AREA OF IBERÁ NATIONAL PARK:
158,000 hectares (390,000 acres or 616 square miles)
Area of Iberá Provincial Park:
550,000 hectares (1,358,500 acres or 2145 square miles)
Area of the Great Iberá Park:
708,000 hectares (1,748,760 acres or 2760 square miles)
Ecotone between Chaco forest, the Paraná forest and the espinal.
Wetland with marshes, swamps, lakes and large tracts of water, interspersed with grasslands on sandy uplands and widely scattered with small sections of tropical forest, gallery forest and, in the southeast, dry forests that occur on higher ground.
The Great Iberá Park protects large areas of grasslands where many species of endangered birds live, like the Strange-tailed tyrant and the Black and White Monjita. It also protects important populations of other threatened species, like the pampas deer, the marsh deer, the maned wolf, the crowned Eagle and a high diversity of Paraná fish.
– bird-watching, with a list of 370 species recorded in the last 10 years.
– wildlife viewing of the thriving populations of large vertebrates, of which the most remarkable are the caiman, the rhea, many species of herons and storks, capibaras, marsh and brocket deer, pampas deer, armadillos, and fox.
264 million metric tonnes
Coordinator of Park and Communities in Iberá Project
Marisi López is a native of Corrientes and has a degree in Public Relations. In 2005, she joined the team of Tompkins Conservation in order to work on the Iberá Park project. Over the years, she has taken on a variety of roles that have given her a comprehensive view of the project. She currently leads the process of opening and donating the various “Tourist Gateways” and public use areas to Iberá Park and generates strategic alliances with local politicians. Marisi is the liaison to the press, to civil society and to community leaders.
Coordinator of Rewilding in Iberá Project
As a little girl, Talía was drawn to nature by watching documentary films. Convinced that she wanted to work on practical conservation solutions, she studied biology in the National University of Córdoba, and specialized in Management and Conservation of Wildlife at the University of Costa Rica and the University of Oxford in England. She developed her graduate and post-graduate thesis around projects of species re-introduction in Iberá. In 2015, she worked on the campaign “Corrientes becomes Corrientes again” which promoted the rewilding of Iberá, and since 2017 has been part of the Iberá Rewilding team, of which she is now the coordinator.
GREAT IBERÁ PARK
The largest nature park in Argentina
Great Iberá Park, which unites the national protected area with the provincial protected area, covers more than 700,000 hectares. It is the largest natural park in Argentina. At the center of this large tropical plain is a wetland or estero, around which are found various distinct environments, such as the Paraná forest, the Chaco woodlands, open grasslands and the espinal.
Currently, of the 1,300,000 hectares that make up the watershed and the Iberá Natural Reserve, 550,000 belong to the Iberá Provincial Park, which was established by decree in 2009 and enlarged in 2016, when it became apparent during efforts to map the land holdings of the region, that there was previously unclaimed fiscal land located at the far ends of many estancias where it had been impossible to enter.
The Great Iberá Park —the Provincial Park combined with the National Park— has within its borders the largest population in the world of the endangered strange-tailed tyrant and the second largest of marsh deer. It also serves as a critical refuge for other threatened species, such as the maned wolf, pampas deer, the yacaré caiman, river otter and many grassland birds that are nearly extinct in Argentina due to industrial agriculture.
In addition, because of its size and the extensive natural habitat, this huge conservation area offers a unique opportunity for the re-introduction of species that were locally extinct like the giant anteater, the tapir, collared peccary, the ocelot, giant river otter, and the jaguar.
National and provincial park rangers work together to preserve the health and abundance of the native animals whose presence will guarantee a unique, quality experience for visitors. Great Iberá Park, in turn, is surrounded by more than 600,000 hectares of private lands which are part of the larger Iberá Nature Reserve, on which different types of sustainable use can be developed, as an addition to the economic benefits derived from the tourism attractions that the central area of strict conservation offers.
The formation process of Iberá National Park
In the process of buying old cattle ranches, the Foundation and CLTA acquired 158 thousand hectares on the border of the actual Iberá Provincial Park, which includes habitats that are not represented in the Park, such as espinal, malezal (grasslands which are seasonally flooded) and certain forested areas. The objective of this process was to convert these lands into a National Park.
Starting in 1998, we have acquired more than 150,000 hectares in the Iberá basin that have been donated to the Argentine state in stages to help create the Great Iberá Park, a process that will be finalized in 2021. These donated lands incorporate different nuclei or centers, with infrastructure for public use and access.
After a long process, the Province of Corrientes ceded jurisdiction of the land donated by our foundation and by The Conservation Land Trust Argentina (CLTA) to the Nation and on December 5, 2018, Iberá National Park, comprising 158,000 hectares, was established by law.
This protected territory assures the growth of a new kind of regional economy based on nature tourism, supported by local governments and private entrepreneurs. Activities related to wildlife viewing, in addition to the cultural richness of the islanders from the Iberá marshes and local gauchos, will be enhanced by the growing population of re-introduced species.
Following a signed agreement, the land was donated in progressive stages during the next years. The donation agreement permits the continuation of our work in restoring fauna to the region for a period of ten years.
This territory, which everyone from Argentina and around the world can experience, has been given renewed value based on a new vision of local development: the production of nature. This vision sees wildlife as a valuable resource that can be experienced via nature tourism, which then drives the economic motor of the surrounding municipalities.
The creation of Iberá Park allowed to protect areas that are critical for the survival of threatened species like the strange-tailed tyrant (Alectrurus risora). Photo: Rafa Abuin.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND PUBLIC USE
For National Parks to become engines of economic development in surrounding communities, it is necessary to design and implement infrastructure that provides access and promotes public use, such as trails, huts, camping sites, picnic grounds, parking areas, guard posts and services, all with correct signage.
Up until a few years ago, all of the access points to Iberá were located on private land and could be either opened or locked, depending on the whims of each landowner. Only from Colonia Pelligrini could one enter freely. With the creation of the Great Iberá Park, it became essential to design a network of roads and access points that would permit and encourage visitation to this huge protected area, which covers over 700,000 hectares (7000 square kilometers or 2700 square miles).
In order to minimize the impact of run-off and erosion from new road building, it was necessary to use existing dirt tracks and easements and convert them to public roads. In this way, the cost of maintenance of the roadways is born by the State, as well as the responsibility for travelers on the roads, rather than having those costs and liabilities being passed on to the landowners.
The creation of signage, made from local materials, contributes to the scenic beauty and reinforces the visual identity of the region.
The Foundation works with the Iberá Committee —an interdisciplinary work group made up of representatives of non-profit organizations, municipal governments, the Province and the Nation— to implement a variety of works and improvements. In 2019, they managed to establish within Iberá two new gateways, five trails, 500 kilometers of gravel road, signage for the scenic route and improvements to two provincial paved roads in order to improve access to the Park.
Road improvement is fundamental to be able to work in these sections of Iberá and to increase public safety, in addition to providing guaranteed access for tourists. Recently, big advancements have been made in improving roads in the “beltway” around Iberá, but we know that these roads need constant maintenance and attention. The access to various gateways to the Park have also been improved, and have had concrete achievement with the improvement of dirt and gravel roads leading to the Carambola and Cambyretá gateways. The road to Colonia Pellegrini has been significantly improved, with more kilometers of asphalt and better gravel road, from both Mercedes to the south and Ituzaingó to the north. The new access roads to San Antonio and Capivarí have been graveled and Route 22, between Concepción and Chavarría, has been improved.
Another important part of these efforts is to work intensively with neighboring villages on public education regarding the management of garbage, which can visually damage all of this effort to develop a scenic route.
In order that the parks become engines of development for local communities, they have to stay open and receive visitors ready to immerse themselves in these natural landscapes. This means that it is necessary to create areas of public access with camping zones and services, and develop carefully designed environments that have all the essential infrastructure, including bathrooms and picnic areas with sheltered places to barbecue.
The camping areas and huts developed by Rewilding Argentina Foundation have become Correntino icons that magnify the beauty of the esteros or marshlands, by incorporating local materials like marsh grass and reeds, and flagstone. These places were designed in the local style, with an aesthetic of simplicity and form an integral part of the Scenic Route of Iberá.
Camping at the Laguna Iberá Gateway
The first camping area was donated to the municipality of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini in 2009, and is able to shelter a great number of visitors. The camping, which is part of the Laguna Iberá Gateway, is located on the edge of the lake and has quinchos, (shelters with tables and barbecue pits), bathrooms and showers. From here, it is possible to navigate the mirror-like waterways of Laguna Iberá in kayak and motor-boats.
At this same gateway, our foundation has donated two other visitor zones, with the objective of increasing the area that can be enjoyed by visitors, and also to distribute tourists across a variety of places in order to minimize the impact on the environment of any one. The first of these areas is located in Lobo Cua and is administered by National Parks and the Province of Corrientes. This area has a system of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, barbecue and picnic facilities, bathrooms and a dock. The second of these areas, called Paso Claro, is administered by the National Parks Administration and has trails and a scenic overlook that allows one to view a wide variety of birds and mammals.
Camping at San Nicolás Gateway
The camping area at the San Nicolás Gateway is currently administered by the National Parks Administration and was the second constructed and donated by our foundation. Installed next to an old cattle ranch, the camping functions as a Visitor Reception center and has picnic tables, barbecue facilities, bathrooms and showers. Trails for hiking, horseback riding and for cars lead from the camping to a dock on the Carambola river, where visitors can enjoy aquatic activities and navigate the small river.
Camping at Cambyretá Gateway
The third camping area was inaugurated in 2014 at the Cambyretá Gateway, in the northern part of the Great Iberá Park. It continues the use of local style of architecture of quinchos, covered shelters with barbecue pits and picnic tables, and also has bathrooms and showers. Camping Monte Rey, as it is known, has a double function of providing shelter and facilities for tourists and concentrating use. From here, visitors have the opportunity to follow trails on foot, on horseback and in vehicles. The Cambyretá Gateway is under the administration of Argentina National Parks and has become the only place in Argentina where it is possible to see Red-and-Green Macaws, a bird that was extinct in the country for more than 150 years. Now the opportunity to see this spectacular bird in the wild attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Camping at the Carambola Gateway
The last camping area that our foundation built is located at the Carambola Gateway, just a few meters from the Carambolita River. It was inaugurated in November 2019 and is still under the administration of Rewilding Argentina.
The Carambola camping is at the epi-center of the activities available at this gateway. The quinchos are designed in the same local style as at the other camping areas, with roofs of marsh-grass and open views, grills and tables, and the camping also has bathrooms and showers. They are located around small forest patches, giving the sensation that one is alone in this immense landscape.
A system of trails cross streams and marshes via elevated boardwalks, and take one to the port of Juli Cue, where it is possible to make the “Crossing of the Esteros”, navigating among islands and outposts, getting to know the settlement of Yahaveré and the Medina and Trim lakes and finally arriving at the Capivarí Gateway in order to travel to Mercedes and Colonia Pellegrini.
Located in the Carambola area is the “Refugio”, a refuge or hut built in genuine local style. In this place it is possible to experience the traditions and customs of the families who live in the most remote parts of the Esteros, surrounded by the completely wild wetlands.
The Refugio has a place to sleep, a kitchen and bathroom and rustic showers, all constructed by the local inhabitants who are part of the Foundation’s team, and using traditional techniques and materials, such as roofs of marsh grass and walls of piri, a local reed found in the Esteros.
The Refugio, that is reached from the Carambola Gateway, under the starry sky of Iberá. Photo: Beth Wald.
CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT OF THREATS
Once the land has been secured for conservation, it is important to continuously monitor the state of the population of key species and properly manage exotic species.
We know that Iberá is a fragile system, whose ecosystems and species are determined by weather patterns like in the rest of Corrientes, but also by the greater or lesser quantity of water that its soils retain. Anything that affects the flow of water will have repercussions on the landscape; any road works or construction of canals and tree plantations will affect the esteros.
It is because of this that, in order to carry out any of these kinds of projects, or to apply herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers within the Iberá Reserve an Environmental Impact Study must first be done.
For many years, the hunting of wildlife for meat and especially for skins and pelts was the greatest threat to the conservation of biodiversity in Iberá. With the creation of the Provincial Reserve, illegal hunting began to be controlled, and many of the hunters became park guards. In this way, some species began to rebound and their populations have grown so that today they are common and easily seen.
On the other hand, exotic species have been the cause of extinction of an enormous number of species across the planet. Before planting a foreign variety or species of tree or plant, or bringing an exotic animal to raise or have as a pet, one must carefully evaluate the risks of dispersion of the seeds or escape of the animal. This is especially important in Iberá, where, due to the plentitude of water, exotic species easily propagate.
There are animal species that are brought from other regions for agricultural or recreational purposes which are later neglected or abandoned. The majority die, but some develop the ability to grow and reproduce aggressively and are able to invade the territory of local species. This has occurred in some parts of Iberá, with domestic pigs (as well as with their wild cousin, the wild boar) and more recently with axis and red deer which were brought to populate private hunting reserves in the region and then escaped.
In terms of plants, those that have established themselves in Iberá are Russian olvies, ligustros or privet (Ligustrin lucidum), grevilleas or spider plants and some species of pines. These species, once they have adapted to the soil and climate, are able to reproduce more quickly and abundantly than in their native environment and have the capacity to transform an ecosystem so that they can self-perpetuate.
Feral pigs are an exotic species in Iberá —they can attack small animals, predate on nests, dig up the earth in its search for roots, and damage orchards and gardens.
Fires are a natural and important component in the dynamics of grasslands in Iberá. At present, it is necessary to recreate this dynamic, during the seasons when they would occur naturally, in order to permit the recovery of the grasses by burning off brush and dried material that has accumulated, both of which leave little space for new grass to sprout.
However, in their desire to have tender young grasses year-round for their livestock to eat, ranchers tend to burn their pastures too often (with the result that the natural environment loses the capacity to recuperate itself) or during the season when animals are reproducing (resulting in the loss of nests and young).
On the Foundation’s lands, we do prescribed burns taking into account the natural periods in which a burned grassland can recover as well as the season of reproduction of plant and animal species which live in the grasslands. Fire is necessary for the conservation of nature and for ranching; to manage it responsibly will avert the possibility that it becomes a source of conflict between different types of economic production and interests.
Fire is a natural and important component in the dynamics of grasslands in Iberá. On the Foundation’s lands, we do prescribed burns taking into account the natural periods in which a burned grassland can recover as well as the season of reproduction of plant and animal species which live in the grasslands. Photo: Beth Wald.
In order to control and monitor a territory as large as Great Iberá Park with its 700,000 hectares and its multiple uses areas and access points, it is necessary to have several stations with park guards, technicians and maintenance personnel. For this, we worked together with the Province and the Argentine National Parks, each of which have jurisdiction over different parts of the Park. Although each of them created their own Management Plan for their jurisdictions, it was done with a shared vision around the management of wildlife and dealing with tourists, so that there will be no fences separating the jurisdictions.
Also, the number of provincial park guards has increased and more national park guards have been added, in order to take care of all of the territory of the greater Iberá Park.
WILDLIFE: REWILDING IBERÁ
The loss of wildlife that occurred across Argentina was especially pronounced in the province of Corrientes, and was particularly devastating in the region now protected by the Great Iberá Park. In fact, the “Correntino” lands lost many species, including the majority of its birds and large mammals.
During this process of de-faunization, the jaguar, giant river otter, tapir, collared and while-lipped peccaries, the giant anteater, bare-faced curassow and green-winged and violet macaws disappeared from Corrientes, and in some cases, from the country and the world. Other species, such as the pampas deer, maned wolf, ocelot, paca and the red-legged seriema, suffered great reductions in their populations.
Since 2007, we have been working in Great Iberá Park to reverse the biodiversity crisis with the re-introduction of species that went extinct in the region and by augmenting the populations of those species that have survived but with greatly reduced numbers.
In this way, we hope to restore the magnificent and diverse fauna of Iberá and recover the important ecological functions that depend on these species.
A natural and cultural treasure that Corrientes has lost
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest feline of the Americas and one of the most endangered mammals of Argentina, which has a population estimated at about 200 animals in 2018. The species went extinct in the province of Corrientes in the middle of the twentieth century due to hunting, habitat loss and the loss of its natural prey.
The jaguar is a species that is essential to maintain the health and integrity of the wild ecosystems where it lives, but also has the potential to be a “first-order” attraction for tourists who visit Argentina in search of wildlife and natural landscapes.
Iberá Park has the best conditions to carry out a successful re-introduction of this species in the country — its huge protected area has abundant prey with suitable habitat and the people of Corrientes support the return of this species once so emblematic of the Province.
The jaguar was declared a Natural Monument in the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Misiones and Chaco, and in the country of Argentina as a whole in 2001.
With an area of 1.3 million hectares, the Ibera Nature Reserve presents a unique opportunity to bring back this magnificent animal. After three decades of conservation efforts, this reserve is home to large populations of capybara, caiman and marsh deer, all of which require the presence of a large predator in order to remain healthy in the long term.
A study done by a Corrientinian investigator showed that 95% of Corrientinos across the province support the return of this species. This was replaced by a more detailed study done in the areas immediately surrounding the Iberá reserve. Outside of the study but in conversations on this theme, we have detected a surprising level of enthusiasm among local inhabitants, ranchers, local authorities, tourism businesses, and legislators for the idea of bringing back the jaguar. It seems clear that Corrientinos consider the jaguar not only as an important part of their natural and cultural heritage, but also as a potential source of wealth and employment via nature tourism.
The government of Corrientes and various NGO’s have worked for over twenty years for the conservation of Iberá. In terms of the re-introduction of wildlife that was locally extinct, Rewilding Argentina has worked for many years to bring back the giant anteater and the pampas deer to the interior of Iberá. This means that there is a long-term financial and organizational commitment to the region seldom found in other parts of Argentina. This commitment also means that there is a group of professionals in the region with significant practical experience carrying out this type of project. As a result of previous efforts, there are now new populations of pampas deer, giant anteater and collared peccary in Iberá. In addition, for the project to reintroduce the jaguar, we can count on advice and support from some of the best experts across Argentina and from other countries
C.R.Y. (or JRC):
Jaguar Reintroduction Center
In 2015, the Jaguar Reintroduction Center began to operate on the island of San Alonso, in the heart of the Esteros del Iberá. Its objective is to produce jaguars —either born there or coming from the wild from other regions— with the right qualifications needed to be able to be released in Iberá with the goal of forming a healthy population of this species so that it can recover its role as the top predator in this ecosystem.
After evaluating the vast continuous area of habitat that could support about 100 jaguars and conducting social surveys that showed great support across the province for the reintroduction of the jaguar, the construction of the Jaguar Reintroduction Center was carried out in 2013.
In 2015, the first breeding female, Tobuna, arrived, followed by the first male, Nahuel, in 2016. During 2017, a male and two females —Chiqui, Tania and Isis— were donated or given by different institutions in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, and they were also incorporated into the project. These animals are not suitable to be released, but the hope is that they will have cubs that will be raised without human contact and who will learn to hunt for themselves so that they can be liberated into the wild of the esteros.
In February of 2019, two female jaguars, Juruna and Mariua, arrived at the Jaguar Reintroduction Center. They were born in the wild in Brazil at the beginning of 2017 and then rescued after their mother was killed by hunters. They were taken to the Conservation Refuge ”NEX No Extinction” near Brasilia, where they lived with little contact with humans, until they were donated to the jaguar reintroduction project in Iberá.
After completing his reproductive role at the Jaguar Reintroduction Center, Chiqui, the father of the cubs, was returned to the Atinguy-Yacyretá Animal Refuge in Paraguay in January 2019.
Arami and Mbarete
In June 2018, Arami and Mbarete, two jaguar cubs, were born in the Jaguar Reintroduction Center after more than half a century of absence in the province of Corrientes. Both females grew up without close human contact and learned to hunt from their mother, Tania. After becoming independent from her, Arami and Mbarete demonstrated to be excellent hunters. They showed a behavior suitable for a life in freedom in the Park. We expect them to be released in Iberá soon, both wearing GPS collars that will allow us to know their position at all times.
Their mother, Tania, is Tobuna’s daughter; she joined the breeding project after seeing that her mother was incapable of becoming pregnant. The probable reason for this is her advanced age. Tobuna was taken to an enclosure especially built for her in the Aguará Conservation Center in Corrientes, where she is under permanent monitoring.
A snapshot from a camera recording of Arami and Mbarete days before their first birthday.
More jaguars are born in the Jaguar Reintroduction Center, and the first release
In September 2020, Mariua gave birth to two cubs in a 30-hectare enclosure. She was transferred there after sharing a smaller pen with a male, Jatobazinho. The general audience chose their names through a social media campaign, “Karai” and “Porã.” They continued growing with their mother in an enclosure that harbors all Iberá’s habitats—forests, grasslands, and wetlands.
In January 2021, our team opened the 30-hectare enclosure, and Mariua and her two cubs left for the wild. They became the first jaguars to live completely free in Corrientes after 70 years of extinction in that province. Argentina’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the governor of Corrientes announced the release.
Sofía Heinonen, Rewilding Argentina’s Executive Director, highlighted that “the United Nations declared 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. In Argentina, it couldn’t have started in a more promising way with the reintroduction of a top predator we had driven extinct for the first time in Latin America. The damage we have done to natural ecosystems is such that traditional conservation is not enough; we need to restore habitats and reintroduce missing species, and that’s what Rewilding is all about.”
Since early 2021, Mariua and her cubs move freely across the Iberá wetlands in Corrientes. The jaguar once prowled this region and will reign again if things go as planned. Since her release, we can know Mariua’s position and movements thanks to the GPS collar she wears. This gadget collects data about her location several times a day, which later sends to our computers, allowing us to learn where she is at that time and where she was the day before. The collar is also equipped with VHF technology, with which we can learn her position from land in real-time.
Furthermore, the collar sends an email to our team with Mariua’s exact location when entering specific zones in Iberá, thus allowing us to act if needed immediately.
On top of this critical milestone, in December 2020, two more cubs were born in the Jaguar Reintroduction Center. This time was Juruna’s, who followed her sister’s steps and was moved to the 30-hectare enclosure where the whole family lived before being released into the wild in April 2021. Since then, Juruna and her cubs explore their new home, moving slowly and staying near the liberation site.
The 5 reasons for the return of the jaguar
During the last centuries, this species has suffered a dramatic reduction of its once-broad range and now exists in just a few places in the country. In Corrientes, jaguars were still seen up until the middle of the last century, and in Iberá, there are still a handful of people alive who can remember when they shared their land with the jaguar.
Today in Argentina, there are only three isolated populations of jaguars —in the montane forests of the Northeast, in one sector of the Gran Chaco and in forest of Misiones province. All of these populations face a grave danger of extinction over the next decades, which would mean the complete extinction of one of the most beautiful and emblematic animals of Argentina.
Faced with this situation, the Iberá Natural Reserve in Corrientes is uniquely suited in all of Latin America as a place to restore a population of this missing species. This is due to the existence of 1,300,000 hectares of protected land, including extensive areas without people or livestock, and which also contains abundant wildlife and prey species that can sustain a population of jaguars over the long term.
The moral reason: The disappearance of any species is a tremendous loss for society and is even more so when it is one of the most striking and emblematic. There is not a single one of the great religions or major ethical systems of the world that can justify the extinction of a species due to human activities.
The cultural reason: The jaguar is an essential part of the culture of northern Argentina. Its name itself has origins in the Guarani language of the region and the animal appears as an important figure in innumerable legends, stories and songs. In the province of Corrientes there are several communities which still use the local name of the jaguar —yaguaraté— as is the case of Concepción de Yaguaraté Corá in the region of Iberá. The disappearance of this species from the cultural heritage of Corrientes is an enormous loss which would impoverish our language and our appreciation of wild landscapes and the customs of the countryside. Without the jaguar, a good part of the magic of the wild will disappear, along with the humility, the respect and reverence with which people have traditionally approached the natural world.
The ecological reason: The jaguar is the main natural predator in the ecosystems of Corrientes, and its presence is necessary to maintain their health. The jaguar is essential because by consuming animals like capybara, deer and caiman and frequently eliminating the weakest and sickest of the animals, it keeps populations of prey species in check and avoids the mass starvation or catastrophic illnesses that is the inevitable result of over-population. In addition, jaguars control populations of other, smaller predators such as foxes and forest cats (gatos de monte), which in turn benefits the conservation of bird species and small wild and domestic animals. Numerous international studies have shown that the presence of “apex predators” like the jaguar is critically important to maintain the maximum richness and diversity of natural ecosystems.
The economic reason: The jaguar is one of the most beautiful animals on the continent, eliciting emotions of wonder, awe and mystery in people, and the opportunity to see one of these spectacular creatures in the wild can become a first-class tourist attraction, comparable to the experience of seeing the cataracts of Iguazú or the Perito Moreno glacier. Tens of thousands of tourists annually visit the Pantanal in Brazil with the hope of seeing this great feline. Likewise, in Africa and Asia, tourists invest large sums of money to be able to see similar animals like the lion, leopard and tiger. In the USA, the grey wolf —another large, wild and charismatic carnivore— was reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. At first they thought that only a few visitors would come to just see the wolves, but later it was determined that more than 100,000 people came to view them every year. It is estimated that the growth in tourist visits related to wolf-viewing means an additional income for the region of between 32 and 85 million dollars annually.
The legal and political reason: The jaguar is a National Natural Monument in Argentina and is officially cataloged as a species in danger of extinction in our country. The Convention on Biodiversity, signed by Argentina, urges the countries that are signatories to adopt “measures dedicated to the recovery and rehabilitation of threatened species and the reintroduction of these species in their natural habitats with appropriate conditions”. Within this framework, the establishment of a sustainable population of jaguars in Iberá would represent a huge contribution to the conservation of this species for the entire country and would assure the genetic continuity of the three populations that still exist in Argentina.
GIANT RIVER OTTER
The return of an apex predator of aquatic ecosystems
The giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is the largest species of otter in the world, and can reach up to 1.8 meters in length. It was the apex predator in the aquatic ecosystems of Corrientes, preying on fish and caiman. Up until the middle of the twentieth century it was possible to see them in the Paraná River, not far from the capitol of the province, and its past presence in Iberá was confirmed when a giant otter skull was found on one of the islands in the esteros. This spectacular mammal is extinct in Corrientes and in all of Argentina.
An apex predator of aquatic ecosystems
The major part of the diet of a giant river otter is composed of fishes, although it can also include crustaceans, mollusks, and terrestrial vertebrates like sub-adult caiman, birds and rodents. Because of its eating habits, this carnivore is usually at the top of the food chain in the waterways where it lives and is a key species in those ecosystems.
The deterioration of its populations in South America
The giant river otter is, according the IUCN, catalogued as internationally endangered, critically endangered in the majority of countries in its range of distribution and is considered to probably be extinct in all of Argentina. The Argentinean Society for the Study of Mammals considers it to be at Critical Risk of Extinction and notes that there have been no records of a stable population or individual adults with established territories in Argentina for the last thirty years at least. It is likely that a combination of factors, including the modification of habitat, contamination of waters, poaching and human conflicts have resulted in the shrinking of populations of giant otters in Argentina.
In the past the distribution of the species was very broad, reaching from Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia up to the north of Argentina and Uruguay and eastern zones of the Andes. Now, the major part of the populations of giant river otters are discontinuously distributed in the Pantanal and Brazilian Amazon and in the regions immediately adjacent to these areas, as well as in French Guyana, Surinam and Guyana. The species is also present in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Bolivia.
In Argentina, the giant river otter inhabited the watershed of the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers, including the Iberá Wetlands. It also extended into the Chaco region via rivers like the Bermejo, reaching east as far as Jujuy. The last record of the species in the country date back more than two decades, and were made in the watershed of the Iguazú, Paraná, and Urugua-í rivers in the province of Misiones, with the only recent sightings made in 2010, in the upper Iguazú River, in the zone of the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat).
Historical presence of the giant river otter in Iberá
In the province of Corrientes, the otter was principally recorded along the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers (including sightings from 1993 and on). There are also unconfirmed sightings in the departments of Ituzaingó and Paso de los Libres. In the Esteros del Iberá, which is connected to the Paraná River by the Corrientes River and with the Uruguay River via the Miriñay River, the most noted record of the species is a skull that was found in the Fernández Lake. There are also stories about the presence of giant otters in the area of Rincón del Diablo, Capitá Miní, Yahaveré, Itatí Rincón Lake, Misteriosa Lake, Sánchez Arroyo (a few kilometers to the north of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini) and in the Miriñay wetlands to the west of Tapebicuá.
An opportunity to recover the most important aquatic predator of the wetlands
Pre-release enclosure for Giant river otters in San Alonso Island, Iberá Park.
The absence of apex predators in Iberá such as the jaguar and the giant river otter has resulted in an imbalance in the ecosystem, due to the loss of their important roles as regulators of prey populations. The restoration of a top predator to an ecosystem will bring ecological benefits, and in addition, the reintroduction of the giant river otter will be another important resource for a nature economy which is being developed in the region, based on eco-tourism. It is in this context, and considering the species recommended for restoration in Iberá, that the giant river otter reintroduction project is being planned. The return of the giant river otter, along with the jaguar reintroduction, means that apex predators of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems will be restored to the region.
In 2019, Alondra, the first female giant river otter to be part of the project, arrived in Corrientes. She was donated by the Budapest Zoo, and after successfully passing the quarantine period at the installations in San Cayetano, the female was transported to a pre-release enclosure on the island of San Alonso in the Esteros del Iberá. This enclosure is 20 x 40 meters and was specially designed to house individuals of this species. It is located on the edge of the Paraná Lake and contains both watery environment as well as higher ground with trees and vegetation.
At the end of 2019, Coco, a male donated by the Givskud Zoo of Denmark, became part of the Project. After successfully completing the quarantine phase, he was brought to San Alonso Island at the beginning of 2020, where he shares a pre-release enclosure with Alondra. There, they are daily provided with live fish native to Iberá, so that they can practice their fishing skills.
The inseparable couple has mated on several occasions. Our team even confirmed the birth of pups that didn’t survive, common in inexperienced parents. This is excellent news as it demonstrates that Coco and Alondra are fertile. We expect they can produce a litter of pups soon and form a family group to release into the wild. A second reproductive couple will be taken to another liberation area to start another family group to be released.
Coco and Alondra in the acclimatization enclosure in Iberá Park, Corrientes. Photo: Matías Rebak.
This Project receives support from the National Geographic Society.
The return of the Yurumí
The giant anteater or yurumí (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) has an elongated, toothless snout with a long tongue with which it eats ants and termites. These mammals, which were exterminated in the province of Corrientes in the middle of the twentieth century, can reach up to 2 meters in length and can weigh up to 50 kilos.
This was the first species that we worked with as we began our program of Rewilding Iberá. In 2007, the first pair of giant anteaters was released in the Rincón del Socorro Reserve, where there is now an ample and self-sustaining population. After years of work, in addition to the population in Socorro, another group has already been established in San Alonso and there are nuclei of populations that have been started in the Carambola, San Nicolás and Estancia Don Pablo sectors, the last of which is outside of Iberá Park. The majority of the animals which have been freed were orphaned cubs who were rescued in other provinces in the north of the country after their mothers were killed by poachers.
Since the project began in 2007, our team rescued more than 130 orphan giant anteaters from different provinces in northern Argentina. As of 2021, more than 200 individuals constitute this species’ populations in Iberá, including anteaters that dispersed and established miles away from the reserves.
The shadow in the grasslands
The pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) is an herbivore that once was very abundant across the grasslands of Argentina. Due to over-hunting, the destruction of its habitat and the introduction of disease by domestic cattle, there has been an alarming decrease in numbers of this species.
Currently, there are only four isolated populations of this deer that have survived, composed of only around 2000 individuals in all of the country. Corrientes still has one of these populations living on private land near the marshlands of Aguapey. In 2009, our foundation started a new population in Iberá Park, on the island of San Alonso. Today, this population, which was founded with 22 animals translocated from Aguapey, has from 120-150 individuals. In addition, a second population nucleus was started in the Rincón del Socorro Reserve and is already self-sustaining.
The deer that were reintroduced to Iberá now make up the fifth population group of this species in the country, the third most numerous and the largest that is sheltered in a protected area.
Pampas deer in San Alonso Island, Iberá Park. Photo: Matías Rebak.
The Pampas Deer in Corrientes, an endangered Natural Monument
Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, the pampas deer was one of the most abundant and iconic animals of the natural grasslands (pampas) of north and central Argentina. The chronicles from 1800 describe thousands upon thousands of these deer in the extensive Argentine pampas, but the precipitous process of transformation of their natural habitat into grazing lands for cattle and into agriculture land left them with practically no place left to live.
There now remain only about 2000 individuals left, divided into four isolated, relic populations in the provinces of Buenos Aires, San Luis, Corrientes and Santa Fe. The population of deer in Corrientes is the largest in the country of the subspecies O. b. leucogaster, of which there are only a few individuals in Santa Fe and none the other two provinces. In order to recognize the importance of this species, Corrientes declared the Pampas deer a Natural Monument for the province which means that the animals and their habitat should both be protected.
Studies of the Pampas deer in Corrientes show a limited distribution in grasslands located between sandy hill regions on the border of the Esteros del Iberá and the marshlands of Aguapey. The problem with this region is that it is slated for industrial forestry development and is as an area of priority for the establishment of exotic pine plantations, which will cause the habitat of the deer to disappear rapidly. In other cases, the presence of dogs and high density of cattle could scare away the deer from the area. To these issues is added the problem of poaching, which is still goes on in the region.
If these processes continue to advance at the same rate as they have in the last years, it could lead to the complete extinction of the species from the region of Aguapey. It would not be the first time that such an event has happened in the Province: At the end of the last century, a population of pampas deer that inhabited an area near Concepción del Yaguaraté Corá went extinct, due to the development of pine and eucalyptus plantations.
How do we work?
The objectives, actions, methodologies and durations related to the recovery of this species are detailed in the document “The project for the Conservation, Rescue and Restoration of Pampas Deer in the Province of Corrientes” (see document), which was developed by CLT Argentina (Rewilding Argentina) and our Foundation in collaboration with and authorized by the Directorate of Natural Resources of Corrientes.
Habitat loss for industrial forestry is one of the major environmental threats for the Pampas deer. Photo: Rafa Abuin.
One of the big milestones of the project was the purchase by our Foundation of a property of 535 hectares to create the Guasutí Ñu (Land of Deer in Guarani language) Reserve. This will be the first protected area principally dedicated to the conservation of pampas deer in the region of Aguapey.
In 2009, a team of veterinarians and biologists from Argentina and Brazil carried out the first capture and translocation of pampas deer in Corrientes. This was done to reintroduce a population of the species in the San Alonso Reserve, a property of Rewilding Argentina located within the Natural Iberá Reserve which has 10,000 hectares of high-quality native grassland. This group of deer is the fifth population of this species in the country and its establishment will increase by four times the reserve area that is strictly dedicated to the conservation of pampas deer in Argentina. In 2015 the creation of a second population in the Rincón del Socorro Reserve, next to the town of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini.
The collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) a close relative of pigs, lives in small groups of 5-15 individuals and feeds principally on fruits and roots, although it also eats worms, insects and small vertebrates, and the species fulfills an important role in the dispersion of fruits and seeds of native plants. It was killed off in broad swaths in the north and central parts of the country, including in the province of Corrientes. There are now a number of re-introduced populations of this gregarious mammal within Iberá Park — in Rincón del Socorro, San Alonso, Carambola y San Nicolás.
Our team has released collared peccaries donated by institutions from Buenos Aires, Tucumán, Salta, La Rioja, Córdoba, and Mendoza provinces in Rincón del Socorro Reserve since 2015 and in San Alonso Island since 2017, where the animals formed self-sustainable populations. Two new nuclei were started in 2018 in San Nicolás and Carambola Reserves, where we will continue to release animals.
An adaptable mammal extinct in Iberá
The collared peccary or morito is a tayassuido (of the family that includes the wild pigs or boars of the Americas) with a broad range which can be found from the southern USA to central Argentina. It is an adaptable mammal that inhabits deserts, dry forests, and humid rainforests environments ranging from sea level up to 2400 meters. Although it does frequent open grasslands, it seems to need a certain amount of forest or shrub cover, which serve as both protection and source of food. The peccary’s diet is broad and diverse, made up of fruits, leaves, tubers, and, in smaller amounts, other animals.
The collared peccary has shown an important capacity to adapt to the presence of humans and the resulting transformation of natural ecosystems. For example, in the United States, it is not rare to see them in the center of cities and suburbs. Like other peccaries, the collared peccary is a sociable animal that lives in groups that vary from two to thirty individuals. The size of a group’s territory ranges from 24-800 hectares.
The species is considered to be extinct in Corrientes, Entre Ríos, a large part of Santa Fe, the south of Córdoba and the southeast of Santiago del Estero, while it is relatively abundant in some parts of Santa Fe, the center north of Misiones, Chaco, Formosa, Tucumán, the north of Santiago del Estero, the east of Jujuy, Salta, the southeast of Catamarca, the south of La Rioja, the east of San Juan, the west and north of Cordóba, San Luis and the northeast of Mendoza.
In the region of Iberá, there are records of its historical presence in the islands of forest of Puerto Valle (to the northeast of the Iberá Natural Reserve) where it disappeared, mostly due to hunting and deforestation, in the middle of the twentieth century. The French explorer D’Orbigny noted that the species was common in the forests of Corrientes province up to 1820.
In summary: the collared peccary is a highly adaptable mammal that lives in groups of varied size, which require a territory from tens to a few hundred hectares in ecosystems that have some forest cover. In Argentina, there are still abundant and healthy populations of this species, although it has disappeared from many regions, including from the province of Corrientes.
Creator of forests
The Red-and-green macaw (Ara chloropterus) is a large, spectacular bird that used to inhabit the forests in the northeast of Argentina, including the gallery forests of the Paraná River and zones surrounding north and central Iberá Park. Its presence in Corrientes has been recorded by a variety of explorers but it is now is extinct in all of Argentina. It is a fruit-eating bird, and plays an important role in the healthy functioning of Corrientinian forests by dispersing fruits and large seeds of a number of native tree species. In addition, its large size and bright colors make it a great tourist attraction.
There is now an initial population nucleus made up of a number of reintroduced macaws in the Cambyretá section in the north of Iberá Park, which is the first time that a bird which is extinct in Argentina has been returned to the country. These birds come from captivity and had to undergo an extensive training phase prior to release, in which they were prepared to fly long distances and to recognize native fruits.
Red-and-green Macaws: Historical inhabitants of Iberá
Because of its spectacular plumage, the macaws have been persecuted by humans throughout history. In Corrientes, there was at least two species of these large birds: the violet macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus) or “guaá-hovy’’ which is completely extinct worldwide, and the green-winged macaw (Ara chloropterus) or “guaá-pytá” which has disappeared from the province and from the rest of Argentina.
The macaws lived in forest “islands”, in stands of palms and in the gallery forests of Corrientes and other provinces like Formosa, Chaco, Santa Fe, Misiones and Entre Ríos. Today, the population of macaws that is closest to Corrientes is found more than 300 kilometers to the north in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná in Brazil, in the extreme north of Paraguay and the southeast of Bolivia and none of these groups is adequately protected.
Historic records that show the existence and subsequent extinction of the Green-winged macaw in the north of Argentina
Some of the few records made of the Green-winged macaw in our country came from Alcides D’Orbigny (1945) who in 1847 captured one in his travels through Corrientes, more specifically at Ita Ibatá during his navigation of the Paraná River. Earlier, Félix de Azara (1809) recounted that between 1781 and 1801 the species lived in the surroundings of the city of Asunción and in all of the south of Paraguay in Ñeembucú, noting that the north of Argentina up to 28 degrees of latitude was the species distribution range in the country. Sánchez Labrador also mentions its presence in the south of Paraguay.
In 1881, the commander Fontana recorded the macaw in the Chaco region, as did Enrique Lynch Arribalzaga in 1920, in his publication “The Birds of Chaco”. In 1895, Eduardo Holmber also commented that he “brought a number from Paraguay; I remember having seen them in Chaco; but Gonzalez brought two from Pilcomayo.” In June of 1891, Bertoni (1901) wrote that he had captured a macaw in the upper Paraná in the following manner: “I killed it when it was eating fruits of the Esenbeckia guatambu, with three individuals of the same size (..) I often saw the species crossing the Paraná River, it appears that it sleeps on the Argentine coast and then crosses daily to eat along the Paraguay side.” This last note corresponds to a place on the Argentine side of the Paraná River in the northeast of Misiones. There are also records of the macaw in 1883 from Santa Ana, in the department of Candelaria, Misiones Province, up until about 1917 when the last wild macaws in Argentina were hunted and killed in the province of Formosa (Chebez 2008).
The scenario that these historical records show is of a species that thrived in the forests of the region, and they also demonstrate that the species of trees needed for feeding and nesting were abundant, like the timbó and mbocayá palm, among others. It is also notable, however, that the majority of the commentary of these naturalists are about the use of the macaws as food, as pets and gifts. Considering that their comments coincide with the population boom in the region between Asunción and Corrientes and the large-scale cattle industry that developed from 1700-1800, it is easy to understand why this species was strongly affected by human activity, up to its extinction.
To have some idea of the impact of human activity in the northeast region of Corrientes, one should consider that the number of cattle from that period is equal to the total heads of cattle that we find today in the province. Added to this, it has been noted the negative impact of the wars and soldiers that ravaged the north of Corrientes during these years.
An opportunity to recover a “Great One”
The Iberá Natural Reserve presents a nearly singular opportunity to restore the presence of this authentic “jewel of the air” in our country. Currently, the reserve has a large expanse of protected habitat with sufficient forest patches or “islands” which will sustain a stable population of Red-and-green macaws, both within the public property of the Provincial Park as well as in private nature reserves. In addition, in Iberá there exists a group of institutions and experts with the experience of restoring populations of extinct or endangered species, like the giant anteater, the pampas deer and the collared peccary.
Four reasons to recover the Red-and-green macaw
It fulfills a role in the proper functioning of forest patches or islands in controlling the dispersal of fruits and large seeds of native trees
It would mean the recovery of a species extinct in Argentina and the conservation of a wild population at the southern end of its geographic range.
As one of the most spectacular birds of the Americas, it will be a first-class tourist attraction and will contribute to the development of local communities.
It will also restore a cultural value to Correntinos and will again be represent in artistic expressions and stories, like in the paintings in the cupola of the emblematic Vera Theater in the city of Corrientes.
From captivity to freedom in Iberá
The Red-and-green macaws in our project come from a captive life in a variety of zoos and breeding centers throughout the country. These animals are transported to the Aguará Center of Rewilding in the province of Corrientes, where they form groups of individuals and where they undergo a series of health examinations that are necessary to ensure that they do not pass any disease into the wild environment upon their release. When the health exams are successfully passed, the macaws begin intensive flight training in order to develop their flight abilities and flight muscles. From the moment they arrive at the center, they also receive native fruits so that they will be able to recognize them as a source of food once they are freed.
Before being transported to the place where they will be freed, a small radio transmitter is attached to each macaw which allows the team to follow each bird once they are released. They are then moved to the Cambyretá sector of the reserve, at the northern entrance to the Esteros del Iberá located to the south of Ituzaingó and Villa Olivari. There, the macaws are housed in small mobile cages located in the interior of different forest patches for several days, in order that they can become used to their new surroundings. These cages are opened progressively more and more often, and feeding platforms are located in nearby trees so that the birds can begin to explore the environment. These feeding platforms are moved farther and farther from the cage, so as to increase the distance that the bird needs to fly and the opportunity to explore, up until the time of complete independence. After being freed, and as they are amplifying their area of activity, the macaws are monitored by project staff in order to evaluate their adaption to the natural environment, their reproduction status and their survival in the long term. There are also artificial nest boxes located in different tall trees in the forest that breeding pairs can use to nest until they learn how to find natural cavities in the trees and palms of the area.
One of the first chicks to be born in the Red-and-green macaw Reintroduction Project in Iberá Park. Photo: Matías Rebak.
As of 2021, at least 21 red-and-green macaws live free in northern Iberá. Our team periodically monitors most of the birds. In contrast, others have dispersed further than the distance at which we can receive the signal from their transmitters. In 2019, two couples established in Cambyretá and began using box-nests in different spots of the forest, where they laid eggs. These are the first reproductive events recorded in the project. Although the inexperienced parents smashed the eggs days later, we confirmed these were fertile.
It is common for first-time parents to fail in their initial lay attempts. In September 2020, one of the couples laid three eggs, which hatched one month later, in October. Red-and-green macaws rarely succeed in raising more than one chick. On this occasion, they successfully bred two of them. Our team confirmed they were two females and aided their parents in feeding the chicks during the initial months. Once they developed their full plumage, the newborn macaws started leaving the nest. In January, they made their first flight attempts.
Ninety-one days after their birth, the eldest sister left the nest and flew over 500 meters. The following days, she spent the night out of the nest. She flew accompanied by her dad across several kilometers to a forest nearby. Five days later, the younger sibling joined the flights. We expect that the parents feed their offspring until they can find seeds and fruits by themselves and become independent. Both sisters wear collars that allow us to monitor their movements and know their positions daily.
The bare-faced curassow, (Crax fasciolata), known in Argentina as the muitú, is largest of the galliforme birds in Argentina. It inhabits the northeast of our country, but because of extensive hunting for its meat and the destruction of the forests where it once lived, it has disappeared from the provinces of Santa Fe, Corrientes and Misiones and only subsists in low numbers in small parts in the east of Chaco and Formosa. It is a big consumer and disperser of fruits and seeds, thereby assisting the regeneration of the forests in which it lives. We are currently in the initial phase of a project to reintroduce the species in Iberá Park.
A bird endangered in the country
The bare-faced curassow is catagorized as “Vulnerable” worldwide and as a species of “high priority for conservation”. In Argentina, the species is categorized as “Endangered”, given the rate of decrease of its populations in the areas it inhabits, along with the continuation of the threats like poaching, the degradation or loss of habitat by selective logging and alterations in waterways. It is estimated that the number of adult birds in the country does not exceed 2500 and the most viable populations are found in gallery forests in the east of Formosa, while isolated and scarce groups are found in the extreme northeast of Chaco, in the region of the humid Chaco. In the rest of its historic distribution, in the provinces of Corrientes, Misiones and Santa Fe, the bird is extinct.
An important ecological role
The bare-faced curassow inhabits forests and surrounding areas, and is often found in gallery forests (associated with creeks or rivers). It is largely a fruit-eating bird that feeds on fallen fruits, sprouts and seeds, as well as flowers and invertebrates. Like other crácidos (birds in the family Cracidae), the curassow has the ability to disperse the seeds of trees with fleshy fruits, especially those that have large seeds that cannot be ingested by other birds or mammals and they are consumers of hard seeds which can be digested in their stomach. It is because of this that they fulfill a key ecological role in the maintenance of the function and the biodiversity of the forests that they inhabit, being able to contribute to their regeneration and restoration.
Records of the species in Iberá
There is evidence that the species once inhabited the northern part of the province of Corrientes. The last records note that 30-40 years ago they were found along the Paraná River (close to Ituzaingo, in the área of the Yacyretá dam) and in the north of the Esteros del Iberá (close to Villa Olivari). Although there are no records from the more southern part of the province, it is probable that the species was living in other sections of Iberá and of Aguapey, that have similar environments with seasonally dry tropical forests most suitable for this species.
An opportunity to recover one of the major seed dispersers of Iberá
Because of its conservation status as well as for its role in the ecosystems in which it lives, we are planning to begin the reintroduction of the bare-faced curassow within Iberá Park. The recovery of this bird would not only enable the increase in population of a species that has been lost in a large part of its original range, but would let it return to its role as a regenerator of forests, via the dispersion of large seeds. Along with the ecological effect that the restoration of the curassow would have on the ecosystem, the reintroduction of the species would be another important resource for the “production of nature” economy that is being developed in the region, based on eco-tourism and wildlife viewing.
The first site selected for liberation of the bird is a section of the 1234-hectare San Jose property, called Yerbalito and located in the northeast section of the Iberá Reserve. Yerbalito was acquired by Rewilding Argentina in 2019 and has the largest forest patches of the region, along with grasslands, flooded grasslands and marshlands. The forests within this property are representative of the “Seasonal Dry Forest” ecosystem that continues to the east up to the Atlantic Forest, to the west up to the forests of the humid Chaco, along the river valleys of the Paraná and Paraguay, and to the north, to the forests of Eastern Paraguay, including to Ñeembucu, which is a region with similar characteristics to Iberá. Considering the availability of large forest patches, it should have a high potential as a site for the pilot project to reintroduce the bare-faced curassow.
One of the first chicks to be born in the Bare-faced curassow Reintroduction Project in Iberá Park. Photo: Matías Rebak.
The bare-faced curassow reintroduction project began in 2019 with the arrival of the first individuals from Refugio Bella Vista, in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, and managed by Itaipú Binacional. After the birds completed the quarantine period, we took them to Iberá to go through an acclimatization period in a pre-release pen. The 12-meter high structure was designed to house many individuals, with many trees inside where the birds sleep. After some months of acclimatization, the birds were released to the reserve.
Each bird wears a VHF collar that allows our team to monitor its movements and locations periodically. After exploring the territory, some individuals dispersed into the forest, covering considerably long distances. Two couples established and built nests, where they laid eggs that did not hatch, probably because of the parents’ inexperience. Soon after, both couples laid again, and the eggs hatched in February 2021. These were the first births recorded in the project. The chicks left the nest immediately and remained with their parents for several weeks until they became completely independent. We expect to import more individuals from Brazil and Paraguay to join the already reintroduced ones and thus consolidate a bare-faced curassow nucleus in Iberá.
The return of the bare-faced curassow to Iberá and Corrientes has a triple impact: it improves the critical conservation status of the species, it recovers the species’ ecological role as a forest creator in Iberá, and it contributes to the consolidation of Iberá as birdwatching and nature-tourism destination and, thus, to the development of local communities.
The red-legged seriema (Seriema cristata) is a largely terrestrial, walking bird inhabiting open sectors of the Chaco and espinal regions. It consumes worms, spiders, insects and small vertabrates like lizards, snakes and rodents, helping control these populations. The red-legged seriema disappeared from broad sections of the north of the country, including the province of Corrientes, where it once lived in the southeastern corner. In the Rincón del Socorro Reserve (within Iberá Park) an experimental project to reintroduce this species began in 2018.
Three individuals are currently in a pre-release pen in Rincón del Socorro Reserve. We expect to bring in more individuals to form an initial nucleus. Two birds coupled and bred on many occasions and even laid eggs, although no births were recorded. Even though the species is present in Iberá, we are working to reinforce that population by reintroducing seriemas in some Park areas where they are absent, such as Rincón del Socorro.
Iberá is brilliant water, blue skies, endless plains, plentiful wildlife and magical sunsets. It is as surprising in its potential for the viewing of large mammals as Africa, and as traditional as mate and the Correntino chamamé.
Since 2005 we have been promoting the creation of the tourist destination of “Iberá”. Its “scenic route” covers more than 1000 kilometers, passing through seven communities surrounding the park and ten entrances or gateways, with public access created for the enjoyment of the experience of “rewilding”.
Thanks to the work we have done jointly with the national and provincial governments, municipal authorities, NGO’s and to press publicity, Iberá is now positioned as one of the principle nature destinations in Argentina, and tourism is already an economic engine for local development.
The Iberá Regional Brand
When we mention a place, we automatically relate the name to a landscape, an animal or an experience. For Iguazú, it is the cataracts, for Península Valdés, it is whale-watching. Salta, the Spanish-style houses and red ponchos. What does the name Iberá bring to mind for a tourist?
Wildlife, watery landscapes, gauchos, country-folk, capybaras, marsh deer, caiman and many birds.
Iberá means “sparkling waters” in the Guarani language, reflecting the unmatched beauty of its immense bodies of water, which are framed by sunrises and sunset of singular splendor. The brand of “Iberá” was born as a simple, clean logo that contains great significance. It is a logo that combines the letters IBERA with tall grasses and the iconic yetapá de collar or strange-tailed tyrant, symbolizing that, in Iberá, natural environments and habitat for many endemic species has been restored.
The Iberá logo has been adopted by many of the villages surrounding the esteros, by tourist operators, businesses and by many people who feel part of this vast region and want it to be visible to the world. Today, being part of Iberá is a source of pride for the communities and imparts prestige to local entrepreneurs and businesses.
The Iberá Scenic Route
The roadways that encircle Iberá and the interior byways trace a route through these vast spaces that both protect and show the most enticing landscapes and cultural elements, and provide optimal wildlife viewing, from beginning to end of the circuit.
This scenic route links the gateways to the park and the communities around Iberá and has signage made from local materials and in a style that is in harmony with the place and surrounding landscape. In this way, visitors always feel as if they are deep within the Esteros, while for local communities, their tourist services and products are enhanced by being part of a regional brand with a unique and defined identity, which is reflected in all forms and levels of communication and recognized worldwide.
A gateway is a point of public access to the Park, with tourist infrastructure and services designed to allow visitors to be immersed in and to enjoy all of the natural splendor of the place. The Great Iberá Park has 10 gateways or entrances, which, in 2020, visitors will find in different stages of development. Each gateway has its own distinct cultural aspect and offers different types of activities, services and experiences, all framed by the natural and pristine environment of Iberá.
After more than twenty years of working jointly with community and political leaders, we have managed to construct a common vision, shared by the provincial and municipal governments, of the economic potential of nature tourism, which, in many places, is becoming an engine of local economic development.
This is the result of intense work in the region of the project’s influence that has fortified the environment and tourism sectors within public institutions. This has permitted the development of proposals for better agricultural practices, and, through long-term communication campaigns, has increased the value placed on the natural and cultural heritage of the eco-region.
With the goal of mitigating negative environmental impacts, we have worked with the towns and villages in the region to resolve urban planning issues and have collaborated in the development of public infrastructure, informational signs and improvement of urban centers in order to increase opportunities for recreation and tourism.
In addition, we have joined with our rural neighbors to legalize their land tenure so that they can receive titles to their property and to help them access basic utilities like energy and water. Additionally, we provide trainings to those who want to start businesses within the tourism sector.
“Sakados del Tacho”, a troupe of puppets made of recycled materials, tell the story of Arami and Mbarate, the jaguars from Corrientes, in the community of San Miguel during the “Corriente Roars” festival. MATÍAS REBAK
From the beginning of the project, the Rewilding Argentina Foundation has helped train leaders in local communities in order to support their role as guardians of the natural and cultural heritage which is an integral part of Iberá’s identity.
To build the capacity of leaders, we have conducted environmental education and awareness “tours” in the different villages and locales of the scenic route. At each place, we have presented many works of theater and talks in schools, set up stands at local fairs and developed promotional and educational material, in both Spanish and Guarani language, and we continue to be consulted by students, teachers and the public in general.
Additionally, through various events and efforts to disseminate information, we continue to bring the themes of Rewilding and the Economy of Nature to the communities, with the goal that they understand these concepts and feel part of efforts to restore the local wildlife.
In this sense, it becomes important to highlight that the species reintroduction projects that we carry out in Iberá are possible thanks to the partnership that we receive from the local communities, to their training in environmental concepts, and to their support of efforts to recover the health of the ecosystem in which they live.
The road to the transformation of local entrepreneurship
The flavors and traditions of Iberá are passed from generation to generation. The elder hunters and inhabitants of the marshlands are those who best know these landscapes and the trips that they offer —in canoes pulled by horse or poled by hand— have become a tourism attraction that hundreds of visitors now enjoy every year. Photo: Beth Wald.
The training of local leaders and entrepreneurs is an integral part of the work we do in Iberá and in the rest of our projects, and we conduct these through different kinds of activities, exchange trips to other destinations dedicated to nature tourism and by offering specialized courses taught by internationally renowned experts.
We also work with the Iberá Committee to develop courses and workshops related to the Economy of Nature model and the kinds of tourist services that are possible to offer in the area of influence of the Park, such as restaurants and dining, hotels, horseback riding, hiking, and boat trips.
In 2019, we identified and promoted 29 new entrepreneurs connected to the Great Iberá Park, who are now in the final stages prior to launching their business ventures. Over the years we have also helped in the formation of different business groups, such as “Chefs of Iberá” and “Iberá Porá2 (Beautiful Iberá in Guarani language).
Associations of producers with a local brand
The formation of associations and coops helps local people to organize, share experiences and begin and sustain new ventures in a timely manner. There are government programs to help first time businesses to buy supplies and make other investments, as well as trainings in food management, creation of local guides, and how to work with tourists.
But as in all businesses, one has to not only think of the product, but also in the demand. And to insure that the business attracts customers, one has to be at the right location or be able to access potential visitors through good communication, to offer products that are high quality and safe, coordinate with others offering services in different spots and maintain contact with the clients so that they return. Generally, specialized tourist operators and agencies are in charge of helping local businesses with these challenges; they also create promotions that are done together with all of the gateways, which is much more effective in promoting Iberá as an entire destination than if they were conducted by just one gateway or village.
In general, local businesses operating in or near protected areas receive a boost in the value of their products due to their origin or source. Such is the case of the “Chefs of Iberá”, a network of more than 100 men and women who use traditional recipes and cooking techniques from the local culture and who use the brand of “Iberá” to promote their products and services.
The Chefs of Iberá was created with the idea of making the flavors of Iberá more widely known and appreciated and to place more value on traditional recipes and local products. They work through a network made up of more than 130 cooks and food suppliers, a majority of who are women, and offer typical dishes made of local products of the region, most of it harvested by themselves. Over the years, they have perfected these dishes and now they are requested to cook at the
most important events, presentations and fairs in the country. Their food truck is an attraction that travels through the various communities, bringing the cuisine of Iberá to the peak of culinary tourism.
Representatives and inhabitants of the community of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini welcome visitors on the bridge leading to the village.
In Colonia Carlos Pellegrini and in San Miguel, we work with the Association for Habitat Humanitas and with the Ministry of Social Action of the Nation to make a study related to the 17 Objectives of Sustainable Development, measuring the well-being and most urgent needs of the inhabitants according to the indicators of the Organization for Cooperation and Local Development.
This study had as its objective to create, with key persons of the community, an economic and social plan that moves towards a new economy, using the momentum of works and actions. This vision is expressed in a book that was done with the participation of the municipality.
In Concepción de Yaguareté Corá we work closely with rural inhabitants of the settlements of Carambola and Ñu Py, in order to help them integrate with tourist activities: today, these communities are in a better position and with a greater capacity to receive visitors.