Maria Teresa Vargas
Organization: Fundacion Natura Bolivia
Location: Amboro National Park, Bolivia
Research: Protecting the Spectacled Bear: Environmental Education around Amboró National Park, Bolivia
Species/Topic: Spectacled Bear (Tremarctus ornatus)
Bolivia's Amboró National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. The park contains elements from three priority eco-regions, and hosts an incredible variety of flora and fauna: 105 reptiles, 800+ bird species, and 145 species of mammals including the endangered spectacled bear. The National Park and its buffer zone are increasingly threatened by illegal incursions. Encouraged by unions and local leaders, landless migrants are entering the buffer zone and park to clear forest for farming.
Natura Bolivia, a local NGO, is helping solve this problem. Realizing that the communities are not necessarily interested in conservation for its own sake, Natura is concentrating on protecting the water supplies that Amboró's forests provide to the parks' buffer zone communities. Natura is thus building the capacity of these communities to develop institutions for sustainable conservation through payments for watershed services. With Natura's support, communities are developing a mechanism that allows the residents of Santa Rosa, next to the park, to negotiate with farmers in the agricultural town of Los Negros, who depend on water from Amboró. Natura is working with farmers, local organizations and municipal government to build consensus that not only is there a serious water production and distribution problem, but that it is in the interest of Santa Rosa and Los Negros to solve it together.
The forests above Santa Rosa harbor, Amboró's greatest density of spectacled bears. This species is especially threatened by the habitat loss that occurs when Santa Rosa's farmers cut forest for farmland, but also from hunting. In addition to the watershed payments, two additional actions are necessary for long term conservation of this species:
I. Better long-term protection of the species' habitat
II. Education of local farmers, hunters and community members about the rarity and importance of the species, and to develop the sense that the bears in the forest above Santa Rosa are a resource that should be protected by the community
Some members of the Santa Rosa community want to create a 500-hectare community spectacled bear reserve bordering Amboró. Natura is using funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help support this initiative. Funding from the Cleveland Zoological Society will provide an education program that helps us persuasively link the communities' development goals with watershed management, the creation of the reserve, and spectacled bear conservation.