Barba Azul Nature Reserve: Bolivia’s First Nationally Acknowledged Non-public Reserve in Virtually a Decade

The Bolivian government has recognized 12,350 acres of Asociación Armonía‘s (Armonía’s) Barba Azul Nature Reserve as a Private Natural Heritage Reserve (RPPN) under its national system of protected areas. This designation occurred in November 2020 and is the first such recognition of a private protected area in Bolivia in nine years. The official RPPN declaration is significant because it improves the land’s protected status by: removing requirements to have cattle or agricultural production there; providing national recognition of the area’s conservation significance; and ensuring that Barba Azul can be managed exclusively for conservation.

The Barba Azul Nature Reserve was created by Armonía in 2008, with support from American Bird Conservancy (ABC), to secure habitat for the western population of the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw, a species found only in Bolivia. (Barba Azul means “Blue Beard,” the species’ local name.)

The Blue-throated Macaw’s wild population is estimated to number fewer than 500 individuals. These parrots are at risk of extinction from illegal trapping for the cage-bird trade and the destruction of nesting and feeding trees in their native habitat.

With ongoing support from ABC and other partners, Armonía has managed this area to reduce the impact of manmade fires, improve habitat, and develop ecotourism opportunities. These efforts also benefit many other species. The area, for example, provides vital feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds such as Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and more than 300 bird species have been recorded on the property.

Blue-throated Macaw, copyright Paul Jones, from the surfbirds galleries

“The declaration of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve as a private protected area is a tremendous milestone for Armonía’s Blue-throated Macaw conservation program,” says Tjalle Boorsma, Armonía’s Director of Conservation Programs. “As a result of these changes, habitat protection at Barba Azul is now finally embraced on a national level, a crucial positive step.”

The area now declared an RPPN forms part of a larger conservation landscape. The eastern portion of Barba Azul Nature Reserve protects an additional 14,820 acres outside the RPPN that Armonía manages as a model for sustainable and wildlife-friendly cattle ranching. Together, these two properties span 27,170 acres of protected habitat.

In addition to the importance of Barba Azul itself, the new RPPN declaration could have broader consequences for conservation in Bolivia: “Hopefully, the success of Barba Azul will help to inspire the creation of similar Private Natural Heritage Reserves in other parts of the country,” says John Mittermeier, ABC’s Director of Threatened Species Outreach, who is also the program leader for ABC’s partnerships in Bolivia.

For many at ABC and Armonía, the confirmation of Barba Azul as a nationally recognized protected area marks the culmination of years of dedicated conservation efforts. Bennett Hennessey, Armonía’s Director of Development, has been working on Blue-throated Macaw conservation in Bolivia since 2003. For him, the recognition has a deeper meaning: “The protected area designation for Barba Azul clearly demonstrates that a positive outlook and tenacity can achieve great things for conservation.”

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