The Bolivian conservation organization Asociación Armonía, with the support of American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, has created the world’s first protected area, to be named the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, for the Blue-throated Macaw, a critically endangered species with a population estimated at just 300 birds. The group purchased an 8,785-acre ranch in the grasslands of eastern Bolivia, a site with 20 Blue-throated Macaws during the breeding season.
“This is a huge conservation achievement,” noted George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy. “The main threats to the Blue-throated Macaw are capture for the pet trade and habitat destruction for cattle ranching, and, until now, the species’ habitat was completely unprotected.”
The Blue-throated Macaw is endemic to savannas in the Beni province of Bolivia and depends on motucu palms for nesting. These palms occur in palm “islands” embedded in the extensive seasonally-flooded grasslands. The entire known population of the species exists on private ranches which undergo yearly burning and heavy grazing by cattle.
“In the face of this development pressure, there is an urgent need to expand the new reserve to conserve a viable population of this spectacular macaw and the many other vulnerable species within it,” said Byron Swift, Executive Director of Rainforest Trust.
The Barba Azul Nature Reserve also protects excellent Beni savanna habitat with good populations of vulnerable species, such as the Sharp-tailed Tyrant, Cock-tailed Tyrant, and Black-masked Finch. Healthy populations of the Near Threatened Greater Rhea and Orinoco Goose are common in the area.
Research in the area of the new reserve found the highest known density of the Blue-throated Macaw with a roosting site in the dry season holding 70 individuals and 20 during the rainy season. The birds inhabit a remote area with poor access, and the large group roosts in the forest islands. Armonía/Loro Parque Fundación have identified a further five ranches for sale that are at risk of being developed and that are essential for the expansion of the new private reserve, to protect 41% of the of the known Blue-throated Macaw population.
“This work builds on the Armonía/Loro Parque Fundación Blue-throated Macaw Conservation Program which has supported both research on the macaw and public outreach, including a pride campaign to build awareness of the macaw and support its conservation,” said Bennett Hennessey, Executive Director of Armonía. “Raising public awareness to build local support for the macaw is our most potent tool to halt the illegal taking of these rare birds for the pet trade.”
Armonía is planning the development of a research station and ecotourism facility with access by airplane at the site to help support the project, and through Bird Endowment and Loro Parque Fundación support, the organization has also been experimenting with nest boxes for the birds. The macaws are taking to them readily and this provides an exciting opportunity to boost macaw breeding success while habitat restoration is underway. It should also be possible to expand macaw habitat by creating new tree islands. Removing grazing pressure will improve habitat within existing tree islands and improve conditions for other savanna species. Similarly, controlling fire will enhance habitat for all grassland species and prevent degradation of the tree islands.