Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never been able to consider auto racing a sport. I can certainly see that driving a car for extremely long distances off-road can be grueling, but getting behind the wheel does not require the physical exertion of, for instance, running 26 miles and hiking up mountain peaks.
So I have felt even more appalled to hear that next month’s Dakar Rally is putting dolphin and whale fossils that could be as much as 20 million years old at serious risk. The 8,400-kilometer off-road race is to take place from January 5 – 20 and go through three countries, Peru, Argentina and Chile.
The 2012 version of the auto rally has already caused irreparable damage to ancient Miocene era (23 to 5 million years ago) sites in the Ica region of southern Peru, as Vildoso Carlos, director of the Peruvian Institute of Palaeontology, has told AFP. The course all but passes over sites with the skeletons of large mammals, as well as the fossilized remains of invertebrates.
Klaus Honninger, director of Lima’s Meyer-Honninger Paleontology Museum, has informed the organizers of the Dakar Rally about the damage caused by passing vehicles but has only been met with “little interest.” The need to take action is urgent as, says Honniger, some of the drivers veer off the planned course to take a simpler route. Even more, spectators with little concern for the rich paleontological history of the area ”leave the desert in a terrible state,” says Honninger; he has also “seen people smash fossilised whale vertebrae and throw tons of garbage around.”
Peru’s culture minister, Luis Peirano, contends that the Dakar Rally will not put his country’s amazing heritage at risk. Honniger counters that Peirano and the race organizers are failing to “[accept] responsibility” for the destruction and that another route must be found “to avoid further deterioration of this fossil graveyard.”
According to AFP, race organizers and government authorities in neighboring Chile (where the race ends) have worked to create a route that “avoids the areas identified as being at risk from the point of view of the environment and archeology,” says deputy secretary for sports, Gabriel Ruiz Tagle.
Last February, geologists found the remains of a whale thought to be 3.6 million years old in Peru’s Ocucaje desert. Peru has previously provided scientists with unique archaeological finds, including the fossils of a giant sperm whale with some of the largest teeth ever found, rare insects including an arachnid with a head like a dog’s and legs four times longer than its body and sea turtles. Is southern Peru really the appropriate site for an auto rally in which 459 vehicles (cars, trucks and bikes) will go roaring over the priceless remains of the earth’s natural heritage?
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Photo of Dakar 2012 by viajesyturismoaldia