Building a Voice for Nature in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Gannon-Nagle, Sarah | Endangered Species Bulletin, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Building a Voice for Nature in Latin America and the Caribbean


Gannon-Nagle, Sarah, Endangered Species Bulletin


From the high-elevation forests of Central America's Talamanca Mountains to the dry woodlands of Bolivia's Gran Chaco, and from the wild Cerrado savannas of Brazil to the fragile island ecosystems of the West Indies, the complexity and richness of species and habitats found in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) make it one of the most environmentally significant regions on the planet. It is home to an estimated 40 percent of the world's biological diversity (United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], 2003).

The region contains the largest freshwater wetlands and tropical rainforests, as well as one of the world's most important coral reefs, second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (USAID, 2005). Its river systems also support remarkable biodiversity; the Amazon River basin alone contains more than 2,500 species of fish, or approximately half of the world's known fish species (UNEP 2003). In addition, South America has one of the highest concentrations of mammal species in the world (Ceballos & Ehrlich, 2006), such as the giant otter of the Pantanal, the little red brocket deer of the Andes, and the La Plata river dolphin that inhabits the estuaries of the Atlantic coast. Tropical islands, including those made famous by Charles Darwin for their spectacular endemic species, dot the region's oceans.

These incredible resources, upon which people around the globe depend for clean air, regulation of climate systems, and medical discoveries, are increasingly at risk. Habitat loss in Latin America occurs at an alarming pace; the region has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. In addition, climate change is causing unprecedented stress on wildlife and ecosystems. Population growth and the consumption of resources are increasing, which in turn is escalating development. A former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, recently summarized the increasing speed of development in the region: "The construction of infrastructure - dams, roads, pipelines, transmission corridors - is an attempt to do in the space of 10 to 15 years all that has been done in the North American continent in the last 150 years." Without sound conservation planning, it is likely that development will occur at a scale that alters the Amazon basin forever.

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The need for increased conservation on a regional scale is made more urgent by the fact that the number of natural resources professionals in much of the LAC region is disproportionately small, due in large part to scarce training opportunities. The number of formal conservation education programs in the United States is approximately twice that of Latin America (Rodriguez et al., 2005), yet the U.S. contains an only an estimated 10 percent of the word's biodiversity.

Because of the great need for conservation training, capacity building --the promotion and enhancement of in-country management of wildlife and other natural resources - is a central component of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Without Borders Latin America and the Caribbean (WWBLAC) Regional Program. The program supports a variety of training opportunities throughout the region. Participants include graduate students, managers of protected areas, natural resource professionals, and community leaders. In the past five years, more than 3,000 people in the region have benefitted from conservation programs supported by Wildlife Without Borders.

WWB-LAC has a 20-year history of cultivating future conservation leaders. The first partnerships established through WWB-LAC have been with three leading academic institutions in the region: the National University of Costa Rica, the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and the University of Cordoba in Argentina. …

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