How is 'Sustainable Tourism' helping to protect the unique wildlife of Argentina's Ibera Wetlands?

Louise Mumford By Louise Mumford
23 Dec 2016
Argentina - Ibera wetlands - capybara - Darío Podestá RINCON DEL SOCCORO.jpg

The 'Ibera Wetlands' are located in the north-eastern region of Argentina, nestled up on the border with Brazil and Paraguay, immediately below the well-known Iguazu Falls. One Trust is working very hard to conserve the wetlands here and is using sustainable travel and tourism to help protect this vital ecosystem.

Offering a chance to spot an abundance of unique wildlife similar to the better-known Pantanal further north in Brazil, this has long been a fascinating and yet relatively undiscovered wildlife gem in Latin America.

The vast wetlands are the second largest of their kind after the Pantanal, and are a vital fresh water source. Ibera is haven to a vast diversity of birdlife, most notably the striking Jabiru stork as well as wonderful brightly coloured species.

  • Argentina - Ibera Wetlands - birdlife -  source RINCON DEL SOCCORRO.jpg

Caiman bask along the edges of the waters here and capybara (the largest rodent species in the world) camp out in the grasses, marsh deer, howler monkeys and collared peccaries among others roam the lands interspersed with marshes and savannah.

This is a wide and rugged landscape that has been a wildlife paradise for centuries until farming and hunting have brought decline and extinction to many of its native species.

  • Ibera - Caiman and Butterfly - source Socorro.jpg

It was clear to the late Doug Tompkins and his wife Kris in the early 90s that something absolutely had to be done to save this natural treasure from total decline. The region had fortunately been designated a decade earlier a Natural Reserve which has given it a degree of protection from encroachment from farming and human development, but evidently not enough.

Through their foundation, the Conservation Land Trust, they bought up swathes of land to help conserve and protect this biodiverse area.

The end goal is to donate the land back to the state when they can finally be assured of Ibera being rewarded National Park status. The Tompkins’ also built a beautiful lodge on the edge of this wetlands region to bring visitors in to experience its beauty and understand its fragility. The more interest there is in this place as a tourist destination, the greater the motivation to preserve and conserve its status and inhabitants.

The lodge is called Rincon del Socorro and is by far my favourite place for exploring the incredible wetlands on foot or on horseback or paddling through the marshes looking out for birds and mammals.

  • Argentina - Ibera - lounge area - source RINCON DEL SOCCORRO.jpg

The delightful hosts Valeria and Leslie are always be very happy to discuss the extent of the conservation work that they have been involved in. One of the absolute highlights of the experience is in the arrival at the lodge itself, as you fly by Cessna from Posadas to the their own airstrip - giving you the perfect birds-eye view of the vast scale of this natural habitat. Perhaps you may spot a brocket deer or rhea as the plane skims over the waters and grasslands.

The Trust promotes the biological importance of Ibera as well as lobbies local landowners and works on convincing the local community and government that conservation can pay its way.

The Trust has also been instrumental in implementing some absolutely key projects. The primary goal is to reintroduce formerly native species back to Ibera, with the giant anteater and collared peccary already two of its success stories. Their next big goal is ambitious – to reintroduce giant otters and the jaguar.

This phenomenal conservation project may not have the spotlight shone on it often but I think it is one of the most crucial projects in Latin America. It is a fitting legacy to Doug - who passed away in an accident in his beloved Patagonia last year - and his passion for the conservation of Latin America’s stunning wildlife and natural spaces.

Images courtesy of Rincon del Socorro.

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Posted by: Louise Mumford

Posted on: 23rd December 2016

Read more: Posts about Latin America

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