalizing.

     Any discussion of national parks must include Costa Rica. With 20 national parks, 8 wildlife refuges, 1 national archaeological preserve, 26 protected forest areas, 9 forest reserves, 7 wildlife sanctuaries, and 1 national forest, Costa Rica has more of its area (27%) set aside in parks and preserves than any other country on earth. While no single comprehensive web site covers them all, Costa Rican SuperSite offers a glimpse of some of the riches that gave the country its name.

     The list of the web sites displaying the world's protected areas is too large for the available space in today's newspaper. However, you'll find links to most of the world's national parks in the column to your left.

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