What We Win When We Stop the Fire: Protecting the Blue-throated Macaw SEARCH NEWS


Asociación Armonía’s nestboxes have ensured 93 Blue-throated Macaw chicks reach the fledging stage (25% of the global population), with work now to keep them safe from fire inside and outside the reserve. Image credit: Daniel Alarcón.

The numbers of Blue-throated Macaw are rising in Bolivia thanks to the hard work of World Land Trust (WLT) partner Asociación Armonía, but the spectre of fire always looms close. Rangers have ramped up fire defences in a particularly tricky season – and they need your help to keep the flames at bay.

Tjalle Boorsma’s bond with the Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis) goes back to 2015, when he joined our partner Asociación Armonía to manage the Barba Azul reserve in Bolivia.

Tjalle, a self-professed bird lover since the age of five, had known for decades his place was in bird conservation but did not harbour any particular obsession with macaws – until he began working with them. “The moment I began studying and understanding the Blue-throated Macaw behaviour I really started to build a deep connection,” he remembers today.

For Tjalle, the passion was crucial in the intervening years; it guided his actions at the head of Armonía’s Blue-throated Macaw monitoring programme. Since 2015, he and his team have worked hard to gauge the numbers and challenges facing these Critically Endangered birds – a species endemic to Bolivia and so threatened it is thought only a few hundred individuals are left in the wild.

For a species like the Blue-throated Macaw, conservation donations go a long way. The species numbers 312-455 wild birds and yet 155 were once seen flying safe within the reserve on a single day. Credit: Sebastian Herzog/Asociacion Armonia.

A large parrot cloaked in turquoise and bright yellow plumage, the charisma of the Blue-throated Macaw needs little explaining. For Tjalle, the species has also brought a very particular sort of satisfaction – the joy felt by those working to protect something rare, when every action has the potential to make a great difference.

These macaws may only number an estimated 312-455 individuals and yet Tjalle once counted 155 in one go, flying back to their roost within a single “incredible” afternoon. Meanwhile, Asociación Armonía’s nestbox programme has ensured a total of 93 chicks – 25% of the global population – reach the fledging stage in recent years, 12 during 2020 alone.

Fire prevention key as macaw fly into uncertain skies

The individual conservation milestones do not mask the overall vulnerability of the Blue-throated Macaw, whose habitat is restricted and exposed to fire.

Tjalle had barely joined our partner Asociación Armonía in 2015 when a large fire swept through Barba Azul, torching 30-40% of a large cluster of palm trees within the reserve. Armonía then worked to ramp up fire defences and has since largely kept flames at bay. The fires that do take place tend to dissipate before they reach the man-made forest islands where macaw roost during the dry season.

Nestboxes aside, Asociación Armonía is working to protect Blue-throated Macaw by promoting sustainable, anti-fire practices at the cattle ranches where the birds breed. Credit: Picasa.

It is when rainy season kicks in around November that Barba Azul’s Blue-throated Macaw leave for breeding sites beyond the reserve, and there they are vulnerable. At privately owned ranch land, the birds unknowingly enter a habitat severely affected by fires – swathes of richer palm trees that catch fire more easily than those in the reserve, with agricultural burns adding to the threat.

As Tjalle reports, Asociación Armonía has been hard at work mitigating fire risks in these areas beyond its direct control. Sustainable cattle management practices such as land rotation are being promoted among owners of land where the macaw breed while within Barba Azul itself, pilot ranching areas will offer a model – an example on how to manage land while protecting the species and the soil.

Success with these fire prevention actions will be key if the Blue-throated Macaw is to recover from their Critically Endangered status. Asociación Armonía is making progress but it needs your help with 2020’s fire season, with blazes raging from the Amazon to the Arctic. Fire has already hit the reserves of American and Armenian WLT partners,  this month reaching a jaguar sanctuary in Paraguay.

By supporting our Wildfire Appeal, you can help secure the equipment and training Asociación Armonía and our other partners need to keep the flames at bay. Donate today and become a champion for the Blue-throated Macaw – make sure they fly the Barba Azul skies for many more years still!


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Last year, we watched the world on fire. From the Arctic to Australasia, every image of burning landscapes was horrifying, so this year, with your help, we ...