Argentina’s UNESCO World Heritage Site “Cueva de las Manos” declared a provincial park

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Cueva de las Manos. Photo: Diego NaselloCueva de las Manos. Photo: Diego Nasello
By Nancy Moore
Last week, a strategic partnership between Fundación Rewilding Argentina and the Santa Cruz government rendered the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site “Cuevas de las Manos” public land belonging to all Argentines, ensuring protection of the 9,000-year-old cave paintings for years to come.
On July 13th, Fundación Rewilding Argentina donated private lands containing the World Heritage Site to the Argentine government as part of its campaign to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030.  Rewilding Argentina had acquired the ranch in 2015 with funds from the Wyss Campaign for Nature, a fellow conservation organization that shares the approach of restoring damaged ecosystems to health and then donating them to the government to allow public access and long-term protection.
Now categorized as a provincial park, the 600-hectare area that houses important archeological remains was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.  Until last week, the area had operated as a private reserve known as Portal Cañadón Pinturas and had been visited by more than 8,000 people interested in learning about the area’s cultural and natural history.
Those involved in the project hope to see that number increase in coming years as the new designation also provides ample opportunities for economic development related to sustainable tourism. Alicia Kirchner, the governor of Santa Cruz who signed the donation acceptance, says that the creation of the Cueva de las Manos Provincial Park reinforces the commitment to preserve Argentina’s cultural and environmental heritage and recognizes its importance in developing the area as a destination for tourists.
Sofía Heinonen, president of Fundación Rewilding Argentina, says the land deal represents their 2018 commitment to work with the province to ensure that the site was in the hands of the government and protected forever. "The donation of this World Heritage Site, a place for people from all over the world, marks a milestone in the history of this region, especially for the archaeological importance of its remains, which date back 9,300 years but were still exposed to livestock use,” she said. 
The cave art at “Cueva de las Manos” (Cave of the Hands) is among the oldest artistic expressions of South American peoples discovered to date. Ranging in origin from 9300 to 1300 years before the present (BP), the paintings depict figures important to the daily life of the Tehuelches and their ancestors, including silhouettes of hands, collective hunting scenes, and animals such as guanacos, lesser rheas, dwarf armadillos, and lizards.
Fundación Rewilding Argentina will continue to work in the donated area, conducting scientific studies and conservation of threatened regional fauna, creating engagement events for visitors and local communities, and contributing to the expansion of public-use works, such as a trail network, and a visitor reception center.