Local nonprofit helps to save ecosystem in Bolivia

Landscape Gran Chaco.jpg
The Gran Chaco, which spans parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, is a land of big skies and wide open spaces.<br>

Nature and Culture International, a local environmental nonprofit, has reached across the globe to help protect three-million acres of one of the most endangered ecosystems in South America – the Nembi Guasu forest in Gran Chaco, Bolivia. The area comprises three-million acres of intact forest worth fighting to protect. To give you an idea of the size of the project, Nembi Guasu is one-and-a-half times bigger than Yellowstone National Park.

Nature and Culture International, or NCI, is collaborating with Nativa Bolivia, ICUN Netherlands and World Land Trust to carry out the conservation efforts. NCI describes itself as “a small but incredibly effective nonprofit, protecting precious ecosystems and communities.” The nonprofit was started in 1997 and, to date, it has helped to protect more than 20 million acres in Latin America.

By all accounts, Nembi Guasu is a magical place. Because of its large size, it has incredible flora and fauna, and it’s one of the few remaining strongholds in the world for jaguar, puma and ocelot. The forest is also home to peccaries (medium-size ungulate mammals similar to pigs), maned wolves, giant anteaters and armadillos in abundant supply.

Nocturnal photo of a tapir, one of many large mammals that live in the newly created Ñembi Guasu protected area.<br>

But the clock is ticking. Most of the surrounding area has already been decimated to make way for soybeans and bio-fuel crops. More than 25 million acres of habitat have been lost over the last 15 years, which amounts to an area the size of Kentucky. The environmentalists at NCI wanted to save Nembi Guasu from a similar fate.

There are other destructive but strangely oppositional factors at play beyond human efforts. According to Matt Clark, CEO of Nature and Culture International, “Climate change is causing extreme drought as well as exacerbated rainfall in the Gran Chaco. This is a seasonally dry forest. During parts of the year now, it can become almost swamp-like. Because of this, many plants and animals will go extinct, unable to adapt quickly enough to changing conditions or to migrate due to habitat fragmentation. On top of that, drought is also a big problem for the agriculture in this area.”

There’s also a practical reason to save this Bolivian paradise. It’s the home of the Guaraní and Ayoreo peoples, two of the last uncontacted groups outside of the Amazon. According to Clark, lots of data suggest that lands managed by indigenous peoples are generally better conserved than other lands. The natives’ oversight will also help to secure essential non-timber resources for nearby communities, including clean water and local plants with great medicinal value.

“With the addition of Ñembi Guasu, 15 million acres of the Gran Chaco’s most cultural and biologically diverse forests are now protected,” comments Renzo Paladines, Nature and Culture’s executive director of Latin America. “This is critical for protecting this eco-region’s unique biodiversity, and the home and way of life of the Guaraní and Ayoreo peoples.”


Clark also points out that the area creates a connected corridor between two national parks – the Otuquis and the Kaa-Iya. All told, these three areas protect more than 15 million acres of the Gran Chaco.

This endeavor goes straight to the core of what NCI is all about. “That’s what our work is about,” says Clark, “trying to protect enough nature to maintain functioning ecosystems that benefit us all, plus save as many at-risk species from extinction as we can.”

If you’d like to learn more about the projects Nature and Culture International is involved in, go to or call 858-259-0374.

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