It’s news to many that the world’s richest area in terms of numbers of plant and animal species is in the tropical Andes of South America. The region is home to 1,666 bird species and approximately 15 percent of the world’s vascular plant species and was dubbed a “global epicenter of biodiversity” by British conservationist Norman Myers. A swath of land known as the Vilcabamba-Amboró Biological Corridor, which includes some 16 protected areas in Peru and Bolivia, encompasses a vital section of this biodiversity “hot spot.”
But despite its natural wealth, region faces threats from mining, deforestation, an advancing agricultural frontier, and dam and oil pipeline construction, reports the nonprofit group Conservation International. Further, the resulting fragmentation of the area’s forests endangers an array of wildlife, an extraordinarily high percentage of which is endemic — found no place else on Earth. In an attempt to promote alternatives to that destruction, in 2001 conservationists, with backing from the governments of Peru and Bolivia, created the Vilcabamba-Amboró Biological Corridor, which encompasses everything from national parks to areas of intensive agriculture and industry.
The corridor initiative has the support of international organizations and local groups alike, and recently – and not coincidentally — journalists in both countries are covering the corridor.
Last year, the International Center For Journalists (ICFJ), in collaboration with Conservation International and with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, ran a series of corridor communications workshops with Peruvian and Bolivian journalists. The workshops included information about the corridor and its biological importance and training in how to cover environmental topics. According to Rob Taylor, ICFJ Director of Scientific and Environmental Programs, the presence of four Bolivian journalists in the workshop held in Peru, and five Peruvian journalists in the workshop in Bolivia enhanced the discussions of how best to cover environmental issues in a bi-national biological corridor.
“I was very impressed,” Taylor reports. “The journalists asked good questions and many of them said the workshop made them a lot more interested in conservation of wilderness.”
Taylor explains that the workshops were held inside the corridor’s boundaries, and included field trips, discussions of how to cover environmental themes, presentations about the corridor’s biodiversity, interviews with local groups, exercises, and case studies. The initiative also included contests for news reports on biodiversity in the two countries, and it helped journalists who participated in the workshops establish environmental journalism networks in their respective nations.
According to Taylor, the project surpassed expectations not only in that a total of 36 journalists participated in the workshops, but also because submissions to the reporting contests totaled a surprising 47 in Peru and 30 in Bolivia. Those articles and news spots were the workshops’ most immediate result, and they ranged in theme from biological diversity of the Amazon to the sustainable use of resources.
“Several stories were about ecotourism and the potential for rural communities to make some income from ecotourism,” adds Taylor.
The workshops also led to organization of environmental journalists associations in Bolivia and Peru, which will be supported by the ICFJ. Taylor believes the groups will give environmental reporters more prestige and increased access to influential people in their countries.
“A lot of journalists were willing to commit their time and efforts, and they continue to be interested since the workshops,” says Taylor.
Following the workshop, Juan Pablo Chirito, a journalist with the Peruvian daily Expreso de Lima, decided to take on the challenge of creating a page dedicated to environmental issues. He notes the venture was also a risk, since the widely read newspaper never before attempted to dedicate so much space to environmental news. “This implied gaining new friends and losing others, if it happens that their interests are affected by some investigation,” notes Chirito.
He adds that the environmental news page has been quite popular and has helped officials in the congress, ministries, and other institutions become more aware of environmental issues. Chirito is also president of the recently formed Peruvian Association of Environmental Journalists (APPEA), which he notes was born only after a one-year labor of love and infighting.
“It seems to me that everyone has come to understand the need to protect our resources, especially since in our region we have one of the most megadiverse areas on the planet, and up to now there has been no effective planning on the part of the respective governments,” the journalist points out.
In Bolivia, Conservation International has sponsored both training for journalists and periodic meetings with them and media directors, as well as field trips to protected areas. “This has generated a very important process of growth in environmental news about the corridor and conservation in general,” observes Eduardo Forno, director of Conservation International in Bolivia.
In Bolivia and Peru, Conservation International is sponsoring a prize for the best radio news report on biodiversity, which can includes reports in indigenous languages. According to Forno, radio is the most important communication medium in Bolivia and Peru, and in rural zones, it is the only medium that uses the native languages of the principal ethnic groups.
“This brings us closer to the rural reality in both countries, and the reality of the corridor,” says Forno. The fundamental theme is to reach all the people and make them see that they are in an area of great importance to the planet.”
Since the Vilcabamba-Amboró Biological Corridor isn’t a traditional park with borders, nor are there park rangers for the entire expanse, Forno believes that the media can help encourage municipalities and local stakeholders to be responsible custodians of the wealth of flora and fauna.
— Katiana Murillo
Conservación Internacional Bolivia
Juan Pablo Chirito
tel 511/933-9579, 511/444-7088
To learn more about the Biodiversity Reporting Award:
Read more about this project in the Eco-Index: