Earth Day 2017: Blogs from the Wildlife Conservation Society

Bolivia’s Madidi National Park and the Power of Protected Areas (Photos)

An Andean Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruviana) in Bolvia’s Madidi National Park. Photo by Rob Wallace/WCS.

By Rob Wallace
April 22, 2017

On this Earth Day it is important to take a moment to celebrate the key role that protected areas play in the conservation of the natural world. Beyond the innumerable natural, economic, social, cultural, health, and well-being values of protected areas, simply put protected areas are also the most absolute expression of the human race’s moral and ethical obligation to the conservation of the rest of Life on Earth, as well as the bewitching idea of wilderness.

For the best part of the last two decades, I have been privileged to work in one of the most amazing protected areas — Madidi. Where the Andes meets the Amazon, and spanning a unique altitudinal range of well over 19,000 feet, it is probably the worlds most biologically diverse park. Over the last couple of years, the Wildlife Conservation Society has led an inter-institutional scientific expedition called Identidad Madidi to the park with the intention of dramatically improving biological knowledge for Madidi.

Madidi’s Puina valley, one of the Identidad Madidi survey sites. Photo by Rob Wallace/WCS.

So far, the Bolivian team has visited 10 of the 15 sites originally planned, six in 2015 and four in 2016, significantly improving biodiversity knowledge for this globally outstanding park and passing several important milestones. For example, the team registered Madidi´s 1,000th confirmed bird species, as well as the parks 300th confirmed fish species, in both cases around 100 more species are eventually expected to be registered in the park. For amphibians just over 100 species have been confirmed, while for reptiles the official list now stands at 99 species.

In summary, over 1,700 species of vertebrates are now confirmed as occurring in the park, more than any other protected area in the world, and eventually 2,000 or so vertebrates will be confirmed for Madidi. In the meantime, thanks to Identidad Madidi the butterfly list has almost doubled to 1,250 varieties (species and subspecies), including over 1,000 species. These are huge numbers already, but incredibly almost 10 percent of the world’s butterfly species will eventually be registered in this global treasure.

As our planet’s human population becomes ever more urban, it will be fundamental to explore how to connect the majority of people to the world’s wildest places. In this light, Identidad Madidi is committed to providing Bolivians and the world with quality images and information about a previously poorly known protected area. To date, our Facebook site, where we regularly post news and images about the expedition, has reached more than 2 million Bolivians and has more than 77,000 followers. Similarly, a small team of biologists has visited and presented at more than one third of secondary schools in La Paz and El Alto.

The list of butterfly species and subspecies known to Madidi National Park has almost doubled to 1,250 varieties, including over 1,000 species, as a result of Identidad Madidi surveys. Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

The 2017 field season will kick off in June and July with sites 11 and 12, representing the Amazonian forest and the Amazonian natural grasslands, both found on the remote Heath River in the extreme north of Madidi that represents the border between Bolivia and Peru. After that, we will recharge batteries for an August trip to the montane forests of Madidi at 1000 meters above sea level.

The final trip in September and October will visit cloud forests in Keara at 2500 meters above sea level, before ending at the highest point in Madidi at the Chaupi Orco peak on the Apolobamba cordillera. Follow our efforts on Facebook or at the Identidad Madidi web page.

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Dr. Rob Wallace is a Bolivia-based conservationist with the Americas Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and leader of the ongoing Identidad Madidi expedition exploring the extraordinary biodiversity of Bolivia’s Madidi National Park.