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Cover photo: Two Red-fronted Macaws (Ara rubrogenys), in La Viña, Omereque, Central Bolivia. Jennifer Cahill

Biodiversity conservation strategies are evolving. Since the preservation of large natural spaces, currently the challenge is to identify and protect small but significant areas. “In the past, most efforts aimed to reserve large areas for wildlife, today the focus is on reduced but viable areas to protect nature, spreading the conservation meaning”, explained Jennifer Cahill, researcher and faculty member specialized in birds, ecology, and conservation at the University of San Simón, Cochabamba.

Key Biodiversity Areas KBA are an example of such small areas for nature conservation. This new approach offers opportunities for management and conservation on a wider range of sites than single large areas, focused on specific ecosystems or species and, more importantly, as a complement for national protected areas. “Even though we have large protected areas in Bolivia, such as our National Parks and Reserves, wildlife of conservation concern are often found outside those areas and demand urgent conservation and management measures”, pointed out the expert in an interview with Armonía. 

Moreover, KBAs are a strategy that involves the community and that is a key factor for conservation success. “Conservation areas cannot exist without people. Obviously it is likely to protect nature independently, but the real challenge is to achieve conservation goals  together with local communities,” says the expert. The community needs to understand the importance of species, their value, and the ecosystem services they provide. Cahill stressed the need for people to be concerned about future generations and taking positive conservation measures. Society must embrace the importance of biodiversity conservation, its value and the ecosystem services it provides. Cahill stressed the need for people to care about future generations and take conservation measures that contribute in the long term. “I believe KBAs can raise awareness among all people, so they might adopt actions, knowledge, responsibility, and even positive feelings towards biodiversity in order to manage a future that is possibly to be harder”, she states. Among the threats humanity is going to face due to biodiversity loss, according to Cahill, the depletion of water resources and pollution are, probably, the most serious. The expert emphasizes the need to raise awareness for our own future, and KBA has taken on that challenge.

Bolivia is in the world’s top 10 countries in terms of bird diversity, due to its ecosystem diversity. Among those species, we can also find endemic birds, especially across the Andean ecosystems. Cahill pointed out the importance of monitoring these endemic species for their conservation.

As in other regions of the world, birds in Bolivia face various serious threats, among them habitat loss is of greatest concern. Land conversion for agriculture and livestock not only leads to a reduction of natural habitats for biodiversity, but increases population fragmentation and isolation. Other threats mentioned by the researcher, such as illegal hunting, pet trade, wildlife trafficking, and uncontrolled fires jeopardize biodiversity in the high Andean region and the lowlands. For instance, wildfires have significant negative consequences for birds especially during their breeding season (once a year), which usually starts in October. Birds tend not to abandon their nests during fires.

Ecosystem Services Provided by Birds

Photo: Biologist Jennifer Cahill  during field work in the Carrasco National Park. Jennifer Cahill

Birds play fundamental roles in ecological processes, such as insect depredation, seed dispersal,  and cross pollination for a wide range of plants. All these processes directly affect on agricultural productivity positively through plague control and crop fertilization. At the same time birds foster forest regeneration. Additionally, scavenger birds contribute to the elimination of dead animals, therefore, preventing the spread of livestock and zoonotic diseases. “When ecosystems are well-preserved, every component plays its role, and when humans interact inside those ecosystems, they can get multiple benefits as long as they engage actively in biodiversity conservation,” explained Cahill.

October Big Day: A Global Activity for Bird Conservation

Jennifer Cahill also shared her perspective on the significance of the “October Big Day” or “Global Big Day” for bird conservation, and why not, for the KBAs. She highlighted the growing participation of the community over the years, particularly young people. “To be a bird watcher, you don’t need to be a biologist, you just need to have an interest in birds and wildlife. You can observe them and register them, and it’s a fascinating outdoor exercise. It becomes a kind of challenge,” she said. According to Cahill, the message of this activity is: “To appreciate birds and wildlife in their natural state. Visit these places to have a positive impact on the community. Don’t bring wildlife to your home, go out and study them where they belong.”

Finally, in scientific terms, Cahill emphasized the need to foster and to support research, to gather more data and to conduct in-depth observations of birds, as well as to carry out censuses. “Studying threatened species also involves studying their habitat, as it can be an essential ecosystem with specific requirements for bird well-being.

Without a doubt, the panorama that Dr. Cahill illustrates to us about this new approach for Bolivian biodiversity conservation includes important challenges, however, KBAs offer a valuable opportunity to effectively protect the natural heritage of all Bolivians. Taking native birds as an example, By ensuring that the management and conservation of biodiversity is compatible with the development of people, we will be able to ensure our future and that of future generations.

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