Bolivia’s Barba Azul Nature Reserve, a protected area which is home to the world’s largest population of the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw, has been more than doubled in size thanks to conservation efforts.
‘Barba Azul’ means ‘blue beard’ in Spanish, and is the local name for the blue-throated macaw, a stunning parrot species endemic to Bolivia. Threatened by habitat loss and the pet trade, the blue-throated macaw relies heavily on its nature reserve namesake, which is the world’s only protected area for the species. The reserve houses more than half of the world’s estimated 150 wild blue-throated macaws, and the area has now more than doubled in size thanks to the efforts of several conservation groups.
Asociación Armonía, the Bolivian partner of the American Bird Conservancy, teamed up with various other groups including the International Conservation Fund of Canada, the World Land Trust and the IUCN NL’s Small grants for the Purchase of Nature programme to raise money to buy additional land for the reserve. Thanks to this partnership, 14,830 acres of land were purchased, expanding Barba Azul Nature Reserve to a total of 27,180 acres.
“Conservation actions of this magnitude for small organisations in poor countries are only possible with outside help,” said Bennett Hennessey, Executive Director of Asociación Armonía. “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.”
Bolivia’s Beni savannah is an area twice the size of Portugal, and endures intensive flooding in the summer and vastly contrasting drought during the winter months. This land is almost entirely occupied by private cattle ranches, and has suffered the negative effects of hundreds of years of logging, hunting and livestock rearing, which have greatly altered the area’s natural ecosystem.
The blue-throated macaw population has declined due to frequent burning, overgrazing and timber harvests within forest patches, which has degraded its habitat and limited the number of suitable nesting sites. Trafficking of this beautiful species for the pet trade has also contributed to its decline.
“When we originally purchased Barba Azul Nature Reserve, it was a habitat that held a 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,” said Hennessey.
The Barba Azul Nature Reserve is the only protected savannah in Bolivia’s Beni bioregion where cattle grazing and yearly burning for agricultural purposes are not permitted. The recent extension of the reserve means that areas of seasonally flooded grassy plains are also now protected, as are a small river and islands of tropical forest which serve as key foraging, roosting and nesting habitats for the blue-throated macaw.
Further conservation work
As well as habitat protection, other targeted conservation efforts have been put in place for the highly threatened blue-throated macaw, including providing nest boxes as artificial breeding sites and working with local communities to raise awareness of the species and its importance. In addition, Asociación Armonía has provided local communities with synthetic feather head-dresses, which can be used during traditional festivals in place of those made from feathers gathered from wild macaws, offering a conservation-friendly alternative.
The extension of the nature reserve will not only be beneficial to the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw, but also to many other animals with which the bird shares its habitat. Barba Azul is home to 250 other species of bird, including the cock-tailed tyrant and the black-masked finch, both classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Flocks of waterbird species are attracted to the area’s extensive wetlands, including the Orinoco goose which has been recorded making use of nest boxes on the reserve.
Barba Azul offers important protection of the Omi River, which is the only year-round source of water for many miles, and is a critical water source during the dry season for hundreds of animals. This, combined with the protection of other habitats within the boundaries of the reserve, has contributed towards the conservation of the 27 species of medium and large mammals that reside there, including the giant anteater, pampas cat and marsh deer, as well as species which need larger territories such as the jaguar and maned wolf.
Read more on this story at the American Bird Conservancy – Protected Habitat Doubles for Magnificent and Endangered Blue-throated Macaw and Mongabay.com – Good news: Refuge for last blue-throated macaws doubles in size in Bolivia.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer