Four Wildlife Conservation Projects
Two private ranches in South America are leading the way in nature conservation, in each case running pioneering projects to conserve critically endangered species. We’ve been lucky enough to spend time at both of them.
Caiman Ecological Refuge is located on a 53,000 hectare private ranch in the southern part of the Pantanal, Brazil. Of this area, 5600 hectares (over 10,000 acres) are dedicated to a Nature Conservation Programme where cattle are excluded and the habitat is completely natural.
Their Onçafari Jaguar Project has been so successful that it recently featured in a BBC2 programme narrated by David Attenborough called ‘Jaguars: Brazil’s Super Cats’. This featured the re-wilding of two orphaned cubs in a project headed by field biologist Lilian Rampim, the first time this have ever been achieved. Little is known about jaguars in the wild, but the Onçafari project tracks and habituates them to human contact, a little bit like lions in the game reserves in Africa. Visitors can join the Onçafari team for one or two days and be reasonably certain of a Jaguar sighting, whilst getting to learn much more about these beautiful animals.
The Hyacinth Macaw Project at Caiman was established in 1990 when these beautiful birds were on the list of species threatened with extinction. At that date it was estimated that there were only 600 birds living in the wild. Since then the breeding project led by biologist Dr Neiva Guedes has been very successful and Caiman is now home to 38% of all identified nests, where at least 50 new fledglings are hatched each year. Visitors can spend a day with researchers and learn about the detail of the breeding program and get close to these fabulously charismatic birds.
Hacienda Zuleta is a 2000 hectare (4000 acre) estate in the foothills of the Andes two hours north of Quito, which has been owned by the same family for over 100 years. Zuleta now hosts two hugely important conservation projects.
The Andean Condor is on the critically endangered list and it is estimated that there are only 90 birds left in the wild in the whole of Ecuador. Their ‘Condor Huasi Project’ has been operating for ten years, rescuing wounded condors and taking in birds which have been illegally held in captivity. In July 2015 a condor chick hatched which was named ‘Churi’, the first chick to survive to maturity and currently in the final stages of captivity before being released into the wild later this month. This project is a massive step forward in the conservation of this incredible bird. Watch this space for progress reports!
There are a number of trails around the estate where visitors now have a reasonable chance of seeing Spectacled Bears. Their conservation project has run for seven years and is part of the National Working Group on the Andean Bear. This is mainly about habitat protection and monitoring their movement, but the possibility of seeing or hearing them adds to the experience of a local hike.
Both ranches also provide an excellent family experience: visitors will see a wide variety of birds and mammals, some of which feature in a selection of our favourite photos from our visits to these two wonderful places. All these projects are reliant on donations – anyone interested in giving them support should please contact us.