What does it take to create a thriving nature reserve for highly threatened wildlife? This is what the team at Armonía have been working on…
The Beni Savanna is an endemic habitat that is also Critically Endangered and home to a diversity of threatened species.
At the beginning of 2016, the team here at Armonía published the Barba Azul Nature Reserve 2015 Report, highlighting priority activities that were carried out last year to improve the reserve for its wealth of wildlife.
The top 8 activities of 2015 were:
- Chicks fledging from nest boxes
- Tree planting
- Macaw population monitoring
- Buff-breasted sandpiper surveying
- Savanna diversity research
- Cattle and grasslands management
Last year, we celebrated as 10 Blue-throated Macaw chicks were born and fledged from four nest boxes within the Barba Azul Nature Reserve. This Critically Endangered macaw is an endemic species to Bolivia that only lives in the Llanos de Moxos of the Beni Savanna.
One of the main factors halting the recuperation of this species has been the lack of potential nesting sites and interspecific competition with the most common and abundant Blue-and-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna). The two macaws share the same habitat, including the rare large nesting cavities, which have been reduced by people cutting down large deciduous trees for over 100 years.
The Nest Box program is generously supported by Loro Parque Fundación, Bird Endowment Fund, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the World Land Trust, and the British Birdfair through BirdLife International.
The Barba Azul Nature Reserve is threatened by fires every dry season as cattle ranchers around the reserve set their land on fire to ensure new and fresh grass sprouts for their cattle. In order to overcome this threat, firebreaks have to be created around the Barba Azul border to safeguard the unique Beni Savanna ecosystem and their forest islands that are so valuable for the Blue-throated Macaw and a wealth of other wildlife.
The hard manual labour involved in creating firebreaks was hugely assisted by buying a tractor, thanks to funding from American Bird Conservancy and International Conservation Fund of Canada.
The forest islands of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve are a dying ecosystem, dominated by a late age class of Motacu Palm (Attalea phalerata) and some early successional plants. The Blue-throated Macaw depends on these forested islands and feed primarily on the motacu palm nuts, but the forests have suffered due to extensive cattle ranching. The islands provide a home for only about 30% of the forest animals in the region and much less for forest diversity.
Thanks to support from the World Land Trust, we launched the Motacu Palm Reforestation program to regenerate the forest islands.
In 2015, we witnessed a threefold increase in the number of visitors experiencing the beauty of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve. A haven for nature lovers, as these palm forested islands at the foot of the Amazon basin offer a wildlife watching experience like no other. Hoards of charismatic Blue-throated Macaws can be seen at the reserve, giving tourists the rare opportunity to spend time in the wild with a Critically Endangered species that can be found nowhere else on Earth.
By visiting the reserve, tourists contribute directly to the ongoing conservation of this unique savanna habitat and its wildlife. Tourism is one of our main strategies to lift Barba Azul Nature Reserve to a level of economic self-sufficiency that is necessary to ensure this long-term sustainable conservation project.
Macaw population monitoring
The global Blue-throated Macaw population, found exclusively in the Beni Savannas of northern Bolivia, is speculated to number less than 300 individuals. But we do not have scientifically sound data on population size and trends. We conducted the first-ever systematic survey in August 2015 to obtain reliable global population size estimates using simultaneous surveys in each of the three different regions with occurrence records of the species.
Results will form the basis for future population monitoring and population trend estimates. The Barba Azul Nature Reserve had the highest count of 72 birds that arrived at their night roost at the far end of Barba Azul North, demonstrating the importance of this protected area.
This research was generously funded by the Loro Parque Fundación, a long-term and committed supporter of our conservation efforts with the Blue-throated Macaw.
Read more about the Blue-throated Macaw population monitoring »
Buff-breasted sandpiper surveying
The Barba Azul Nature Reserve has been recognized as the most important migration stop-over site for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Bolivia, a species that is considered Highly Imperiled in the U.S. shorebird conservation plan. Using the short grass areas around the Barba Azul river systems, ‘buffies’ as well as other migratory shorebird species fatten up for their journey to Argentina.
Through support by the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, a group of four students from the Cochabamba University undertook this study in the reserve. We have collected shorebird and Buff-breasted Sandpiper data for over three years and we will now be able to see trends in behavior and feeding preference. We are looking for students who want to do their thesis on this subject.
Savanna diversity research
The Beni Savanna ecoregion, one of South America’s largest grassland floodplains, is assessed as Critical/Endangered by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Cattle grazing and the extensive use of fire by farmers as a grassland management technique has severely degraded the savanna habitat. Yet the post-fire vegetation dynamics and the succession of grassland, as well as its associated animal communities, are virtually unknown in the region. Such information is crucial for effective grassland management aimed at supporting maximum biodiversity levels at Barba Azul Nature Reserve.
An Armonía team lead by Bolivian entomologist Caroli Hamel-Leigue gathered the first ever systematic data on insect diversity and biomass in three areas of savanna with different recent histories of fire occurrence and cattle grazing. This study is intended as a first step in a several-year monitoring program that will help guide successful grassland management strategies.
Cattle and grasslands management
Little by little, we are removing cattle from the reserve borders to better secure the protection of this habitat, thanks to support from International Conservation Fund of Canada and World Land Trust.
But we are aware that if this Critically Endangered ecoregion is to become a thriving habitat for wildlife, we need to deal with the issues outside of our reserve borders. Namely, cattle ranching. Our aim to help our cattle ranching neighbours to establish a grasslands management plan that assists biodiversity.
In Barba Azul East we want to try to establish a harmony between protecting habitat and ranching. This land will be used to conduct ranching experiments for sustainable management that can be applied to ranches in the area.