Protecting a subspecies before it becomes an extinct species: the Palkachupa Cotinga in Bolivia

By ACA, Wed, 14/09/2011 - 09:40
The Bolivian subspecies of the Swallow-tailed Cotinga Phibalura flavirostris merits recognition as a species, says Bennett Hennessey, Executive Director of BirdLife’s Bolivian Partner Asociación Armonía, in a paper just published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Now reduced to fewer than 600 individuals in a few fragments of forest within an area of just over 1,000 km2, the “Palkachupa Cotinga” will be a candidate for a high threat category in the 2012 Red List update by BirdLife International Unrecorded for 98 years, P. f. boliviana was rediscovered at the edge of a small (2-4 km2) forest fragment near Pata, north-west of the municipality of Apolo in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, in September 2000.

Palkachupa Cotinga’s forest habitat is being cut and burnt for pasture land (image: Armonía)

Bennett Hennessey rediscovered the bird, and is now leading Armonía’s efforts to conserve it. It is still relatively common in patches of good habitat, but with so little good habitat remaining the population is very low. A stronghold of the population has been found at the original collection site, near the village of Aten. “Without more support, we have another dry season on the horizon, during which more of Palkachupa’s habitat will be cut and burnt for pasture land,” says Bennett Hennessey. Armonía is seeking donations of $3000 to $5000 to protect the Palkachupa Cotinga (see end of story for details on how you can help). In June 2010, Armonía achieved the first step toward the creation of a Palkachupa Nature Reserve with the purchase of 59 ha near Aten. Negotiations with landowners continue, and they hope to purchase additional land. “The area requires complete boundary fencing to prevent further cattle grazing, and to allow reforestation. Restoration of savannah breeding habitat is needed, and for this we will first need to work with neighbouring landowners on fire management. Isolated trees will be planted to improve nesting habitat" said Bennet Hennessey.

Armonía provided assistance for improvements to the Aten school, including construction of three additional classrooms (image credit: Juan Carlos Atienza SEO/BirdLife)

“We will initiate a programme of protecting Palkachupa Cotinga nesting trees in the Aten area by purchasing the protection rights of important trees. These trees will be fenced off, and signs will be placed declaring these small areas as sanctuaries for nesting Palkachupa.” It would not be possible to protect the Palkachupa’s habitat without the support and cooperation of the people of Aten. Armonía is working with a former Madidi park guard and Aten native, William Ferufino, to coordinate research and outreach activities with the local communities. Local people have responded enthusiastically, and images of Palkachupa play a prominent role in annual Independence Day celebrations. Four high school students are working with William Ferufino as volunteer field assistants. In recognition of this important support, and to build greater local participation, Armonía provided assistance for improvements to the Aten school, including construction of three additional classrooms. The Near Threatened Swallow-tailed Cotinga has traditionally been considered to consist of two subspecies with disjunct ranges.  The nominate race is found in southeastern Brazil, and also perhaps in northeast Argentina and east Paraguay, though with no records from these countries since 1977. 2,500 km separate the nearest known population of the nominate race from the area in central-western Bolivia where three specimens of the taxon known as P. f. boliviana were collected in 1845 and 1902. Evidence presented by Hennessey in The Wilson Journal (123(3):454–458, 2011) indicated that the Bolivian population should be treated as a separate species, Phibalura boliviana. The plumage is distinctly different: boliviana males have longer tails than flavirostris, and their body plumage is significantly less sexually dimorphic. The iris of boliviana is mustard yellow, distinct from the blood red iris of flavirostris, and boliviana has orange-yellow feet while those of flavirostris are pink. Only one vocalisation type is recorded for flavirostris, whereas at least five calls and a song are known for boliviana, which vocalises significantly more often. The Brazilian flavirostris has strong seasonal movements, whereas boliviana is sedentary.

Local people have responded enthusiastically, and images of Palkachupa play a prominent role in annual Independence Day celebrations (image credit Armonía)

The proposed common name proposed for the species comes from the indigenous Quechua language: “palka” meaning fork and “chupa” meaning tail. “On first speaking with the people of Aten, their comment was that they did not know Palkachupa was so rare” says Bennett Hennessey. “Being so common in their village they assumed it was found everywhere.” Armonía is seeking donations of $3000 to $5000 to protect the Palkachupa Cotinga. Please contact abhennessey@armonia-bo.org if you wish to help effrots to save the species from extinction. Alternatively for US tax payers, American Friends of BirdLife International, Inc. raises funds in support of the BirdLife International Partnership’s conservation programme, including the Preventing Extinctions Programme.  American Friends of BirdLife International, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) public charity, registered in Wilmington, Delaware, USA.  Payments to a 501(c)(3) organisation are tax-deductible for US tax payers who are resident in the USA.  If you are a US tax payer and wish to donate to support this work please contact trish.aspinall@birdlife.org Armonia’s work on saving Palkachupa Cotinga has been supported by Gwen Brewer, forPlanet, the Neotropical Bird Club, and Nuttall Ornithological Club.



The information is not clear. Is the area within the Madidi national park? Is it therefore a paper park? Why then purchasing protection rights? from whom? who has the right to destroy the forest? is it conform to the park management?

Dear Carlo, The range of the species is partially within Madidi National Park- but in the Integrated Management Area (AMNI), which unfortunately in Bolivia means of no protection value. We yearly see forest fragments in this Madidi AMNI dissapear- forest fragments used to forage by the Palkachupa Cotinga. The local people have the right to destroy the forest in the park, because it is all part of the intergrated management idea. This is why we are working with the healthiest population of the Palkachupa Cotinga outside of the park in the Leco indigenous area of Aten- where again the land is being threatened by outsiders buying and deforesting land- that in theory does not belong to them. As you can tell, the problem is complex. All the best Bennett Executive Director Asociacion Armonia

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