Good news is always welcome in these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and such news has recently arrived from Paso Pacífico, a Nicaraguan NGO engaged in conservation activities in that country. Paso Pacífico’s mission is to restore and protect the Pacific Slope ecosystems of Mesoamerica, reconnecting people and wildlife. Guided by Paso Pacífico, restoring these damaged ecosystems and reconnecting them to support wildlife is happening through lots of people working hand in hand. Some of the key strategies include protecting core areas, especially to assist farmers to revive forest fragments on their lands.
The foundation for Paso Pacífico’s long-term goal to reconnect Mesoamerica’s dry tropical forests is its first wildlife corridor, the Paso del Istmo Biological Corridor. It is located in the narrow isthmus that separates the Pacific Ocean and Central America’s largest lake, Lake Nicaragua, and has the potential to connect Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife with north-western Nicaragua. Yellow-naped Amazons (Amazona auropalliata) are found in these dry forests, where they eat wild fruits and spread the seeds to new sites. Thus, the important role of the Yellow-naped Amazon in sustaining forest health persuaded Paso Pacífico to adopted it as a flagship species, and the Loro Parque Fundación to commence its support of the project in 2008.
Sadly, the wild population of the species seems to be plummeting almost everywhere in its geographical distribution, resulting in the Yellow-naped Amazon being listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, the Paso del Istmo Biological Corridor in Nicaragua is an exception to this trend. Here, the population has stabilized, and there are even indications that it is increasing. Through youth education, careful nest and population monitoring, and conservation incentives paid to local people, the project is successfully reversing declines in this endangered species. One element of the project which holds great promise for the future of conservation in Nicaragua is the ‘Junior Ranger’ programme, whereby Paso Pacifico educates children ages 8 to 12 about local ecology and conservation.
One technical innovation which has really helped the monitoring of natural and artificial nests has been installation of camera traps which, through video and photos, have been able to capture a level of detail previously not possible. Furthermore, as in previous years the project benefited community members which act as nest guardians. In 2020, ten rural families earned conservation incentive payments from protecting 32 baby Yellow-naped Amazons, with US$2,600 paid out in total. Such incentives made a difference to families during these difficult times, given that the minimum wage in Nicaragua in the agricultural sector is just under $95 a month. Each nest guardian family received an average of about $260, or just over $81 per amazon chick successfully fledged. One farmer, a former parrot poacher, contacted the Paso Pacifico team to say thank you, and that without the incentive programme his family would not have had food to eat this year.
Such hardship has also directly touched Paso Pacífico, which in June tragically lost to COVID-19 a long-time member of its team, Luis Fernando Díaz Chávez, a brilliant ornithologist. However, Paso Pacífico, on its 15th anniversary this year, is committed to fulfilling its mission, and has sent the uplifting news that the 2020 nesting season was a record year for Yellow-naped Amazon babies. No less than 39 young Yellow-naped Amazons fledged from their nests and are now flying free in Nicaragua. This number far surpasses the project’s previous in-country record of 29 young parrots.
Paso Pacífico is also forging ahead with its broader strategy for the future. It co-founded in 2019 a network called the ‘Alliance for Yellow-naped Amazons’, to design conservation action plans for the amazons. It is coordinating closely with El Salvador’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources as it develops a national conservation plan for the Yellow-naped Amazon. In El Salvador scientists estimate that there are fewer than 250 individuals remaining in the entire country. Paso Pacífico has also joined a new anti-wildlife-trafficking network called ‘Parrots without Borders’ which is active in both Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Such collaboration has helped to make possible the bumper crop of young amazons in 2020, and will surely help to make strides for the conservation of Central America’s amazing wildlife.
Author: David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación
Photos: Paso Pacífico