As humanity continues to battle rampant environmental problems such as pollution, climate change and habitat destruction, the planet’s most vulnerable species need us now more than ever – a fact that Bird Life International CEO Patricia Zurita knows this all too well. As this renowned institution approaches its centenary, Zurita continues a long legacy of women-led initiatives to preserve the earth’s avian biodiversity, while simultaneously ensuring that BirdLife International addresses new and existing issues from a contemporary perspective. .
For ForbesZurita offers a broad overview of some of the world’s best destinations for avitourism alongside some of BirdLife International’s greatest achievements in its century-long history.
What do you think is the best country in the world for avitourism?
Oh, you’re trying to get me in trouble with this one! Every country has spectacular birds. As a native Ecuadorian, I’m proud to say that my country is home to 1,654 species of birds, from tanagers and birds of prey in the Andes to hummingbirds and toucans in the lowlands to the amazing birds of the Galápagos Islands – and a tremendous Ecotourism Infrastructure.
Of course, there are many countries in South America that I would put on this list. I would say that any bird lover should also have Colombia on their bucket list. Colombia is home to nearly 2,000 species of birds and comprises about 20% of all bird diversity in the world, which is why it is sometimes called the “world’s most bird-loving country”. It has several mountain ranges, spectacular plains and magnificent coastlines.
There are great ecotourism birding options in Colombia that allow you to support local economies while experiencing all that Colombia has to offer, from its birds to its landscapes to its culture.
What kind of initiatives has BirdLife International worked on to protect avian biodiversity in Colombia and other Andean countries?
Asociación Calidris, our BirdLife partner in Colombia, has done a great job of protecting birds and their habitats in Colombia and the rest of the continent. As with other Andean countries, we work with our partner Aves y Conservación in my home country, Ecuador, and with Asosiación Armonía in Bolivia, CODEFF in Chile and Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos in Peru.
We are also proud to partner with the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Network of Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Funds (RedLAC) on Conserva Aves, a powerful coalition to increase the protection of birds and their habitat. in the Andes. Region. Through Conserva Aves (meaning “conserving the birds” in Spanish), we aim to establish more than 80 new protected natural areas totaling nearly five million acres and improve ecological management across a network of vital landscapes of similar size. .
How has BirdLife International’s global vision evolved since its inception in 1922?
A century ago, visionary conservationists came together to form an international movement to protect birds and the environment we all share. This same focus and commitment continues to this day, but the urgency of the mission has increased exponentially.
Ensuring wildlife survival and habitat protection is inseparable from ensuring humanity’s own survival. And we know that we must take the necessary steps to do so today. We can’t set wonderful new goals and then find out five or ten years later that we’ve failed. We need to create new systems that focus on nature and the value it has in our lives, including economically, and work with local communities around the world who are most at risk from climate change and the loss of biodiversity and natural resources.
This is another shift from 100 years ago – the recognition that conservation must be led by and benefit from local communities and indigenous peoples around the world.
What initiatives is BirdLife International planning in honor of its 100th anniversary?
BirdLife has achieved a lot over the past 100 years: 2,000 of nature’s most important sites have been protected, including 2 million hectares of rainforest; hundreds of globally threatened bird species have benefited from the work of BirdLife partnerships; 10 million people around the world have mobilized to protect birds and nature.
But we also know that we must take drastic action today to protect the natural world. At least a million species are threatened with extinction, changes in our climate are causing unprecedented natural disasters and the pressures we are exerting on our planet are unsustainable. The next decade is critical – humanity and nature are at a tipping point and there can be no more delay.
To celebrate the past 100 years and take the necessary steps to focus our energy on the next ten years, we are hosting the BirdLife World Congress in September. BirdLife will bring together global thought leaders in London to explore topics ranging from biodiversity and climate change to conservation funding and the links between the health of our planet and human health.
For those looking to take action, they can become a Member of Bird Life Where make a donation. We need business and philanthropy leaders to rise to the challenge of creating effective partnerships that benefit both people and nature, something BirdLife has strong expertise in designing. People around the world can also contribute to science by observing and documenting the birds in your own backyard or the ones you see peeking out of windows. Events such as living spring and the big world day need volunteers who can participate from the comfort of their own home or with friends at a local park.
What are some of BirdLife International’s greatest successes relating to a particular species or nation?
BirdLife recently partnered with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, and the governments and communities of China, Korea, Thailand and nine other Southeast Asian countries. East and Pacific to launch the East Asian and Australasia Flyways Partnership— a $3 billion effort that will allow loans and grants to be invested in projects that can help ecosystems recover and local people prepare for the challenges of climate change.
The flyway (a route followed by migrating birds) is an organizing principle, but what we are really doing is designing a new nature-based economic system that will invest in the protection and restoration of critical wetlands that are essential for 50 million migratory birds and 200 million people.
Another achievement we are proud of is our work with vultures around the world. Vultures are remarkable birds – they are nature’s cleanup crew and play a vital role in disposing of carcasses and preventing the spread of disease. It might surprise some people to learn that in its lifetime, a single vulture provides waste disposal services worth around $11,600. But vultures are disappearing at an alarming rate, as human activities have both accidentally and deliberately caused huge population declines in Africa, Asia and beyond. BirdLife’s Asian Vulture Program has helped steer species away from the brink of extinction and we are delighted to be working with our partners in Africa to be able to apply these lessons and techniques there.
Finally, a timely example: BirdLife’s partner, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, has just worked with the government of the Republic of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean to designate the endangered Mauritian Kestrel as the national bird of Mauritius. The kestrel was once the world’s most endangered bird of prey, with only four known individuals still alive in the early 1970s. But concerned Mauritian citizens banded together, forming an international coalition including BirdLife, The Peregrine Fund, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and other organizations and have saved the bird from the brink of extinction, proving what is possible when we are determined and work together.
What are some sustainable practices birdwatchers should keep in mind when visiting developing countries?
We have a responsibility to listen and learn from the local communities who know and cherish their landscapes and seascapes best, so I encourage anyone who may be interested in visiting a new country for birding purposes to be respectful guests.
One way to do this is to seek out tours organized and guided by locals. For example, BirdLife partners National Audubon Society and Asociación Calidris worked with Patrimonio Natural to develop the The bird trail of northern Colombia. The trail is a network of trained professional birding guides and operators, key birding sites, and small businesses and support services. The project trained more than 30 locals to become bird tour guides, including a group of Wayuu, an indigenous ethnic group that resides on the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia. Tours in Manakin is one of the providers that birdwatchers can work with when planning their trip to and around Colombia.
I also recommend using a bird field guide when visiting a new country, either a book focused on the birds of the area, or a digital app like Cornell’s Merlin, which allows you to download information about the birds of a specific region or country.
What are some of your favorite birds that you have seen in person in the wild?
Although I’m tempted to share some of my favorite migratory bird species, I’ll instead focus on the Andean condor, a beautiful vulture that can be found in my home country of Ecuador and around the world. other Andean countries. It is the national symbol of five South American countries and it is an important symbol in the coat of arms of Ecuador. It plays a vital role in the local ecosystem, but is currently threatened by habitat loss and secondary lead poisoning. The ten foot wingspan of the Andean condor takes my breath away every time I see it and it reminds me why our work to protect vultures and other birds is so important.