WCS Amazon-Andes Conservation Program
WCS first established a presence in South America’s tropical forests in 1916 by developing a biological station in then British Guiana. Our activities in the region increased significantly through the 1970’s, when WCS expeditions moved scientific research forward and initiated conservation projects on macaws, primates and other wildlife. Realizing the limits of projects designed to protect single species, in the 1980’s WCS made long-term commitments to several Amazonian sites, where we helped establish protected areas and integrated wildlife research, training, and policy initiatives to protect individual sites.
After almost a century of work in the Amazon and around the world, WCS has learned that long-term conservation can be accomplished most effectively at the landscape scale – in 5,000 to 50,000 km² areas that include protected areas and surrounding, lived-in landscapes. To protect a set of these key Amazonian landscapes in a sustainable, strategic manner, WCS established the Amazon-Andes Conservation Program (AACP) in 2003.
WCS’s Amazon-Andes Conservation Program (AACP) protects seven massive Amazonian landscapes in five countries – two each in Bolivia and Brazil and one in Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. These cover over 222,000 km², or three percent of the Amazon Basin. Over the next decade, WCS will expand into 3-4 other key Amazonian landscapes in order to sustainably conserve at least five percent of the Amazon. The methods we develop to reconcile human needs with conservation in the Amazon, and the lessons we learn, will help others protect additional areas. To ensure our results are widely applicable, WCS works across the spectrum of Amazonian ecosystems – from flooded forests to dry forests, from palm swamps to cloud forests – and with a variety of local partners, ranging from indigenous groups, caboclos and ranchers to logging companies, governments and NGOs.
The Landscape Approach
The impact of conservation efforts in the Amazon over the past thirty years has been more limited than publicity would suggest. Most protected areas are poorly managed and threatened by resource extraction, socioeconomic pressure, weak governance and an inability to engage local people constructively. Many protected areas are too small to sustain viable populations of wide-ranging species (such as jaguar and peccary) on a long-term basis, thus requiring the compatible management of surrounding, lived-in landscapes in order to maintain biodiversity.
The issue of how to succeed at individual landscapes, and how to alter the status quo for the conservation of nature while reconciling critical human needs, remain largely unresolved. WCS addresses such shortcomings with the goal of building truly sustainable conservation. Lessons learned at the seven landscapes where we work influence conservation across the Amazon Basin. By building on the equity in the field sites we know well, WCS can make the greatest contribution to Amazonian conservation. WCS staff have an average of 14 years experience in each of the landscapes where we work. Our long-term commitments enable us to gain in-depth knowledge of complex ecosystems and build the trust of local stakeholders.
To succeed at individual landscapes, WCS develops wildlife-based strategies for the conservation of wild ecosystems that are integrated in wider landscapes of human influence. In each focal landscape, WCS applies its decades of experience in site-based conservation to:
Undertake and apply scientific research
to inform conservation action and adapt management. In 2003, at the Madidi landscape
in Northwest Bolivia, WCS radio-collared eight white-lipped peccaries to identify habitat use for this important landscape species, obtained the first density estimates for jaguars for any Amazon rainforest site, and continued applied research on Andean condors, spectacled bears, and river otters.
Build institutional and human capacity
, fostering eventual self-reliance among local partners. In the Gran Chaco landscape
of Eastern Bolivia, WCS’s training and institutional strengthening efforts enable the Isoseño indigenous group CABI to protect the world’s largest tropical dry forest reserve from encroaching oil development and expansion of the agricultural frontier.
Sustainably manage and protect conservation landscapes, including developing long-term finance plans and addressing key human welfare needs. Thanks to the efforts of WCS and local partners, in 2003 the Governor of Amazonas State gazetted the 10,000 km² Piagaçu-Purus Sustainable Development Reserve. WCS is helping local communities manage the landscape’s flooded forests ecosystems.
Influence and develop appropriate public policy. Based on twenty years of research on peccary ecology in Peru’s Greater Yavari Miri landscape, WCS has provided management recommendations to permit a certified and sustainable commercial harvest of peccary pelts in the region. This will provide local communities with the means and incentives to better manage wildlife populations.