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A community-centric approach to conservation in Peru’s Colibri cloud forest

3 Jan 2018
Rainforest Partnership focuses on fostering ecotourism, breeding endemic butterflies and creating protected areas

By Chantelle Barretto, a writer intern at Rainforest Partnership. Any views expressed are her own.

Conservation must encompass so much more than simply roping off vast swaths of natural areas and preserving pristine natural ecosystems.

At a time when human settlements are encroaching into previously unmarred territory, and interest in exploring new areas is growing, we need to think more holistically and realistically about conservation of the complex and invaluable biospheres scattered across the planet.

At the Rainforest Partnership, we strive to encompass a holistic approach to conservation in our myriad efforts and initiatives. The Colibri Cloudforest Project, which began in 2008 as a partnership between the Rainforest Partnership and the central Peruvian communities of San Antonio and Calabaza, is aimed at creating infrastructure and commerce that not only generate income for local people but also offers economic incentives to protect the region’s fecund natural environment.

To achieve these goals, the Rainforest Partnership has focused on three independent projects: fostering ecotourism, breeding endemic butterflies and creating protected areas. The Colibri cloud forest, nestled deep in the heart of the Andean Amazon, is home to a wealth of biodiversity – including the national bird of Peru, the Cock of the Rock.

Despite the natural beauty of the area, its accessibility has so far been limited.

One of the key accomplishments of the project has been to improve roads, forest trails, and infrastructure, which make the area more easily accessible to tourists. Goals for the coming year include developing an advertising campaign to bring more tourists to San Antonio, where they can take part in an experience that highlights the main attractions of the area: the Cock of the Rocks Waterfall, a visit to the butterfly garden, and a stay at the local eco-hotel – all led by local tour guides.

The oldest of the programs encompassed in the Colibri project is the butterfly sanctuary – which entailed the creation of a safe haven for endemic butterflies. The sanctuary, equipped with four flight zones and a plethora of host plants, is now home to 15 species of butterflies. Locals in the communities are trained by scientists in breeding the butterflies and releasing them back into the environment to repopulate their natural habitats.

The success of the butterfly sanctuary prompted another goal for 2018: to establish a beekeeping project. The collapse of bee colonies worldwide is one of grave global significance; the aim of the beekeeping project is not only to revitalize the area’s bee population but also to generate income. The commercialization of products like beeswax, propolis, pollen and royal jelly can be fed back into the community and into the project as a self-sustaining way to enhance biodiversity. This project would focus on a selection of families who will receive technical training to ensure that the products generated are sustainably produced, and are of a high standard.

The final component of the Colibri Cloudforest Project’s 2018 plan is to establish a restoration strategy in San Antonio and neighboring communities that encompasses both the reforestation of land in degraded areas and the cultivation of agroforestry in coffee and timber.

The Rainforest Partnership has collaborated with local lawmakers to designate the forest in the region as an officially protected area to allow regeneration projects to flourish without the intrusion of outside forces. A key tenet of this initiative is to restore damaged land to fecundity that can be sustained for centuries. Whether the land is then used to cultivate coffee crops, trees for timber, or to foster biodiversity, the methods and practices implemented by the local community to maintain them are designed to be low-cost but sustainable in the very long run.

The efforts of the Rainforest Partnership in the Colibri cloud forest are based on years of careful research and planning. The ultimate aim of the organization is both to revitalize and protect vast swaths of precious tropical rainforests, as well as to revitalize and buoy local communities economically.

Ensuring that projects have the full buy-in of the communities involved and grow into self-sustaining enterprises is the keystone of a successful conservation effort — and that is what the Rainforest Partnership has striven to accomplish, not only in Colibri, but also in the regions of Sani Isla, Achuar, and Chipaota.

We hope that by creating long-term economic incentives to maintain rainforest health and biodiversity, we can envision a future in which tropical rainforests can support a healthy, vibrant planet.

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