El Gran Manupare: the new jewel of Pando, in Bolivia, holds wonders that are beginning to reveal themselves

Like a snake, the Manupare River in its splendor. Photo: Karina Segovia.

May 27th, 2024

In the heart of the municipality of Sena, in the province of Madre de Dios, department of Pando, lies El Gran Manupare Integrated Management Natural Area. This impressive territory, which covers 452,639 hectares and was created in January 2024, offers an almost unknown refuge full of wildlife and dreamlike landscapes. Here, local communities have managed to keep 97% of their forest in a good state of conservation, a testament to their commitment to the protection and sustainability of this valuable ecosystem.


Roberto Navia



Karina Segovia

Photographer of dron


Clovis de la Jaille


The branches of some centenary trees get wet on the banks of the Manupare River and the warm wind of the northern Bolivian Amazon intones a little music that accompanies the squawking of the birds that rule the sky of Pando. The outboard motorboat in which we are traveling has become still, to enjoy this symphony of nature and so that we can fly the drone that from above can see how the river, as extensive as it is, looks like a snake whose wet body is lost on all sides of the horizon and rests on a mattress of green cotton.

– Here, where we are now, is a site that is now protected, says Jaime Aguirre, mayor of the municipality of Sena.

– This is El Gran Manupare, he emphasizes, with a voice that the wind makes travel through the treetops.

El Gran Manupare is the newest protected area in Bolivia. It was created as an Integrated Management Natural Area in January 2024 by the Municipal Autonomous Government of the municipality of Sena, in the department of Pando, through a Municipal Law enacted last January 26. With an extension of 452,639 hectares, with 97% of its forests in a good state of conservation, it protects 9.2 million tons of irrecoverable carbon.

In this boat that takes us through the heart of El Gran Manupare, in addition to the mayor, the municipal councilors are also traveling, as well as leaders of peasant organizations that were an important part of the prior consultation process and representatives of Conservation International Bolivia, which has been an important part of the creation of the new protected area.

Location map of El Gran Manupare.

El Gran Manupare is not only a refuge for endangered species such as the giant otter and the majestic jaguar, but also an essential pillar in the conservation mosaic that connects with the Manuripi Amazon National Wildlife Reserve and the Bajo Madidi Municipal Conservation and Management Area. This green corridor of almost 10 million hectares beats with the life of millions of beings and sustains an economy that flourishes from the forest.

El Gran Manupare is a symphony of collaboration and community effort. For a year, the voices of the communities, social organizations and Indigenous authorities intertwined in a unified chorus, collecting socioeconomic and cultural data that formed the basis for the creation of this protected area. The consultations, carried out from July to December 2023, gathered the hopes and needs of the inhabitants of the Sena municipality, who have lived and thrived with the forest for generations.

In conversation with the boat passengers, the images of El Gran Manupare unfold with stories that paint rivers meandering through the trees, jaguars lurking stealthily in the gloom, treetops whispering ancient stories, butterflies fluttering in the sun’s rays through the leaves of the vegetation, and in the clearings, families gathering chestnuts, perpetuating a legacy of sustainability and respect for nature.

The magnitude of this reserve is impressive. It covers almost a third of the municipality of Sena and protects a vast extension of the banks of the Manupare River, where there is an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, as well as a cultural wealth that the local communities have known how to protect for generations. «This reserve is a historic achievement,» says mayor Aguirre, as he pilots the speedboat as it moves forward without haste.

The process of creating the reserve was not easy. It lasted just over eight months, a period full of challenges and obstacles that demanded the collaboration and commitment of everyone involved. «It has been hard and complex work,» recalls Aguirre, who mentions the constant collaboration of Conservation International and the unconditional support of the communities. These joint efforts have made it possible to overcome significant challenges, such as drought and forest fires, constant threats in the region.

One of the highlights of this project has been the active participation of local communities, both peasant and Indigenous. These communities, with their ancestral knowledge and close relationship with nature, have been fundamental to the success of the initiative. «We have worked together with them, respecting their uses and customs,» says the mayor of Sena, emphasizing respect for and integration of local traditions into the conservation plan.

The creation of this protected area represents a firm commitment to environmental conservation and cultural preservation. For the municipality of Sena, this initiative is a source of pride and an example for all of Bolivia. «We are proud to be able to conserve this wealth for the whole world,» declares the mayor. This protected area not only conserves the local ecosystem, but also sends a powerful message about the importance of conservation in times of increasing environmental threat.

At any moment, a boat navigating the Manupare can be seen. Photo: Clovis de la Jaille.

Pando stands as a living testimony to the natural and cultural richness of our planet. With more than 6 million hectares of native forests and a dazzling biodiversity, this corner of the world is a haven for flora and fauna, and a source of livelihood for its inhabitants.

Governor Regis Germán Richter, born and raised on the banks of the Tahuamanu River in the municipality of Porvenir, has experienced firsthand the symbiosis between the people of Pando and their natural environment. «We grew up and were born in the Amazon,» he relates proudly. «By nature, we conserve the forest, first by collecting rubber and now, by harvesting Brazil nuts.»

El Gran Manupare is Bolivia’s newest protected area, an ecological jewel that strives to conserve the region’s biodiversity.

Pando’s economy has traditionally been based on the collection of natural resources, such as rubber and Brazil nuts, which not only provide income, but also foster a culture of conservation. «From the Governor’s Office, as lovers of the Amazon and the countryside, we have been imparting policies worked with NGOs, international cooperants and different sectors to continue preserving this department as a 100% Amazonian place,» explains the Governor. These policies include the enactment of the Law of Amazonian Fruits and the declaration of last April as the month of Amazonian fruits.

The creation of protected areas is another fundamental pillar of Pando’s conservation strategy. One of the most important recent milestones has been the birth of the El Gran Manupare protected area, an effort led by Conservation International in the municipality of Sena. «We are very pleased with the work that Conservation International has been doing. This area is a milestone, as one of the largest areas in the entire department,» says the Governor. El Gran Manupare not only protects biodiversity, but also ensures that local communities can continue to live sustainably, taking advantage of natural resources without compromising the future.

El Carmen, with its port on the banks of the Manupare River. Photo: Karina Segovia.

The Land Use Plan is a crucial tool in this context. «We are working in coordination with the Secretariat of Mother Earth and with the support of NGOs. Surveys and information have been carried out in the 15 municipalities and we are in the last stage of seeing and listening to the proposals and concerns of some sectors», comments the Governor. The objective is to maintain Pando as the only 100% Amazonian department in Bolivia, where conservation and sustainable production go hand in hand.

Pando, with its lush vegetation, varied fauna and ancestral cultural wealth, is a living testimony to the harmony between humans and nature. «We have great biodiversity, lots of fauna and riverine communities that live off fishing. Our main economy is based on Brazil nut harvesting. We are the only department in Bolivia that lives entirely from Brazil nuts and other fruits that the forest provides,» concludes the Governor of Pando.

The Gran Manupare is not only a refuge for endangered species, but also an essential pillar in the Amazon’s conservation mosaic.

In a remote but vibrant community called Puerto Yaminahua, lives Manuel Rodríguez, a 68-year-old Indigenous wise man. As president of the community, Manuel has become the voice and guardian of a territory where nature and ancestral culture coexist in a delicate balance.

Manuel, with his deep and serene gaze, proudly describes the territory that has been home to his people for generations. «We live in harmony with nature, preserving our customs and ancestral knowledge,» he says, his voice reflecting respect and love for the land they inhabit. He tells that in Puerto Yaminawa, biodiversity is abundant, with medicinal plants and traditional foods such as cassava, which form an essential part of their diet and medicine.

Manuel is aware of the creation of the El Gran Manupare protected area and this fills him with happiness. He knows that forest conservation is an absolute priority in a world where deforestation and indiscriminate extraction are constant threats.

Authorities and professionals from Conservation International Bolivia, in El Carmen, who were key to the birth of El Gran Manupare. Photo: Clovis de la Jaille.

However, this commitment to conservation is not without its challenges. Manuel mentions the constant threat of deforestation and mining, in addition to the lack of economic support for sustainable initiatives. «We need policies and programs that promote conservation and sustainable development,» he emphasizes. The fight for the protection of their territory and culture requires not only local effort, but also the support and collaboration of external actors.

Through his wisdom and leadership, Manuel Rodríguez wants to share a message with the world: «Our culture and our territory are part of our being,» he declares with conviction. The protection of these resources is not only vital for the Yaminahua, but also for humanity as a whole. Manuel calls on everyone to support his conservation efforts, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same natural and cultural wealth that his community has valued for centuries.

This green corridor beats with the life of millions of beings, from the tiniest insects to the majestic jaguars.

Adam Ramirez, president of the Sena community, is a 52-year-old man whose life and leadership are dedicated to the protection of his land and its inhabitants. He represents the 105 members of the community, who together face constant challenges to protect their territory from illegal activities such as land clearing.

During the chestnut harvest season, which runs from December to March, the community immerses itself in the collection of chestnuts, an activity that is not only crucial to their economy, but also an ancestral tradition that strengthens community ties. «We dedicate ourselves to rescuing the chestnut kernel,» explains Adán. «We pick the nuts from the field, open them and extract the almond. Then we fill a barrel with the almonds and transport them to a collection center.» This laborious and demanding process begins early in the morning and extends into the evening, with each worker collecting about two and a half bags a day.

Once harvested, the almonds are transported to the collection center, where a trader buys them for sale and distribution. The Sena community has a camp equipped with basic services such as a kitchen and bathroom, providing a place for workers to rest during the harvest. This infrastructure is vital to sustain the arduous work required to collect Brazil nuts in the forest.

The community’s organization in land ownership and legal regulations is clear and well defined. «Our community has internal plots, and each family has the right to work in a certain area,» Adán explains. Through land titling processes, the community has obtained land titles and settlement resolutions that support their right to the land. This legal structure strengthens their position in the face of external threats and ensures the continuity of their traditional practices.

Families collecting Brazil nuts perpetuate a legacy of sustainability, teaching new generations the importance of caring for and respecting the land.

The price of Brazil nut kernels has fluctuated in recent years, varying between 120 and 150 Bolivianos per bag of 23-kilograms. This income is essential for the community’s families, enabling them to sustain themselves and maintain their way of life.

In Pando, Adam Ramírez explains, around 57 communities are involved in Brazil nut production, underscoring the importance of this activity in the region.

Beyond economics, the Sena Community is deeply committed to the conservation of its natural environment. Adam and his people face constant challenges such as deforestation and illegal mining. «We are committed to proceeding according to the corresponding norms and raising the necessary demands for the future of our conservation unit,» he emphasizes. The creation of the El Gran Manupare protected area, which covers 452,639 hectares, is a prime example of these efforts. This area protects a vast expanse of Amazonian forest and serves as a symbol of the community’s commitment to conservation.

The corner where the Manupare and Madre de Dios rivers meet. Photo: Karina Segovia.

For those interested in visiting the Sena Community, Adam extends a warm invitation. «We would like to welcome you and show you our way of life and our dedication to the preservation of nature,» he says with a smile. The community is open to receiving visitors and sharing their culture, traditions and conservation efforts.

Daniel Trujillo Robledo, secretary general of the Central de Campesinos, recalls that he participated in the consultation and participation for the approval of the El Gran Manupare protected area, which sought to inform the communities about the objectives and dispel initial doubts and uncertainties. «There was uncertainty in our community about whether the project would affect our traditional activities, such as fishing, hunting and production for family sustenance,» recalls Daniel. However, over time, it became clear that the project would not deprive the communities of these activities, but would protect them, which eventually reassured the community.

The conservation of nature and natural resources is vital for the Indigenous and peasant communities, who depend on these for their daily sustenance. «We have rivers like the Madre de Dios and the Manupare, which are fundamental for our daily life and for the conservation of our Amazon and our forests,» Daniel emphasizes. The importance of these communities in the conservation of these resources cannot be underestimated, and their role in Brazil nut production is a clear example of this.

El Gran Manupare covers almost a third of the municipality of Sena, offering a protective mantle to the flora and fauna that inhabit this corner of the planet.

«Brazil nut production is one of the main economic sources in our communities,» Daniel explains. The farmers struggle every year to obtain a better price for their product, a constant effort to support their families and keep their tradition alive. This activity is important for the local economy and plays an important role in preserving the Amazon forest.

Limberg Torrez, president of the Municipal Council of the municipality of El Sena, was also a key figure in the creation of this new protected area, an achievement that promises to safeguard a vast territory full of life and natural wealth.

«As Municipal Council, we have supported the work of our Municipal Executive in the creation of this new protected area. Our goal is to conserve our forests and our Amazon. We have been accompanying the technical work and have participated in the socialization and consensus with the communities,» he says, proudly.

Community participation has been essential in this process. Torrez details how they have worked in coordination with municipal government technicians and community leaders to ensure that every voice is heard, and every concern is addressed. «We have visited each district and convened the communities to receive their support,» he explains. «Our Amazon has a lot of wealth in fauna, flora and rivers, and it is important to protect it.»

The corn drying in the sun, in El Carmen, within the heart of El Gran Manupare. Photo: Clovis de la Jaille.

The new protected area is home to an impressive variety of species. «The wildlife in the protected area is rich in species such as deer, tapir and jochi, as well as a variety of bird species in the sky and fish in the rivers,» says Torrez enthusiastically. This biodiversity is a treasure that the municipality is determined to preserve for future generations.

The message from the president of the Municipal Council to all Bolivians is clear and emotional. «I want to tell Bolivians that this new protected area is like the birth of something new and hopeful. It is a joint effort to conserve our natural wealth for present and future generations. It is a source of pride for Pando and for the entire country».

Marianela Ribera Villarroel, a resident of the Berceva community, president of district 4, passionate conservation advocate and lifelong resident of communities along the Manupare River, shares her perspective on this achievement: «To all the people who live here and also to those who don’t, I would say that being catalogued as a protected area is a big step. It means that we are leaving a legacy for future generations,» Marianela expresses with a mixture of pride and hope. «We must be aware that we are not going to be here forever, but what we do now will impact our children, grandchildren and all generations to come. Helping Mother Nature is helping ourselves in the future.»

For Marianela, protecting El Gran Manupare is not about imposing restrictions, but about fostering a harmonious partnership with the environment. «It’s not about restricting, but about collaborating with the environment,» she stresses.

El Gran Manupare is not only an area of extraordinary natural beauty, but also a place full of personal memories for Marianela when she lived in the Carmen barracks that used to belong to her father and now belongs to her aunt Elsy Villarroel Parada «This is where I grew up since I was a little girl, we lived here with my father, now it belongs to my uncles and aunts. It’s a beautiful place that brings back beautiful memories,» she says nostalgically. One of her most vivid memories is the presence of the black caiman, a creature that, despite its dangerousness, was part of her childhood adventures. «I always remember when the black caiman came, we were four very naughty siblings, and when we saw the caiman while bathing in the river, we would quickly climb a tree.»

These memories emphasize the importance of protecting and conserving the local fauna. In times past, the region’s rivers were abundant with fish, but the reality has changed. «There used to be a lot of fish in the area, but now it is no longer the same,» laments Marianela. The community has taken measures to take care of their environment, prohibiting indiscriminate hunting and fishing, and promoting respect among the communities to ensure the protection of their respective areas.

The Madre de Dios River, a source of life for Bolivia and beyond its borders. Photo: Karina Segovia.

Looking to the future, Marianela is committed to continue working on environmental conservation in her area. «I will always be collaborating in making people aware of the importance of taking care of the environment. We are trying to get a resolution in my district so that there will be no timber permits and to look for other forms of livelihood that do not harm the environment,» she explains with determination. Her approach goes beyond preserving trees; she seeks sustainable alternatives that allow people to sustain themselves without harming nature.

With a final message, Marianela thanks all those interested in the conservation of El Gran Manupare. «I want to thank you for caring about the environment and for visiting our area. I invite you to visit the areas that correspond to me and I will always be willing to collaborate in the conservation of this place,» she says. For her, it is essential that everyone becomes aware of the importance of protecting our environment for future generations.

Pando stands as a living testimony to the natural and cultural richness of our planet, a place where nature and humanity coexist in harmony.

The importance of understanding nature, especially the Amazon, from a scientific perspective cannot be underestimated. The Amazon is not just a vast expanse of rainforest; it is a living being that plays a crucial role in the ecological balance of the planet. From carbon sequestration to oxygen production and the regulation of water cycles, their function is vital. Vincent Vos, research coordinator of the Planetary Health project of the Amazon Forest Research Institute of the Autonomous University of Beni José Ballivián, knows this and emphasizes that the recent cataloguing of El Gran Manupare as a protected area is a significant advance from a scientific and conservation perspective.

The message that Pando is sending with the creation of this new protected area is clear. «Sena is right there where the Central Campesina has a clear figure. They work with the forest; they are always aware of the Brazil nut. From this approach, they demand their authorities to bet on a development along these lines and I think they are aware of the importance of conservation,» emphasizes Vincent Vos.

El Gran Manupare Protected Area not only ensures biodiversity conservation, but also offers opportunities for international resources dedicated to environmental protection. «There are international resources especially to protect municipal areas. When you make a security strip to prevent fires from destroying your community, you are conserving biodiversity, you are preventing climate change,» Vincet Vos emphasizes and adds: «They are fighting with the municipality, with the government, with NGOs, they are there fighting against drought, against fires».

The story of El Gran Manupare is not only the story of a protected area, but the story of humanity. It is a call to action, to unite in the struggle for a sustainable future, where conservation is not an option, but an imperative necessity. Because ultimately, we are all guardians of this planet, and together we can write a new chapter where nature and culture flourish, as they have done for millennia in the Amazon rainforest.

A wildflower offers an intense yellow in the northern Amazon of Bolivia. Photo: Clovis de la Jaille.





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