Fieldwork in the Bolivian Pantanal and the importance of community engagement

Roshan has spent 6 months studying macaws in Bolivia as part of his Biodiversity and Conservation project. Here he shares stories from his final week before heading off to Peru.


With my time here in Bolivia assisting with the Bolivian Parrots Conservation Foundation now at an end, my final week with the project was spent in the Bolivian Pantanal. We began our journey on the 1st November, and passed through various villages, and passing spectacular sceneries. And then finally on the 3rd, we made our way to our camp site, passing through pristine Chiquitano Dry Forest.

However, we then began passing through roads that had been badly affected by some rains a few days earlier, until we came across some people that had been stuck for around two and a half days, after about 45 minutes, we eventually helped pull them out, to then get stuck ourselves about an hour later!

This lasted about 2 hours or so, and we were eventually helped by the people we pulled out earlier, only for them to then get stuck themselves! Two more jeeps them turned up, offering their help, with one of the jeeps too getting stuck. And this was where good social relations were made, through communication and offering help, and sticking together. The whole event to pull the cars out took around 8 hours. All of us then continued on ensuring no cars were left behind. But some time later, we encountered a large flooded which seemed far too risky to pass through, but with encouragement and help from everyone, all cars successfully crossed with minimal difficulty.

After this, we then eventually arrived at the house we would be camping in.

The next morning, we had an early start to begin our fieldwork on the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus). The aim was to collect data on the ecological role of the macaw. The seed dispersion role of psittacines has largely been overlooked, and thus a study on the hyacinth macaw is in progress to prove otherwise.

And so, we conducted feeding observations of the macaws to identify whether the macaws just predated on fruits, or also dispersed fruits away from the parent tree. And in areas occupied by ranches and thus domestic livestock, we observed for events of secondary dispersal, and we would count the number of fruits/nuts at the bottom of feeding and perching trees to calculate a frequency of dispersion. And by and large, the macaws predate more than they disperse seeds (a trend also observed in the Brazilian Pantanal), but this still disproves previous studies which claim psittacids do not disperse seeds.

We also monitored and searched for nest cavities for macaw activity, and found one nest with a pair of hyacinths, which will soon fledge in the nest month or so.

The fieldwork was cut slightly short due to rains, and so knowing the road would be even worse, we attempted to leave with some people we met on the way; on the 7th November; but we came up to a flooded area above chest height, and turned immediately around. We then spent the rest of the day socially engaging with these people, furthering relations between locals and conservationists. And so, throughout this week, the project has built a permanent relationship (on a working and social level) with these people, and it is hoped to collaborate with them to learn more about the pet trade in the local area and to hopefully earn the trust of all the locals to better the conservation of the hyacinth macaw in this region.

We found out that a plane would collect us the next day, and when the plane did arrive, we knew it was going to be an unforgettable flight!

It was a two-passenger seat plane, with four people and all our bags! So conditions were very cramped, but the views were stunning, flying over untouched, pristine Chiquitano Forest, for almost an hour!

We then landed in the village of Roboré, where we were given the pleasant hospitality by one of the persons we met (as, as it turned out, he is the owner of a water company in this village) to stay at his house until the evening. He gave us a little tour of the village, taking us to a resort with natural swimming pools, surrounded by forest, and then to these thermal springs, both of which were incredible!

Thus, it was important that we didn’t leave anyone behind on the flooded road, and that we waited until the cars were freed, and stuck together for the rest of the journey. Had we left everyone to be able to begin our fieldwork, such relations may not have been created, and the respect of such influential people may not have been earned. And in Bolivia, having good relations with ranch owners and the locals is paramount to the conservation of wildlife, as protected areas still occupied by ranchers with a variety of domestic animals.

Images from top to bottom:

1. Chiquitano Dry Forest

2-3. Helping a stuck jeep

4-5. Driving through the flood

6. A hyacinth

7. A group of hyacinths foraging on totaí (Acrocomia aculeata) trees.

8. Our private, two-passenger seat plane!

9 - 10. Views over untouched, pristine Chiquitano Forest.

11. Hyacinth team and the locals we created a good relationship with.

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