Meet: Tjalle Boorsma

Tjalle Boorsma is a Dutch ecologist and conservationist who studied Forest and Nature Management in Wageningen. He traveled to Bolivia for his Master’s thesis in 2011 and fell in love with the country and the blue-throated macaw. In 2015, he decided to stay in Bolivia to help protect the countries’ most endangered bird, of which only 450 individuals remain in the wild.

Extinct

In the 1980s, conservationists thought the blue-throated macaw had gone extinct in the wild, until some macaws were rediscovered in the 1990s. In the northern part of the tropical Beni savanna in Bolivia, birders spotted a group of seventeen specimens. Today, only 450 blue-throated macaws divided into three subpopulations live scattered across the Beni savannah.

  • Partner NGO: Asociación Armonía
  • Location: Bolivia
  • Focal species: lue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis)
  • Main Threats: Unsustainable cattle ranging and fire

  • Hectares acquired: 11.000 hectare Barba Azul & 681 hectare Laney Rickman
  • Year of support from IUCN NL: 2008 en 2014 Barba Azul, 2018 Laney Rickman.
  • Amount of support from IUCN NL: US$ 92,000 (Barba Azul), US$ 49,100 (Laney Rickman)

Protected areas

In 2014, Tjalle’s organization Armonía purchased 1,900 hectares in the northern part of the Beni savannah, where palm tree species grow that provide the macaws with food and nesting cavities. With the purchase, the existing Barba Azul Reserve increased to 11,000 hectares, creating a safe haven twice the size of Dutch National Park the Hoge Veluwe, right in the location where the blue-throated macaw had been rediscovered. This purchase was made possible by the IUCN NL Land Acquisition Fund and the Dutch National Postcode Lotery, amongst others.

The odds of saving these species further improved with the allocation of another grant by the IUCN NL Land Acquisition Fund in 2017, which enabled Armonia to secure an important 681 hectare breeding area for the southern population of these macaws: the Laney Rickman Reserve. To create even more nesting opportunities, Armonia installed specially designed artificial nesting boxes in the reserve, with support from ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo.

Expeditions

Tjalle participated in the first-ever global count of the blue-throated macaw. He has led several expeditions to discover the species’ breeding grounds. For one instance, he and an assistant set out for a month to find out where the macaws stay when the dry season is over. On horseback they traveled across the Beni savannah, locally called the Llanos de Moxos, an area three times the size of the Netherlands.

With success: they discovered 15 nests of the blue-throated macaw in dead palm trees in five different places. They learned that the macaws like to nest in a certain type of palm trees that had become rare due to cattle ranching. In order to make the land more fertile, farmers burn their grasslands every year, scorching the young palms in their fire. In addition, young palm trees have little chance of survival when cattle graze too much.

Successful protection and nest box program

Thanks to the use of drones, Tjalle and his assistant were able to study the nests properly and share their findings. These discoveries formed the groundwork for a hugely successful protection and nest box program.

One important measure was to reduce the opening in the nest box so that the nest boxes would not be used by other, less vulnerable bird species. In addition, Armonía constructed “fire barriers” to prevent fires from affecting the blue-throated macaw’s habitat.

Due to his efforts to conserve the species, in 2020 Tjalle was awarded the prestigious Future For Nature Award. As Conservation Program Director at Asociación Armonía, he continues his hard work to prevent the blue-throated macaw from going extinct and to protect species across Bolivia.

Read more about the blue-throated macaw: