Community involvement and tourism as conservation aids in Paraguay (and a long list of birds!)

Teenagers from the Eco Club singing by the campfire

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who spent some time in Paraguay last year volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

John will shortly return from a World Land Trust staff and supporter trip to Paraguay and will no doubt report on the journey here in Green Issues, perhaps including an account of having finally seen in the wild that most elusive of animals: The jaguar. I hope so, but if he still hasn't been lucky enough to spot one, let's hope none of the first-time visitors in the group did when John was looking the other way, or there will be no end to his grumbles!

In the meantime I thought I'd squeeze in the last and long overdue account of my visit to Paraguay – now a distant six months ago.

Teenagers from the Eco Club singing by the campfire

"Los Exploradores" performing a song they had written themselves, complete with synchronised arm movements, which not everybody had mastered!

The Eco Club: Ensuring the future of the Pantanal is in safe hands

The Three Giants Lodge, the visitor facility at the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve in the north of Paraguay, was brand new when I was there, so our visit coincided with a dinner celebrating its opening. The local Eco Club and rangers attended and Guyra staff gave thanks to all who had helped realise the vision. (The work on the lodge is now completed and John and the others took part in its official grand opening last week.)

The Eco Club members are children and teenagers from the nearby community Bahía Negra, who, thanks to Guyra's involvement, are learning about reserve management and species identification. The idea is that responsibility for the management of the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve will soon lie completely with the local community, without the need for Guyra staff to travel quite so often between the capital and the reserve. For this to be achieved long-term it's essential to involve the younger generation. (Find out how you can support Guyra's community work in Bahía Negra here.)

Generally speaking not many local children stay in Bahía Negra when they grow up – there's simply not much there for them to do, and being located in a really isolated part of the country, the temptation to move south to the cities is great. The Eco Club provides some of the training needed to equip future reserve staff with key skills for managing the reserve and visitor facilities.

Most of my time in Paraguay was spent in the company of only a few people, so it was great to be able to meet with all the children of the Eco Club (who were very keen to practice their English) and witness their apparently endless enthusiasm for the club and the reserve.

The location of the lodge in the Pantanal.

This image, taken from a plane by Pepe Cartes of Guyra Paraguay, shows just how isolated the Three Giants Lodge is. The lodge is the small white square on the riverside, and it's completely surrounded by the vastness of the Pantanal wetland, forest and palm savannah.

Why visit Paraguay?

A few weeks ago I watched a TV programme about the (Brazilian) Pantanal and the giant otters living there. Seeing the floating lily leaves, the otters' heads bobbing up and down in the water and hearing the call of a Great Kiskadee and grunting of herons and jabirus, I was transported right back to the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve. If it wasn't for the distance and cost involved, I would not hesitate to make it my annual holiday destination!

The Pantanal is quite simply a fantastic place to go for a complete wilderness experience. The relatively high chance of seeing jaguars is a clear bonus! It's a heaven for birdwatchers too – as is the rest of the country. As John pointed out in an earlier blog post about visiting Paraguay: "Paraguay is at the cross-roads of several very important biogeographical regions. This makes it a very good place to go and see a huge range of species."

San Rafael, with its combination of forest and grassland, makes a perfect location for watching butterflies and birds – with the added bonus that it's relatively close to cities and airports. With a track running through the reserve it also makes it a tad more accessible to visitors who may not want to walk for miles along narrow forest trails.

Going to Paraguay also makes for a great conversation starter! If I had a penny for every person who asked me "Why Paraguay?"… Well, why not? The wildlife, the people, the cheap cost of getting around – and the fact that there weren't thousands of other tourists, made my trip thoroughly enjoyable.

For conservation projects to be successful in the long run, reducing the need for continuous donations and grants is an important factor. Tourism plays one part in the vision for making the Guyra reserves sustainable. This is a project still in its infancy, but I have no doubt that better facilities and services will be developed in the future, to make the reserves more attractive to the high-end of the market. (People like me, used to camping and bringing my own food to cut costs, just don't bring in that much money!)

In the meantime, adventurous travellers can get the best of two worlds: Intimate contact with nature, whilst sleeping in a comfortable bed!

More information about Paraguay and WLT's work there

See also the previous blog posts about my stay in Paraguay and some wildlife videos I made whilst in Paraguay, which can be seen on WLT's new multimedia website Wildlife Focus.

Jaguar in the Pantanal

Jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal © Bill Markham

Jaguars in the Pantanal on TV

WLT supporter Bill Markham kindly informed us of a project he has been working on, recording a series about the Pantanal (in Brazil) for Channel Five. Entitled Jaguar Adventure, the series starts 8th April at 7.30pm and from the synopsis it looks like it could be very interesting:

"The Pantanal – the world's biggest wetland, the size of Britain… and home to the planet's largest population of Jaguars. These big cats are notoriously hard to find, let alone film. But when Tigress Productions heard of a location where they were being sighted regularly, Nigel Marven couldn't wait to get there."

Becoming a birder… (Birds in Paraguay)

I knew very little about birds before going to Paraguay – not because I wasn't interested, but because I never had anyone to teach me, and always had a slight fear of binoculars (don't ask). Now, on the other hand, I feel as if I know more about birds in South America than I do about European birds, and have also managed to identify some species here in the UK that were previously unknown to me, based on their similarities to their South American cousins.

This list is in no way complete. Although my knowledge improved exponentially, thanks to the help from Guyra staff and knowledgeable rangers, I have a notebook full of scribbles and questionmarks that I have am unable to add. Still, I hope it will give some sort of idea of the birds that can be seen in the Pantanal, Chaco and Atlantic Forest. (I will gradually edit the list to include links to the photos I took of some of these birds, so if you are interested in seeing these, check back in a couple of weeks.)

Latin name English name
Tapera naevia Striped Cuckoo
Mita jaryi Great Kiskadee
Colaptes campestris Field Flicker
Milvago chimachima Yellow-headed Caracara
Pseudoleistes guirahuro Yellow-rumped Marshbird
Vanellus chilensis Southern Lapwing
Tyrannus savana Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Coragyps atratus Black Vulture
Progne chalybea Gray-breasted Martin
Falco sparvenius American kestrel
Pardirallus nigricanus Blackish Rail
Buteogallus meridionalis Savannah Hawk
Barypthengus ruficapillus Roufus-capped Motmot
Synallaxis ruficapilla Roufus-capped Spinetail
Chlorostilbon aureoventris Glittering-bellied Emerald
Hylocharis sapphirina Roufus-throated Sapphire
Pionopsitta pileata Red-capped Parrot
Milvago chimango Chimango Caracara
Ceryle torquata Ringed Kingfisher
Trogon surrucura Surucura Trogon
Rhea americana Greater Rhea
Rhynchotus rufescens Red-winged Tinamou
Nothura maculosa Spotted Nothura
Sturnella superciliaris White-browned Blackbird
Xanthopsar flavus Saffron-cowled Blackbird
Buteo albicaudatus White-tailed Hawk
Polystrictus pectoralis Bearded tachuri
Ammodramus humeralis Grassland Sparrow
Glaucidium brasilianum Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Donacospiza albifons Long-tailed Reed-finch
Coryphaspiza melanolis Black-masked Finch
Elothoeptus anomalus Sickle-winged Nightjar
Athene cunicularia Burrowing Owl
Circus buffoni Long-winged Harrier
Pyrocephalus rubinus Vermilion Flycatcher
Jacana jacana Wattled jacana
Phalacrocorax brasilicus Neotropical Cormorant
Anhinga anhinga Anhinga
Arunolinicola leucocephala White-headed marsh-tyrant
Amblyramphus holosericeus Scarlet-headed Blackbird
Stelgidopteryx ruficollis Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Platalea ajaja Roseate Spoonbill
Himantopus melanurus South American Stilt
Asio clamator Striped Owl
Busarellus nigricollis Black-collared Hawk
Sorophilia collaris Rushy-collared Seedeater
Hydropsalis torquata Scissor-tailed Nightjar
Nyctibius griseus Common Potoo
Otus choliba Tropical Screech-owl
Synalaxis albescens Pale-breasted Spinetail
Gubernetes yetapa Streamer-tailed Tyrant
Geothlypis aequinoctialis Masked Yellow-throat
Agelaius cyanopus Unicoloured Blackbird
Elaenia flavogaster Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Coryphospingus cucullatus Red-breasted Finch
Rynchops niger Black Skimmer
Phaetusa simplex Large-billed Tern
Sterna superciliaris Yellow-billed Tern
Caracara plancus Southern Crested-caracara
Cranioleuca obsoleta Olive Spinetail
Sittasomus griseicapillus Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Cacicus chrysopterus Golden-winged cacique
Synallaxis albescens Pale-breasted Spinetail
Cranioleuca obsoleta Olive Spinetail
Syndactyla rufosuperciliata Buff-browned Foliage-gleaner
Thamnophilus caerulescens Variable Antshrike
Caicus solitaris Solitary Black Cacique
Piaya cayana Squirrel Cuckoo
Dromococcyx phasiarellus Pheasant Cuckoo
Platyrinchus mystaceus White-throated Spadebill
Cyanocompsa brissonii Cyanocompsa brissonii
Tachycineta albiventer White-winged Swallow
Guira guita Guira Cuckoo
Ardea alba Great Egret
Ergetta thula Snowy Egret
Botaurus pinnatus Pinnated Bittern
Ardea cocoi White-necked Heron
Tigresoma lineatum Rufescent Tiger-heron
Nycticorax nycticorax Black-crowned Night-heron
Mycteria americana American Woodstork
Ciconia maguari Maguari Stork
Jabiru mycteria Jabiru
Theristicus caerulescens Plumbeous Ibis
Phimosus infuscatus Bare-faced Ibis
Dendrocygna autumnalis Black-bellied Whistling-duck
Butorides striatus Striated heron
Calindris melanotos Pectorial Sandpiper
Aramus juarauna Limkin
Chloroceyle amazona Amazon Kingfisher
Verniliornis passerinus Little Woodpecker
Lepidocolaptes angustostris Narrow-billed Woodcreeper
Melanerpes candidus White Woodpecker
Paroaria capilata Yellow-billed Cardinal
Fluvicola albiventer Black-backed Water-tyreant
Buteo gallus Great Black-hawk
Picoides mixtus Checkered Woodpecker
Colaptes melanochloros Green-barred Woodpecker
Piculus chrysochloros Golden-green Woodpecker
Ramphastos toco Toco Toucan
Heliomaster furicifer Blue-tufted Starthroat


(Many thanks to Pepe, Roberto, Rionaldo, Juan, Arne and Silvia for help with identification. Any errors in this list are entirely my own and most likely due to difficult to interpret handwriting and clumsy typing. Please do let me know if you spot any!)

Finally, a massive thank you to everybody at Guyra for having me, showing me around and making me speak Spanish (mostly), despite not being very good at it.




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