The Amazon and the Orinoco range from high in the snowcapped Andean mountains to lowland rainforests and grasslands. The Amazon Basin is the largest tropical wilderness area in the world and the most biodiverse region on earth. It's also the greatest freshwater system on the planet, accounting for 15% percent of all the freshwater discharged into the oceans. The Orinoco is home to the most diverse group of carnivores in the Western Hemisphere and critically endangered species, such as the Orinoco crocodile.
The Amazon and Orinoco river basins are at a crossroads. Home to incredible biodiversity and hundreds of indigenous peoples, they face serious threats from deforestation, overuse of natural resources, illegal extraction of timber, minerals, and wildlife, poorly-planned infrastructure and agro-industrial projects, and climate change.
By 2020, conserve the more than 10% of the world's biological diversity that's housed here while improving livelihoods and governance across the Andes, Amazon, and Orinoco.
How Will We Get There?
We believe strategies that bridge environmental and development needs will ensure the region continues to thrive.
and strengthen protected areas and indigenous territories.
and monitor key wildlife species.
local capacity for conservation planning, management, and monitoring.
important wetlands and manage fisheries.
the impacts of climate change and infrastructure development.
WCS has long been established on the ground in six of eight Amazonian countries, has established cooperative agreements with five national governments, and has a history in the region that began with our first scientific expedition in 1916. Since then, we have assisted in securing over 150,000 square kilometers of highly biodiverse lands with formally approved management plans, have published over 500 scientific publications, and have trained over 33,000 people in conservation management.
In Bolivia, Identidad Madidi—a major multi-institutional initiative—had registered by September 2015 more than 250 new species records for the world’s most biologically diverse protected area (Madidi National Park), had directly connected with more than 500,000 Bolivians, and had reached up to 250 million people worldwide through print and digital media. In Peru, a research expedition to inventory the wildlife of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park discovered 365 species that had not been registered in the park before, including 30 birds, two mammals, and 233 species of butterfly and moth.
On Our Strategies
To Create and Strengthen Protected Areas and Indigenous Territories
We work with governments to strengthen protected area systems and promote sustainable use of natural resources in indigenous territories, other community-managed lands and private lands. Across the Andes-Amazon, we assisted in securing management plans for over 6 million hectares, while in Bolivia alone we have helped secure title to 1.5 million hectares of indigenous lands.
To Research, Monitor, and Conserve Key Wildlife Species
We conduct wildlife research and monitor wildlife populations to generate data for sound natural resource management decisions. For example, in the Brazilian Amazon our researchers discovered that giant South American river turtles use different kinds of vocal communication to coordinate their social behaviors. This discovery informs management recommendations made by our Amazon Waters Initiative.
To Build Local Capacity for Conservation Planning, Management, and Monitoring
136 staff, 95 percent local
Our field teams are composed of 136 professionals from a variety of disciplines, with 95% of them coming from the region. Over the past 12 years, we have supported over 200 undergraduate and graduate research theses as part of our commitment to train the next generation of Latin American conservation professionals.
To Promote Sustainable Livelihoods
As development reaches previously remote areas, Latin America is transforming at an unprecedented rate and scale. The sustainability of the resource base that underpins the economy, the natural resources upon which millions of poor people depend for their livelihoods, and the region's unparalleled biodiversity are all threatened. WCS is committed to finding mutually beneficial solutions that integrate conservation and human wellbeing through sound conservation planning that engages multiple stakeholders. In the Colombian Orinoco, we are planning for a more sustainable future by working with governments, communities, and the private sector to balance conservation, livelihoods, and economic growth.
To Conserve Important Wetlands and Manage Fisheries
Millions of residents of the Amazon Basin depend upon fish as their principal source of protein. Fish are "animal sentinels"—they are the chief indicators of ecosystem health for the Basin as a whole. Through the Amazon Waters Initiative, our goal is to maintain the connectivity of this vast, interlinked, and dynamic freshwater system, supporting human wellbeing, wildlife, and the environments on which they depend. In Peru, we supported the Loreto state government to design and implement a comprehensive commercial fisheries monitoring system that encompasses 80% of all the fisheries in the Peruvian Amazon.
To Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change and Infrastructure Development
Large-scale challenges such as climate change and infrastructure development require engagement with national and international policies and political processes. Across the Andes, Amazon, and Orinoco, WCS is working with governments to develop strong policies and regulations to ensure that environmental impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects and extractive industries are thoroughly analyzed and that best practices to minimize and mitigate these impacts are followed. In Colombia and Peru, we are supporting the establishment of policies and developing tools to ensure no net loss of biodiversity. In Ecuador, we are supporting local residents and government officials to develop climate-smart plans for their communities in the Andean foothills.
In 2001, Bolivia's Tacana Indigenous People's Council asked WCS to help them to develop and implement a sustainable plan to manage caiman in their territory. With our assistance, the caiman hunters were able to establish a successful business - sales of caiman skins and meat in four Tacana communities contributed $52,200 to 29 families in 2014, and $66,600 to 37 families in 2015. Caiman numbers in the territory are increasing, confirming that the annual harvest plan is sustainable.
Dr. Michael Goulding, senior aquatic scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), has received the 2020 Parker/Gentry Award, from The Field Museum based in Chicago, honoring his 40 years-plus of transformative work in the Amazon basin.