The goal of this project is expanding protection for the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw, which is found in only one place on Earth: the Beni Savannas of Bolivia. This complex ecosystem of grasslands, marshes, forest islands and gallery forest is largely in the hands of cattle ranchers who cause extensive habitat loss through intentional burning for pastureland. Today, less than 400 Blue-throated Macaws remain. In July 2008, World Land Trust-US, in conjunction with the American Bird Conservancy and local Bolivian partner Asociación Armonía, helped create the Barba Azul Nature Reserve in the Santa Ana District of the Beni, the first and only protected area for the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw. The 11,530 acre Barba Azul Nature Reserve protects several threatened bird species and the neglected Beni Bolivian grassland habitat.
The Beni Savannah is one of only two ecosystems endemic to Bolivia and contains five distinctive habitat types: savannah, treed savannah (Cerrado), forest islands, gallery forest and marsh wetlands. It is considered a highly threatened ecosystem, although the habitat is not nationally protected. The area has undergone hundreds of years of logging and cattle ranching that have disturbed the grasslands with overgrazing, yearly burning and replanting with exotic grassland species. The habitat is also threatened by the impending expansion of mechanized farming for biofuels in the near future.
Four years of field surveys for birds has revealed that the Santa Ana district is the only site in the world with gregarious groups of Blue-throated Macaws. The highest census count recorded over 109 Blue-throated Macaws wintering in the Barba Azul Nature Reserve. All other areas of the macaw’s range consist of isolated pairs or pairs with chicks. Before the discovery of the Santa Ana district area, flocks of Blue-throated Macaw had never been seen. Given the global importance of this single site, it is a conservation priority to protect as much of the area as possible for this species.
In addition to the Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis) (CR), the Barba Azul Nature Reserve protects the Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) (NT), as well as significant populations of Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) (VU), Pampas Deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) (NT), Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla), Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta nigerrima), Jaguar (Panthera onca) (NT), Puma (Puma concolor), and Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). Many of these are landscape species that require large expanses of protected areas to maintain viable populations.
World Land Trust-US, American Bird Conservancy, Asociación Armonía.
The Pelotal ranch is an 8,196 acre property that falls adjacent to the western border of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve. It protects a large palm forest island important for foraging macaws in the area, as well as ten small palm forest islands that the macaw uses for forage and as roosting sites. The savanna adjoins the tall grasslands of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve.
With proper management, the Pelotal ranch can offer an extension to the threatened bird species dependent on tall grass that are presently increasing populations on the reserve. The extension of the Pelotal ranch will also offer more protected area for the landscape species that require large expanses of habitat, including the threatened Maned Wolf, Jaguar, and Puma.
The addition of the Pelotal ranch to the existing Barba Azul Nature Reserve would expand the protected area to 20,552 acres. Importantly, the protection of the Pelotal ranch would increase the ability to protect the Blue-throated Macaw, threatened tall grass birds and large mammals in the area. Protection and management practices in place on the reserve could easily be extended to the Pelotal Beni grasslands and palm forest islands.
Increasing the size of the reserve will improve the protected range for many of the landscape species that require large protected areas to maintain viable populations, such as Jaguars, Pumas, Maned Wolves, and Pampas Deer. A larger reserve will also allow the Asociación Armonía Bolivia to conduct better land management to improve breeding of the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw as well as the area’s other threatened bird species.