The Bolivian government has recognized 12,350 acres of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve of Asociación Armonía (Armonía) as a Private Nature Reserve (RPPN) under its National System of Protected Areas. This designation took place in November 2020 and is the first such recognition of a private protected area in Bolivia in nine years. The official RPPN statement is important as it improves the country’s protective status by: removing the requirements for animal husbandry or agricultural production there; national recognition of the nature conservation importance of the area; and ensure that Barba Azul can be managed for conservation purposes only.
The Barba Azul Nature Reserve was established in 2008 by Armonía with support from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) to protect the habitat of the endangered blue-throated macaw, a species found only in Bolivia. (Barba Azul means “blue beard,” the local name of the species.)
The wild population of the blue-throated macaw is estimated to be less than 500 individuals. These parrots are threatened with extinction from illegal trapping for the cage bird trade and the destruction of nesting and feeding trees in their natural habitat.
With the continued support of ABC and other partners, Armonía has managed this area to reduce the effects of artificial fires, improve the habitat and develop ecotourism opportunities. Many other species benefit from these efforts. For example, the area provides important feeding grounds for migratory waders such as buff-breasted sandpipers, and more than 300 species of birds 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 reserve is an enormous milestone in Armonía’s blue-throated macaw conservation program,” said Tjalle Boorsma, Director of Conservation Programs at Armonía. “As a result of these changes, habitat protection in Barba Azul is finally recognized at the national level, a crucial positive step.”
The area that has now been declared an RPPN is part of a larger nature reserve. The eastern portion of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve protects another 14,820 acres outside of the RPPN, which Armonía manages as a model for sustainable and wildlife-friendly cattle ranching. Together, these two lots cover 27,170 acres of protected habitat.
Besides the importance of Barba Azul itself, the new RPPN declaration could have far-reaching consequences for conservation in Bolivia: “Hopefully the success of Barba Azul will help encourage the creation of similar private nature reserves in other parts of the country. Says John Mittermeier, ABC’s Director of Threatened Species Outreach, who is also the program director for ABC’s Partnerships in Bolivia.
For many in ABC and Armonía, the confirmation of Barba Azul as a nationally recognized protected area is the culmination of years of dedicated conservation efforts. Bennett Hennessey, Development Director of Armonia, has been working in Bolivia on protecting blue-throated macaws since 2003. For him, the recognition has a deeper meaning: “The designation of the sanctuary for Barba Azul clearly shows that positive prospects and tenacity can be achieved for great things for conservation. “