In 1947, Christopher Isherwood undertook a six-month tour of South America, concentrating on cultural sites, large cities and hobnobbing with local grandees. The title of the travelogue he wrote about the trip, The Condor and the Cows, sums up how most Europeans felt about South America. While the condor has since been pushed to near-extinction, the cows have persisted: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela are still seen by outsiders as primarily farming nations and global breadbaskets.
Other Latin American countries are known for their wine, coffee, tropical fruits, soya beans and fishmeal. Colombia, the most biodiverse country in the world per square kilometre, is known more for its exports of cocaine than for its dazzling birdlife.
But conservationists across several countries are trying to redress this imbalance. At the end of 2020, the Rewilding Argentina Foundation reported that the first red-and-green macaw chicks had been born in the north-east’s Iberá wetlands for over a century. Hunted for their feathers, meat and as pets, and decimated by habitat loss, the birds are listed as critically endangered in Argentina; another once-widespread species, the blue-grey glaucous macaw, is now possibly extinct.
Elena Martin, who oversees the macaw breeding project, says: “The reproduction of the scarlet macaw in the wild is very important for our project because it helps us create sustainable populations so they fulfil their role in the ecosystem.” Macaws help spread seeds and repopulate areas with trees.
The macaws are part of an ambitious scheme to reintroduce several animals to their former ranges, including anteaters, lowland tapirs, pampas deer, collared peccaries, giant river otters and jaguars; the restoration of apex predators and carnivores is vital to controlling other populations and balancing the food chain. Two jaguar cubs were born in captivity in November 2020 and it is hoped jaguars can be released into the wild in the coming year.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government recently passed into law wide-reaching sustainable tourism policies under the banner Together With Nature. The country’s vice-minister for tourism, Julián Guerrero Orozco – who used to work as a wildlife guide in Tanzania – says the country is only now waking up to its potential as a nature-tourism destination. “We have an opportunity to build a new kind of tourism, which is more serious and better researched. I really believe Colombia could provide a model for sustainability for the rest of the world.” Colombia is a signatory of the Future of Tourism Coalition, which commits members to a range of ecological and environmental goals.
This is an excerpt from an article by Chris Moss, originally published by The Guardian.