Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Bolivia 01

01: Bolivia: Pando Rio Tahuamanu

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
16-25 October 1999

Region surveyed
Lowland Amazonian forests in western Pando, Bolivia, at about 280 m elevation. We surveyed two areas separated by ca. 15 km: (1) north of the Río Tahuamanu, at San Sebastian and nearby Rutina; and (2) south of Río Tahuamanu, in Pingo de Oro, Palmeras, and a logging road along the Río Muyumanu.

Organisms surveyed
Vascular plants, amphibians and reptiles, birds, primates, and other large mammals.

Highlight of results
The rapid biological inventory team confirmed enormous potential for biological conservation in western Pando. The area is covered by old forests that harbor a rich flora and fauna. During the ten days in the field, the team examined a diversity of habitats, including some that were recently logged, and all of which are home to a relatively sparse population of humans primarily engaged in Brazil-nut harvesting and rubber tapping.

Giant, centuries-old floodplain trees--which need open conditions to become established and survive--grow in the uplands, indicating that these forests have been occupied by humans for centuries.  The high frequency of trees that are valuable to humans, such as species with nutritious seeds, fiber-producing fruits, latex, rot-resistant wood, and sweet edible fruits, further suggests that populations of these species were augmented historically by human effort.

But this management regime, so compatible with biological diversity, is now severely threatened.  Change is sweeping the region, converting large tracts of old forest to a patchwork of young, logged forests and cattle ranches, and threatening to fragment and destroy the old-forest landscape, severely altering the cultural and biological heritage of the region.

During this rapid inventory, the field team registered many species assemblages that occur in the Department of Pando but nowhere else in Bolivia.  An additional 57 species had never been recorded from Bolivia and at least one may be new to science.  A brief summary of the results appears below.

Vegetation and flora: This western portion of the Amazon basin embraces excellent examples of whitewater floodplain communities, sandy-clay upland terraces with abundant Brazil-nut (Bertholletia excelsa) and rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) trees, and peculiar, flat "sartenejal" ("frying pan") forests on poorly drained alluvial terraces along the Río Tahuamanu.  The upland terrace soils seem to be rich and the forests productive, especially in species of trees important to animals (including humans, e.g., figs and palms).

We registered 615 species during the inventory, of which about 50 were new records for Bolivia.  The botany team estimates the number of plant species in the areas proposed for the wildlife reserve (ca. 65,000 ha) to be about 2000.

Mammals: The primate fauna is extremely rich.  The sum of 14 species of monkeys recorded is equal to the highest total registered for any site in the neotropics and is among the the highest concentrations of monkeys or apes anywhere in the world.  The rare Callimico goeldii (on the IUCN Red List of vulnerable species) is an important conservation target within these forests.  A tentative sighting by the team of the common woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha) is the first record for Bolivia in the last 50 years.  Of the 37 other large, non-primate mammals recorded during the inventory, one was a potentially new species or subspecies of deer and one was a new record for Bolivia.  A total of 14 CITES-listed mammals were present.

Birds: We registered 192 bird species at the unlogged site (Pingo de Oro and vicinity) and 163 species at the selectively logged site (San Sebastian and vicinity), with an estimated 300 species of birds for each site and close to 500 species for the region.  Significant sightings include two Harpy Eagles (Harpia harpyja) a species that requires a large home range and ample monkeys and other large, arboreal mammals as food.

Amphibians and reptiles: Although we conducted the inventory during the dry season, the team registered 55 species and estimates the herpetological fauna to be 120-150 species.  Six of the frogs are new country records for Bolivia.  Populations of caimans (Caiman crocodylus), river turtles (Podocnemis unifilis), and yellow-footed tortoises (Geochelone denticulata) appear to be overharvested and in danger of extirpation; other crocodilians may also be in trouble.  Assemblages of other amphibians and reptiles are probably intact and typical of southern Perú and of the states of Pando and La Paz in Bolivia.

Main threats
The primary threat to the biological and cultural heritage of the region is large-scale conversion of old forest to cattle ranching, agriculture, and human settlement.  Other, more subtle threats are selective logging and its associated roads along which new colonists, inexperienced with the local ecology, stream into old forests and damage them.  Subsistence hunting of primates, large birds, turtles, and Caiman is a serious threat in some areas.  Harvest for the pet trade, although apparently low at present, may become a significant problem in the future.

Because of the proximity of the region to Cobija and to increasingly heavily settled areas in Brazil, human colonization, habitat destruction, and hunting will accelerate in a disorganized and destructive manner unless informed, community-based conservation planning arrests or reverses the trend.  People currently living in the forests will be displaced or deprived of their biodiversity-compatible lifestyles if the old forests are destroyed or degraded.  However, the proximity to Cobija also can benefit conservation because of the ample opportunities for education and ecotourism.

Current status
Several key ingredients are already in place for the conservation of Pando's forests.  The regional government and several institutions in Bolivia are interested in long-term management.  Longtime rubber-tappers and Brazil-nut gatherers, with their traditional use of biodiversity, are potential advisors and collaborators.  Indigenous communities (Yaminahua and Machineri) want to collaborate on an integrated conservation plan that includes their now legally titled lands (Tierras Comunales de Origen, TCO).  But, neither a comprehensive assessment of species and community richness, nor a coordinated plan for growth based on the region's ecology yet exists.  Current efforts include additional rapid inventories and feasibility studies to identify options for shifting a failing logging and cattle economy to ecologically sound practices.

Principal recommendations for protection and management

Establish a core reserve, the Tahuamanu Wildlife Reserve (Reserva de Vida Silvestre Tahuamanu, RVST), in which timber harvest and the hunting of some species is prohibited.  Engage the communities north and south of the RVST to manage their lands for conservation, so that the whole western border of Pando becomes a conservation corridor that stretches from the Indigenous Reserve (TCO) of the Yaminahua-Machineri near Bolpebra, south through the RVST, and on to the Manuripi Reserve (Reserva Nacional de Vida Silvestre Amazónica Manuripi).


Ensure participatory management of the RVST and its buffer zone by local communities, especially residents who currently live in, and depend on, the forest.


Establish a research center in RVST for Bolivian and international students and scientists.


Promote research and monitoring of the sustainable, ecologically sensitive harvest of nontimber forest resources, including latex, fruits, and seeds.

Long-term conservation benefits
Sound conservation planning can maintain the old-forest cover and the biological and cultural richness of western Pando at its present level, while also supporting the livelihoods of people who currently depend on the forest.  An ecologically compatible strategy will facilitate a sustainable flow of market and subsistence products for the economy of Pando, and will maintain healthy watersheds.  The globally significant concentration of primate species in these forests, the magnificence of the tall forest, and the beauty of the rubber-tapper trails all contribute to a high potential for ecotourism in the area, with Cobija as the primary access point.  And the Universidad Amazónica de Pando and other local institutions already serve as centers for environmental education of Pando's adults and children, who may inherit healthy forests with a rich biological heritage.

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