Located in the Department of Santa Cruz, in the lowlands of Bolivia, the wetlands of Bañados del Izogog-Rio Parapeti, El Palmar de las Islas-Salinas de San José, and Bolivian Pantanal are home to healthy populations of hundreds of species of flora and fauna, which are threatened in other parts of the country and in the rest of the world. These include, among others, the jaguar, the tapir, the giant river otter and the hyacinth macaw.
The newly protected sites are also very important freshwater reserves for the surrounding human populations.
"The inclusion of these sites on the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance is a huge achievement for both conservation and local communities," said Dr Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International. "The impressive expanse of land and water that becomes protected thanks to this move, represents close to 10 per cent of the global conservation goal of WWF's Living Waters Programme."
The Bolivian government's decision has been recognized as a Gift to the Earth - a first for freshwater in Latin America - by WWF.
On a global scale, Bolivia becomes the second country to designate such a vast area of wetlands in the Convention's 30 years of existence.
The designation of RAMSAR sites implies that governments commit at both local and national level to better conservation of the wetlands and wiser use of the natural resources. It means that development projects such as waterways, highways, drainage and irrigation canals or oil and gas pipelines need to be carefully planned and their environmental impact thoroughly assessed.
This is particularly important for the Bolivian Pantanal, confronted with various large-scale development projects, including the Paraguay-Parana waterway, the construction of which would necessitate land clearance and dredging rivers in the region.
"Local actors, such as municipal authorities, indigenous communities, farmers and private landowners have welcomed the designation of the sites," pointed out Roger Landivar, WWF Country Representative in Bolivia. "They showed not only interest but also hope and commitment to participate in the conservation of these ecosystems while at the same time accessing natural resources in a sustainable way."
The Bolivian Pantanal is a mosaic of lakes, lagoons, rivers, flooded savannas, palms, dry forests and cerrado. It regulates floods and droughts in a vast area of Eastern Bolivia and sustains at least 197 species of fish, more than 70 species of amphibians and reptiles, more than 300 species of birds and more than 50 species of large mammals.
The Palmar de las Islas and Salinas de San José system of wetlands is the only source of water in a vast area in the Chaco ecoregion. Its surrounding landscape has been traditionally and almost exclusively used by the Ayoreo indigenous people.
Also located in the Chaco, the Bañados del Izogog and Rio Parapeti wetlands are linked to the Amazon basin, forming a biological and genetic corridor. They are a vital source of water for the Izoceña indigenous group.
For further information:
Ana Alicia Eid, WWF Bolivia, tel.: + 591 3 325416 ; + 591 3 331366 or + 591 3 365326
Lisa Hadeed, WWF's Living Waters Programme, tel.: + 41 22 364 90 30 ; e-mail: lhadeed@ wwfint.org
Olivier van Bogaert, WWF International, tel.: +41 22 364 95 54 ; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org