Visitors come from around the world to watch birds and enjoy nature at reserves managed by ABC partners. In these wild places, they enjoy the spectacular show nature provides daily — mixed flocks of colorful tanagers flitting among epiphytic orchids in the emerald tree canopy, iridescent hummingbirds sipping nectar, curious monkeys, stunning waterfalls … all in vast landscapes conserved for future generations.
Nature presents the players, but this show is facilitated and protected by skilled, on-the-ground conservation technicians, including rangers and guards who patrol reserve boundaries, maintain infrastructure, and bolster community relations, as well as dedicated in-country accountants, fundraisers, and other administrators who ensure that conservation projects operate efficiently and are adequately funded.
To maintain conservation gains and expand work into new areas to save additional species in need, ABC invests in “capacity building” — helping individual conservationists and organizations work better through improved equipment, tools, training, and other resources. Success in capacity building is best demonstrated by nature reserves that generate enough revenue to be financially self-sufficient; organizations that thrive and expand their work; and a new generation of conservationists rising to lead.
This is the story of a few of these often under-appreciated heroes, upon which long-term conservation depends — rising conservation leaders supported by ABC's funding, training, and mentorship. These four work tirelessly to ensure effective conservation of threatened birds and the myriad species sharing their habitats.
Tjalle Boorsma is the Conservation Program Director at Asociación Armonía, leading bird conservation projects throughout Bolivia. An arborist from the Netherlands with a thirst for adventure, Tjalle joined Armonía in 2015 to serve as the Barba Azul Nature Reserve Coordinator in charge of reserve development and sustainability. He participated in the first rangewide Blue-throated Macaw census and led arduous expeditions through the flooded savanna by horseback to find the previously unknown breeding areas of this Critically Endangered species' northwestern population, which congregates at Barba Azul when not nesting.
Tjalle and his team spearheaded a sustainable cattle-ranching initiative in Bolivia's Beni Savanna with three objectives: (1) to create a replicable ranching business model to replace existing practices that overgraze, over-use fire, and plant nonnative grasses; (2) to provide revenue for the reserve's longterm management costs; and (3) to determine, with the help of a Ph.D. student, the best grazing rotations to manage short-grass habitat for migratory Buff-breasted Sandpipers.
Tjalle has also advanced a successful fire management strategy at the reserve that has prevented blazes from encroaching from neighboring ranches. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2020, he received the prestigious Future For Nature Award (from the Future For Nature Foundation in the Netherlands).
With the award proceeds, Armonía staff will continue developing their sustainable cattle ranching program, conduct more research at the newly discovered macaw breeding grounds, and expand environmental outreach for ranchers to adopt sustainable practices that help protect breeding Blue-throated Macaws.
— Wendy Willis
Bradley Watson is a Science Officer at Bahamas National Trust (BNT), joining in 2019 as the organization's lead on a collaborative project with ABC focused on understanding and protecting the Bahamian wintering habitat of the Kirtland's Warbler.
When Hurricane Dorian slammed Grand Bahama and Abaco in September 2019, he was called upon to lead research to measure the hurricane's impacts on endemic bird species, working in part with ABC.
Bradley enjoys lively conversation and music and has a deep love of Bahamian natural history, nurtured by his time at the Island School on Eleuthera. He attended university in the United States, first obtaining his B.S. in Biology at College of Charleston in South Carolina and then his M.Sc. in Biology at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he studied carbon sequestration in grasslands.
Bradley has strong entrepreneurial leanings, evidenced by his ongoing work to obtain his MBA, also from the University of Nebraska. Bradley's business savvy has been an asset for the Kirtland's Warbler program, which includes an agricultural component and considers the projected environmental and economic impacts of sea level rise and drier winters on Kirtland's Warbler habitat.
Dave Ewert, ABC's Kirtland's Warbler Program Director, observes: “Not only is Bradley raising BNT's bird conservation capacity, but his broad ecological background, creativity, and knowledge of local biodiversity have greatly strengthened our ability to advance management activities for Kirtland's Warblers in The Bahamas.”
— George E. Wallace
Bárbara Cavalcante is the Northeast Atlantic Forest Project Coordinator for SAVE Brasil. She started with the organization thanks to a grant from the Latin American Reserve Stewardship Initiative (LARSI). The grant, issued in 2015, supported sustainable development of the Serra do Urubu Reserve, a protected area home to many endemic birds, including the Critically Endangered Orange-bellied Antwren, Endangered Long-tailed Woodnymph, and the spectacular Seven-colored Tanager.
Bárbara is from the city of Recife, a little more than three-hours' drive from the reserve in northeastern Brazil. She has a Master's degree in Plant Biology from the Federal University of Pernambuco. Along with strengthening protection and expanding the reserve, Bárbara has strived to promote Serra do Urubu with local communities and tourists by developing an interpretive trail, a canopy observation tower, and a popular hummingbird garden — elements that both entertain and educate visitors to this 894-acre reserve in the state of Pernambuco.
Bárbara is now co-leading SAVE Brasil's multi-year Northeastern Atlantic Forest Corridor Project, an ambitious initiative that will create a 30-mile corridor connecting the two most regionally important remaining forest fragments at Serra do Urubu and Murici Ecological Station through reforestation and stimulating the creation of Private Nature Reserves along the way.
Bárbara is also coordinating implementation of the ABC-supported Alagoas Antwren Emergency Plan at Murici, in Alagoas state. Only 17 Alagoas Antwrens were counted in the most recent survey at Murici, the only known location for this species.
— Bennett Hennessey
Adrian Torres is the Director of Conservation and Development for Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) in Peru. Hired in 2019 with support from ABC, Adrian's path to this role started long ago.
Constantino Aucca (known as Tino), President of ECOAN, fondly recalls meeting an 11-year-old Adrian, a boy accompanying his grandparents when they sold ECOAN the first parcel of what is now the Abra Patricia Private Conservation Area. Today, ECOAN protects 24,783 acres of cloud forest at Abra Patricia in northern Peru, where the Long-whiskered Owlet and many other endemic species live.
As a child, Adrian enjoyed exploring nature and drawing or painting what he saw. He made his way to Lima, where he obtained a B.S. in Biology at the National University of San Marcos and worked at the Javier Prado Museum of Natural History. Tino and Adrian got to know each other better on ECOAN field expeditions, and today, Adrian is an ECOAN leader who has developed important systems for project tracking and reporting.
Illustrating how ABC strives to share innovation among its partners, under Adrian's leadership, ECOAN is adopting reserve monitoring tools developed by another ABC partner, Fundación Jocotoco in Ecuador.
Tino is pleased with how things have turned out, noting: “Many times, life offers you opportunities that, if you don't recognize them and grab them, will never return. Adrian is that and much more for me, and I consider myself the father, teacher, and friend of a boy who asked the world only for an opportunity.”
— George E. Wallace
When possible, ABC includes management and capacity building into project proposals from the start, but to ensure long-term success, we need ongoing support for these activities. ABC has been fortunate to count on critical contributions from individuals like Patricia and David Davidson, and foundations like the Jeniam Foundation and blue moon fund, among many others, through the years.
Since 2015, the March Conservation Fund, which partners with ABC to implement the Latin American Reserve Stewardship Initiative (LARSI), has granted $1.8 million to 17 organizations in support of capacity building at our partners' headquarters and reserves. Supported activities include staffing, training, website production, audits, and business plans.
LARSI supported salaries, training, and leadership development for Tjalle, Bárbara, and Adrian. Bradley has been supported by ABC thanks to a gift from the late Jeanne Graham of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; ABC and BNT are jointly raising funds to continue his work.
Bradley's work following Hurricane Dorian and Tjalle's fire management strategy illustrate how capacity building is critical for our partners to respond to disasters. Aside from hurricanes and destructive fires, ABC is helping partners respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic as well, with emergency financial support.
Photo credits: Tjalle Boorsma by Wendy Willis; Bradley Watson by Elijah Sands, Bahamas National Trust; Bárbara Cavalcante and Adrian Torres by Daniel J. Lebbin.