Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Bolivia 05

Bolivia: Madre de Dios

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
7—12 July 2002 (biological), 25—27 July 2002 (social/cultural)

The Área de Inmovilización Madre de Dios, in south-central Pando between the Madre de Dios and Beni Rivers (Figures 1, 2A). This Área de Inmovilización (a designation given to sites that need further studies before categorization for land use) covers a mixture of open savannas (pampas abiertas), low forests on pampa soils (pampas arboladas), and tall western-Amazonian forests on well-drained soils.

Sites Surveyed
Six sites, including (1) well-drained, tall upland Amazonian forests immediately west of the Área de Inmovilización (Cotoca Camp), (2) open pampas (Pampa Blanca Flor and Pampas Abiertas Naranjal Este), and (3) complex and varied older pampa habitats with a mixture of grassy, shrubby, and low arboreal vegetation (Pampa Arbolada Naranjal Noroeste, as well as the previously mentioned sites). See Figure 2.

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

Highlight of results
The inventory team identified significant opportunities for conservation of relatively intact pampa habitats, which are very rare in Pando. The adjacent, western-Amazonian forest habitats, logged about 40 years ago, are structurally intact but appear to suffer from intense hunting that has modified the bird and mammal communities present. The following is a brief summary of the rapid biological inventory team’s results during its six days in the field:

Plants: The team registered a moderate species richness of 523 species of plants and estimated about 800 for the region. Natural reproduction of Brazil-nut trees is conspicuous and significant, as is the occurrence of pampas this far north in Bolivia. Several plant species were at the limits of their range or were new records for Pando.

Large Mammals: The team registered 23 species of large mammals out of 46 estimated for the region. Population densities appeared very low for many game species (agoutis, pacas, peccaries, howler and spider monkeys, tapirs). Only 5 out of a possible 10 primate species were recorded, and even small primates that are normally common elsewhere in Pando were very rare. In contrast, small cats (Leopardus) and nocturnal rodents and opossums appeared to be common. The hunting pressure in the region is very high.

Birds: The team recorded 241 species in the Madre de Dios study sites, of which 210 were from the forest around and south of Cotoca, and 81 were from pampa habitats and associated forest islands and edges. The forest avifauna seemed incomplete for southwest Amazonia.

Amphibians and Reptiles: We registered 38 species (19 reptiles and 19 amphibians), out of an estimated 140 to 160 species for the region (80 of reptiles and 60 to 80 of amphibians). All of the species we recorded are common in southwestern Amazonia, and all, except for one lizard, were from forest habitats.

Human Communities
Modern immigration to the region began in the early 1930s when large estates devoted to rubber and Brazil-nut gathering (barracas) were established. With the collapse of the rubber boom (1950s-1980s), workers took ownership of the lands and petitioned for formal legal status for the towns or villages. We worked with three communities in and around the Área de Inmovilización Madre de Dios: Blanca Flor (with about 450 inhabitants), Naranjal (with 197), and Villa Cotoca (with 91). Population density in the region is relatively low, but growing. The regional economy is still principally dependent on Brazil-nut harvesting. Other economic activities include livestock herding, small-scale commercialization of rice, and the sale of wild game for food and medicine.

Main threats
Very intense hunting pressure on mammal and bird populations is the primary threat. We observed many successful hunters in the forest carrying primates, peccaries, birds (including an eagle), and other game species home for their families or for sale. The present level of hunting appears to have depleted animal populations and may have a pronounced and negative effect on the welfare of human communities and native biodiversity.

Current levels of timber extraction, and scattered ranching, may be compatible with maintaining a full array of native species in the region if local communities develop and follow plans for the management of cattle, fire, and hunting. Widespread removal of the canopy in the taller, well-drained (non-pampa) forests remains a threat to biodiversity but is not occurring at present. Increases in human migration to the region and lack of trust in governmental and non-governmental agencies will add to the difficulty of conservation efforts.

Principal recommendations for protection and management

Together with community members of Blanca Flor, Naranjal, and Villa Cotoca, develop a natural-resource management plan for the area now included in the Área de Inmovilización Madre de Dios. This plan can provide a blueprint for a future in which humans have a healthy relationship with the landscape of central Pando. The plan also can serve as a framework for all decisions about land use, wild habitats, and wild plant and animal populations, and may include the designation of a municipal or regional wildlife reserve.

Stem current over-harvesting of mammals and birds. Investigate carrying capacity for hunting in this area. Set conservative upper limits for harvest on the basis of these results. Involve local residents in monitoring game and human responses to these limits. Identify community incentives and enforcement mechanisms necessary to accomplish goals for game-species protection.

Maintain a diversity of ages and types of pampas habitats, from newly burned, open, grassy pampas, to a diverse array of older pampas on which shrubs and trees have become dominant. Cattle should be excluded from 25 to 50% of the area of these pampas, to provide control areas to better understand the effects of grazing on pampas biodiversity.

Maintain large blocks of tall, old secondary forest on good soils by minimizing large-scale removal of canopy trees.

Develop and disseminate educational materials for children and adults to broaden the basis of understanding and support of conservation and natural resource management.

Work with local residents to secure funding for community-based inquiry aimed at ecologically sensitive management of their resources. Recommended foci for study include (a) new sources of protein that can reduce their need for wild game, (b) monitoring of game and timber-tree populations, (c) the role of fire and grazing in maintaining open pampas, (d) detailed inventories of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, especially in the pampas, (e) the response of local birds amphibians, and reptiles to disturbance, and (f) the extent and mechanism of successful natural reproduction of Brazil-nut populations in the region.

Long-term conservation benefits

Human communities in a stable relationship with a landscape of forests and pampas that provides renewable forest products such as Brazil nuts and timber, and long-term sources of protein from wild game.

Maintenance of a complex array of young and old pampas, which are unique habitats in northern Bolivia. These pampas are, in essence, habitat “islands” surrounded by a “sea” of forests. Because of their isolation from other pampa habitats, they may harbor significant numbers of local or regional endemics and generate special patterns of evolution in the populations of plants and animals found within them.

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