The proceeds of this year’s Birdfair will support the creation of Argentina’s largest national park, in the process providing a refuge for nearly a million flamingos and shorebirds.
Titled ‘Mar Chiquita: a haven for Argentina’s flamingos’, this year’s cause is a suitably ambitious way to mark 30 years of Birdfair supporting international conservation projects. Since 1989, Birdfair has raised funds, through sponsorship, exhibitor fees and entrances fees, for a conservation project suggested and managed by BirdLife International.
This year attention turns to supporting the creation of the proposed Ansenuza National Park, which will protect up to 800,000 hectares of Mar Chiquita (‘little sea’) – South America’s second-largest waterbody, and the fifth largest salt lake in the world. Spanning five miles (70km) by 15 miles (24km), an area the size of Leicestershire, this vast wetland is a literal oasis in the heartland of Argentina, in the Cordoba Province. Its waters, marshy fringes and surrounding grasslands positively thronging with wildlife.
Mar Chiquita’s most eye-catching visitors are the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that winter there. All three South American flamingo species can be found in abundance, including the globally threatened James’s or Puna Flamingo Phoenicoparrus jamesi. But the area is also home to an impressive spread of biodiversity, from the Maned Wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus (Near Threatened) – which resembles a fox on stilts – to the Crowned Solitary Eagles Buteogallus coronatus (Endangered), who roam over the surrounding dry, quebracho-stippled Chaco forest.
In recognition of its importance, Mar Chiquita drips with official designations – it is a Ramsar site, an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve and a provincial reserve. But despite this, Mar Chiquita Lake is shrinking. Water is being extracted at an unsustainable rate and the lake is in very real danger of drying up.
This threat has spurred Aves Argentinas (BirdLife’s national Partner) into taking action; raising environmental awareness, improving management of the site and clarifying issues of land ownership. But it is an uphill struggle. Further pressures, such as pollution, agricultural intensification, deforestation and unregulated tourism are hastening this vital wetlands’ demise.
In order to effectively combat these threats, Aves Argentinas has been instrumental in advocating for Mar Chiquita to become a National Park – offering the highest protection available within Argentina. “Being managed at the national rather than regional level guarantees greater protection” says Malena Srur, of Aves Argentinas. Previously, Aves Argentinas played a key role in the formation of Patagonia National Park, providing a refuge for one of the world’s most threatened birds, the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi (Critically Endangered)
The proceeds from this year’s Birdfair will bolster Aves Argentinas’ existing conservation strategy, which is based around community engagement – participatory planning, empowering local stakeholders and establishing a network of local conservation guardians.
Moreover, strengthening the local economy through nature-based tourism is fundamental to the project’s long-term success. “A vibrant ecotourism circuit at Ansenuza will lengthen the tourist season and generate sustainable livelihoods over a wider area. Local communities will become strongly committed to Ansenuza’s long-term conservation” says Srur.
“ I am delighted that Birdfair will be supporting the Argentina National Parks services in creating the largest National Park in the country and safeguarding a critical habitat for both resident and migratory birds” says Tim Appleton MBE, Founder & Birdfair Manager.