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Landscape management for wildlife conservation

(22 February 2019)

During December and January, I collaborated with UNDP for the evaluation of the GEF project “landscapes and wildlife”, which is executed by the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The project was innovative because it is essentially the first GEF project in the continent that fully focuses on wildlife conservation. Moreover, this conservation is done through landscape management: instead of targeting any individual species or specific areas, the project works with an integrated landscape management approach, that includes protected and non-protected areas as well as agricultural zones. The project wants to collaborate with farmer communities and forest dwellers so that the entire territory will become a safe habitat for emblematic and vulnerable species such as the Andean condor, spectacled bear, jaguar and manatee.

In general, the project was very successful with many positive outcomes such as the establishment of three new conservation and sustainable use areas (ACUS) and the declaration of the largest Ramsar wetland in the country. Collaboration with local communities generated positive experiences through their projects to raise small animals as a protein source aiming at reducing their interaction with natural wildlife.

I was  most impressed with the paradigm-change around the management of human-wildlife conflicts. Close to protected areas and with increasing management effectiveness, the abundance of wildlife that interacts with agriculture is increasing. Particularly in the Andes, there are many cases of Andean bears that have feasted on maize fields or attached young cattle. The traditional way to manage these conflicts is to consider the wildlife as the problem and to take measures to capture, transfer or even eliminate the ‘problematic’ animal. The current project, however, applied a fully different approach that focused on the humans instead of wildlife. It tried to avoid human-wildlife interactions through better agricultural practice. These were quite simple measures such as drinking points so that cattle did not have to walk a long way to find water from the river (and then can be attacked by bear) or improved spatial planning of maize fields to complicate access for bears. With this, conflicts were practically reduced to zero. This has given me an important lesson: conservation can be very easy if we learn to co-exist with nature instead of seeing it as a problem.