Sustaining biological and cultural diversity in Bolivia

Sustaining Diversity in Northern Bolivia Photo
WCS works to increase the capacity of local people to conserve and manage natural resources.
©Eleanor Briggs

From high, snow-capped Andes down to Amazonian basins only 150 feet above sea level, the Madidi-Tambopata landscape features a wide range of altitudes as well as a high diversity of ecosystems and peoples. Here, wild lands of montane forests, humid grasslands, and lowland Amazonian rainforests harbor archeological sites, as well as 1,100 bird, 300 mammal, and 12,000 plant species. Spanning northern Bolivia and southern Peru, the region is a stronghold for populations of Andean condor, jaguar, titi monkey, white-lipped peccary, vicuña, Andean bear, military macaw, and giant otter.

Poorly planned development degrades land, depletes biological resources, and weakens the region’s social and cultural foundations. The six Amazonian indigenous groups (Araona, Ese Eja Leco, Moseten, Takana, and T’simane), traditional Quechua communities, and Spanish descendents in urban centers bring complex challenges and opportunities to the region’s conservation.

Challenges

The area has a long history of industrial harvesting of natural resources for rubber, quinine, animal skins, and timber. Today, this area faces threats of highway construction, expansion of the energy industry, illegal timber extraction, mining, and a growing agricultural frontier. Plans to connect Bolivia and Peru to Brazil’s thriving markets and to expand the energy industry propose building highways in areas of high biodiversity.

Although Madidi’s intact forests serve as carbon sinks, help foster tourism, and promote healthy local watersheds, the forestry is a vital source of employment. Meanwhile, despite a sound body of national laws and regulations, illegal timber extraction occurs at an alarming rate.

Goals

  • Increase the capacity of local people to conserve and manage natural resources and lands and to urge national and regional governments to support community management of natural resources.
  • Inform land-use planning by examining and describing wildlife distributions and the range of human activities.
  • Clarify the land rights of four indigenous groups for 2.5 million acres of wild habitat adjacent to protected areas.
  • Build community and indigenous organization technical skills to manage subsistence hunting and to implement management plans for local community enterprises, such as ornamental fish and timber.
  • Reduce disease transmission through improved animal husbandry and mitigate domestic animal-wildlife conflict in Apolobamba through integrated rangeland management.

What WCS is Doing

Since the early 1990s, WCS has been working to reconcile human livelihood needs and conservation in the Madidi-Tambopata landscape. Our efforts to help clarify the land rights to about 1.7 million acres of indigenous territories and to create indigenous territorial management plans for 2.1 million acres have resulted in the establishment of 20 community-based business associations, with 1,350 beneficiaries. These associations manage the natural resources on which the beneficiaries depend—livestock, fishing, native honey and cacao, handicrafts, spectacled caiman, forestry, and ecotourism. WCS has also helped develop sustainable forestry plans for more than 145,994 acres.

In partnership with local people, our conservationists have successfully decreased wildlife predation on domestic livestock by 80 percent in Apolobamba, reduced illegal logging in Takana areas by 40 percent, and are aiding Takana and T’simane-Moseten communities in managing their subsistence hunting via self-monitoring and substituting the harvesting of endangered species with the raising of domestic animals.

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