The Orinoco Basin

The Orinoco basin lies between Colombia and Venezuela from the Andes to the Atlantic. The river flows 2,140km from its source in the extreme south of the Guianan massif until it reaches the ocean. Its tributary basins represent one of the most biologically and hydrologically diverse areas of the world. It is considered to be the 3rd most important river system on the planet, particularly due to the volume of water flowing into the Atlantic - an average of 36,000 m3 per second.
The 830,000km2 area of the Orinoco basin includes parts of the Andes, plains of the Llanos and the Guiana shield. 63% of this area is located in Venezuela and the remaining 37% in Colombia.

Among the most important tributaries of the Orinoco are the Rivers Guaviare, Meta, Arauca, Vichada, Capanaparo, Cinaruco, Apure, Caura, Caroní, Ventuari, Portuguesa, Atabapo and Alto Orinoco.

The combination of 3 different ecosystems (Andes, Guiana and Orinoco Delta) form an extraordinary aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity within the ecoregion. To date, 17,420 species of plants, 1,300 species of birds, more than 1,000 species of fish, 250 mammals and 119 reptiles have been recorded in the area.

The area also has a high ethnic diversity and is home to indigenous groups such as the Achagua, Amorua, Baniba, Bare, Betoye, Chiricoa, Cuiba, Guahíbos, Hoti, Kapo, Karina, Kuripako, Makaguaje, Masiguare, Ninam, Panare, Pemon, Piapoko, Piaroa, Puinave, Saliba, Sanema, Uwa, Warao, Yanomami, Yekuana and Yeral.

The Orinoco basin represents an important opportunity for conservation as it is one of the most intact river systems in the world with a relatively low population density (13 inhabitants per sq km).

Infrastructure development in this area is still very limited. However, threats are looming large in the form of gold and diamond mining in Guiana highlands, petroleum exploitation in the foothills of Colombian Andes and Venezuelan Llanos, extensive cattle ranching and the projected expansion of industrial-scale agriculture such as oil palm and rice cultivation.

Both Venezuela and Colombia face threats that embrace a wide range of human and economic activities. If not managed appropriately, they could severely affect the integrity of this natural region.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTER
The Orinoco basin presents an important opportunity for conservation as it is one of the most intact river systems in the world.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTER

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