AboutZoos, Since 2008


Blue-​throated macaw refuge in Bolivia dou­bled in size

pub­lished 04 Jan­u­ary 2014 | mod­i­fied 25 Decem­ber 2014

Bolivia’s Barba Azul Nature Reserve, home to the world’s largest pop­u­la­tion of the majes­tic Blue-​throated Macaw, has been dou­bled in size through efforts led by Aso­ciación Armonía, Boli­vian part­ner of Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy (ABC).

Blue throated macaw-Cincinnati ZooAso­ciación Armonía and sev­eral part­ner groups worked together to pur­chase an addi­tional 14,830 acres that have expanded Barba Azul Nature Reserve from 12,350 acres to 27,180 acres. The reserve is the only pro­tected savan­nah in Bolivia’s Beni biore­gion that is spared cat­tle graz­ing and yearly burn­ing for agri­cul­tural purposes.

“Barba Azul” means “Blue Beard” in Span­ish and is the local name for the Blue-​throated Macaw, which only occurs in Bolivia and is listed as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered by the IUCN (Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature) in its Red List of Threat­ened Species. It was also recently listed under the U.S. Endan­gered Species Act. The Barba Azul Nature Reserve is the world’s only pro­tected area for the Blue-​throated Macaw; the reserve has hosted the largest known con­cen­tra­tion of these birds, with close to 100 recorded on the reserve at times.

“Con­ser­va­tion actions of this mag­ni­tude for small organ­i­sa­tions in poor coun­tries are only pos­si­ble with out­side help. Dou­bling the size of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve is an excel­lent exam­ple of con­ser­va­tion groups com­bin­ing their effort to achieve a mas­sive con­ser­va­tion prod­uct,” said Ben­nett Hen­nessey, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Aso­ciación Armonía.

Sev­eral organ­i­sa­tions and indi­vid­u­als teamed up to achieve this his­toric con­ser­va­tion result: Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy, Patri­cia and David David­son, Inter­na­tional Con­ser­va­tion Fund of Canada, IUCN NL /​SPN (spon­sored by the Nether­lands Post­code Lot­tery), Loro Par­que Fun­dación, Rain­for­est Trust, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Neotrop­i­cal Migra­tory Bird Con­ser­va­tion Act Grants Pro­gram, Robert Wil­son Char­i­ta­ble Trust, and World Land Trust.

The reserve exten­sion pro­tects broad grassy plains of the Beni savan­nah that are sea­son­ally flooded in the rainy sea­son. Also included in the newly pro­tected area are a small river as well as “islands” of trop­i­cal for­est char­ac­terised by trop­i­cal hard­woods and palms in this sea of grass. Two large forested islands pro­vide cru­cial for­ag­ing habi­tat for Blue-​throated Macaws, while more than 20 small forested islands pro­vide roost­ing and poten­tial nest­ing sites for these birds.

Intro­duc­ing the Barba Azul Nature Reserve and Aso­ciación Armonía:

“The small forested islands appear to be great sites to use arti­fi­cial nest boxes to attract Blue-​throated Macaws to breed here,” Hen­nessey added. Armonía is cur­rently work­ing at the reserve to attract Blue-​throated Macaws to arti­fi­cial nest boxes, with sup­port from ABC, Bird Endow­ment, Loro Par­que Fun­dación, and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Con­ser­va­tion Fund.

Other bird species
In addi­tion to the macaw, the Barba Azul Nature Reserve sup­ports roughly 250 species of birds. The tall grass­lands pro­vide habi­tat for the Cock-​tailed Tyrant and Black-​masked Finch, both listed as Vul­ner­a­ble by IUCN, as well as healthy pop­u­la­tions of the Greater Rhea (Near Threat­ened) and migra­tory Bobolink from North Amer­ica. Exten­sive wet­lands attract flocks of water­birds, includ­ing the Orinoco Goose (Near Threat­ened), which use nest boxes on the reserve. Armonía staff observed more than 1,000 Buff-​breasted Sand­pipers on the reserve in 2012, mak­ing Barba Azul the most impor­tant stop-​over site for this species in Bolivia. The reserve exten­sion will pro­tect five addi­tional miles of short-​grass river shore habi­tat used by Buff-​breasted Sand­pipers dur­ing their spring migration.

Barba Azul is also a haven for mam­mals, thanks to the reserve’s pro­tec­tion of the Omi River, which is the only year-​round source of water for miles around and a crit­i­cal dry-​season resource. The exten­sion of Barba Azul improves its abil­ity to pro­tect the 27 species of medium and large mam­mals that depend on this habi­tat, includ­ing giant anteater (Vul­ner­a­ble), pam­pas cat, puma, marsh deer (Vul­ner­a­ble), pam­pas deer, white-​collared pec­cary, and capy­bara. The reserve exten­sion is crit­i­cally impor­tant to main­tain large pro­tected areas for species need­ing expan­sive ter­ri­to­ries, like the maned wolf and jaguar.

Beni savan­nah
The Beni savan­nah is an area twice the size of Por­tu­gal. It is a land of extreme con­trasts, with inten­sive flood­ing in the sum­mer and months of drought in the win­ter. Almost entirely occu­pied by pri­vate cat­tle ranches, these savan­nahs have under­gone hun­dreds of years of log­ging, hunt­ing, and cat­tle ranch­ing. Over­graz­ing, annual burn­ing to pro­mote new grass growth for cat­tle, and the plant­ing of exotic grass species have greatly altered this ecosys­tem, which is now con­sid­ered crit­i­cally endangered.

Fre­quent burn­ing, over­graz­ing, and tim­ber har­vests within for­est patches degrade habi­tat for Blue-​throated Macaws and may limit the num­ber and suit­abil­ity of nest­ing sites. At Barba Azul, exclu­sion of cat­tle is already result­ing in the restora­tion of for­est under­sto­ries, and arti­fi­cial nest boxes offer hope that Blue-​throated Macaws will have more oppor­tu­ni­ties to breed.

When we orig­i­nally pur­chased the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, it was a habi­tat that held high abun­dance of many ani­mals. But once we removed cat­tle and stopped hunt­ing, net fish­ing, log­ging, and uncon­trolled grass­land burn­ing, the true destruc­tive impact of an over­grazed, poorly con­trolled ranch could be seen. Every­thing is rebound­ing as if the area is recov­er­ing from a drought.
(Ben­nett Hen­nessey, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Aso­ciación Armonía)

The Blue-​throated Macaw pop­u­la­tion has declined due to habi­tat degra­da­tion and traf­fick­ing for the pet trade. In addi­tion to estab­lish­ing the reserve, Armonía has worked with local com­mu­ni­ties in the Beni region to raise aware­ness of this species and effec­tively halt ille­gal trade in this macaw. Addi­tion­ally, Armonía has pro­vided local com­mu­ni­ties with beau­ti­ful syn­thetic feather head-​dresses for use in tra­di­tional fes­ti­vals as a conservation-​friendly alter­na­tive to feath­ers gath­ered from wild macaws.

(Source: ABC press release, 02.01.2014)

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