The Palaeontologist

You hear the deep and guttural roars as you arrive. You’re standing at the edge of a still operational quarry, just outside Sucre, Bolivia, and thinking of what wonders are found beyond the large gates.

When they open, you find a theme park unlike any other. There are no rides, no queues and the food is reasonably priced. This park trades on your fascination for the pre-historic. Those roars, they belong to dinosaurs.

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It’s a dinosaur!//©Henry Bevan

“Please tweet out a picture of this hashtag to support our cause,” pleads paleontologist Oliver Diego, a Palaeontologist and tour guide at Cretaceous Park. “We want Cal Orcko to become a world heritage site.”

Found in 1994 by a group of quarry workers, Cal Orcko became the world’s biggest paleontological collection: a cliff face adorned with preserved dinosaur footprints that march from the bottom to the top.

Oliver, who has picked up a canine friend, has worked at Cretaceous Park for a couple of years explains why the footsteps are now vertical: “This used to be a lake bed and the tracks tell us the dinosaurs used this land as a watering hole.

“The tectonic shifts that occurred over millions of years since the mass extinction turned this lake bed into the cliff you see today.”

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An actual IRL dinosaur footprint //©Henry Bevan

The tracks, he points out, tell a story. “These colliding footprints show the predator, the Theropod, attacking the herbivore, the Ornithopod. This is recreated in the park.” Other visible footprints belong to the Sauropoda, a herbivore not too dissimilar to the long-necked brachiosaurus made famous as the first dinosaurs seen in Jurassic Park.

There has to be a T.Rex… even if it is historically inaccurate

Yes, the footprints were discovered one year after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park reignited our fascination with all things 65 million years old, and that film’s influence is in Cretaceous’ bone marrow. The signage at the entrance is in the film’s famous font and a T.Rex is among the life-size statues dotted around the grounds even though the dinosaur was not native to South America.

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A recreation of the Theropod attack //©Henry Bevan

“There has to be a T.Rex,” says Oliver smiling. “It’s what people expect even if it is historically inaccurate, and we need people to come here and raise awareness.

“But Bolivia has some cool native dinosaurs like the Theropod. The model in the park looks vicious.”

An enticing tourist trap, the theme park is attempting to become a UNESCO World Heritage site similar to the historic centre of Sucre, the nearest city.

We need the theme park to raise awareness and provide funds to maintain the fossils

Become a World Heritage site requires to have universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. UNESCO currently funds few palaeontological sites like the Dinosaur and Caves of Koytendag and Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta’s badlands.

“We need the theme park to raise awareness and provide funds to maintain the fossils and continue more excavation,” says Oliver holding up a piece of cardboard with #CalOrckoWorldHeritage so guests can remember to promote their efforts. “The park allows us to look after the site and stop people damaging the fossils.”

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A view of the cliff from the park //©Henry Bevan

Guests can only visit the wall on a guided tour leaving at 1200 and 1300. If you are not around at those times, you peer at the footprints through a telescope.

“A lot [of guests] are disappointed, but most are from South America and have seen finds in Argentina. As a continent, we love dinosaurs because many great fossils have been found here.

“I live locally and I got into dinosaurs at a young age. This is my job, looking at dinosaurs for the rest of my life.”

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