Sustainable Bird Tourism Scales Up to Support Tropical Conservation


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American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and its partners are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Latin American Bird Reserve Network. A successful model for sustainable bird tourism designed to prevent the extinction of some of the Americas’ rarest bird species, the network now includes more than 70 tropical reserves spanning close to one million acres.

The reserves were created and supported by ABC and more than 30 partner conservation organizations, as well as governments and local communities, in 15 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. To date, the reserves have attracted well over 25,000 visitors, including birders, photographers, and trekkers whose entrance and accommodation fees have helped to finance reserve management and protection.

“ABC and our partners have pioneered a successful conservation model for bird tourism, showing that we can both establish nature reservesand create enterprises that finance ongoing reserve management,” said Daniel Lebbin, ABC’s Vice President of International Programs.

Local Communities Benefit from Bird Tourism

“The presence of international visitors helps to build local pride in natural resources, especially for unique endemic or charismatic species,” said David Agro, a member of the board of ABC’s Ecuadorian partner, Fundación Jocotoco. “Birdwatchers are often at the leading edge of the tourism curve.”

“Lodges and conservation successes don’t fall from the sky—it takes years of dedication and an international team effort,” said Constantino Aucca Chutas, President of ABC’s Peruvian Partner organization ECOAN.

The Latin American Bird Reserve Network protects habitat for more than 2,000 bird species, more than 50 of which are listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered under global IUCN Red List criteria. Several reserves also protect Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites—locations that contain the entire global population of a species that would face extinction if the habitat were lost.

“Many of the species we are protecting have very restricted global ranges,” said ABC President George Fenwick. “A single reserve financed by bird tourism can prevent a species’ extinction.

 “The best places in the world to see spectacular birds like Lear’s Macaw, Banded Cotinga, and Marvelous Spatuletail are at lodges and reserves supported by ABC and managed by our partners,” Fenwick continued. In addition, more than 200 of the species recorded at the reserves are migratory birds that winter in the tropics but nest in North America, such as the familiar Baltimore Oriole and the rare Cerulean Warbler.

ABC’s Conservation Birding website helps birders find destinations within the reserve network, with routes and information on specific lodges, bird lists, and information on how to make reservations at destinations from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic to Brazil and Peru.

Capturing Birding Dollars for Conservation

Birdwatching has become a major economic driver, bringing in billions in annual revenues from bird-feeding and wildlife watching in the U.S. alone. “Our notion has been to capture some of those dollars for conservation,” said Mike Parr, ABC’s Chief Conservation Officer.

Over the last decade, ABC’s network has brought substantial benefits not only to rare tropical birds but to other wildlife species and local communities as well. For example, the program has helped reserves and partners to:

  • slow climate change by protecting existing forests and planting millions of additional shrubs and trees in and around the reserves,
  • protect watersheds to sustain agriculture and downstream fisheries,
  • support more than 300 conservation-related jobs, and
  • train and engage more than 7,000 people in reforestation; production and marketing of handicrafts; ecotourism; and renewable energy.

Many of the reserves are exploring other ways to generate revenue to support conservation and the surrounding communities, including research stations for visiting scientists; agro-forestry plots for shade-grown coffee; and sustainable cattle production on grassland sites.

Please consider visiting one of these reserves to support conservation while enjoying great birding: See our reserve guide published in 2009 for detailed profiles on more than 30 of the reserves.

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