- 1 Introduction to the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve
- 2 Geography
- 3 Biodiversity of the Reserve
- 4 Local Communities and Culture
- 5 Tourist Attractions and Activities
- 5.1 Lagoon Tour
- 5.2 Towers Tour
- 5.3 Savannas Tour
- 5.4 Trapiche Tour
- 5.5 Pascana Tour
- 5.6 Boat Tour along the Maniquí River
- 5.7 San Borja
- 5.8 Río Curiraba (Curiraba River)
- 5.9 Laguna Normandía (Normandía Lagoon)
- 5.10 Totaisal Peasant Community
- 5.11 T’simane Chacal Indigenous Community
- 5.12 Laguna Monte Rosa o Trébol (Monte Rosa or Trébol Lagoon)
- 5.13 Galilea Peasant Community
- 6 Visitor’s Guide
- 7 Challenges and Threats to the Reserve
- 8 Opportunities for the Future
- 9 Photo Gallery
If exploration and adventure are your things, immerse yourself in an unforgettable journey right in Bolivia, by visiting the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve (in Spanish: Reserva de Biosfera Estación Biológica del Beni), a protected area brimming with biodiversity, cultural traditions, and stunning landscapes. This guide will lead you on the path to an experience that will alter your perspective of the Bolivian natural world, providing insights into its fauna, flora, tourist attractions, and the finest activities to engage in within the reserve.
Introduction to the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve
Located in the southwest of the Beni department, encompassing territories of the Gral. José Ballivian and Yacuma provinces in Bolivia. This protected area includes the municipalities of San Borja and Santa Ana de Yacuma, which are part of the northern region of the country. The geographical coordinates of the reference quadrant are approximately 14° 30′ 9.71″ South latitude; 66° 38′ 56.193″ West longitude to 14° 49′ 15.97″ South latitude; 65° 55′ 12.903″ West longitude.
History of the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve
Established on October 5, 1982, through Supreme Decree No. 19191, the Beni Biological Station received recognition from UNESCO in October 1986 as a Biosphere Reserve, acknowledging its significance for global biodiversity conservation. It also received the designation of "Sanitized Area" from the Government of Bolivia through Administrative Resolution RSS No. 013/99 of the INRA, determining its final area to be 135,011 hectares, and its boundaries were demarcated.
The main objectives of creating this reserve include protecting the flora, fauna, and water resources in the region. To achieve this, comprehensive research, species identification, and cataloging have been conducted in the area.
The Beni Biosphere Reserve is classified as a Biosphere Reserve, placing it in the category of an Integrated Management Natural Area. This management category strengthens the commitment to conserve and manage its natural resources in an integrated manner, promoting their preservation and sustainable use.
Over time, this protected area has played a crucial role in conserving local biodiversity and has served as a refuge for various species of plants and animals, making it a true natural treasure in the heart of Bolivia.
It encompasses an area of 135,000 hectares, as established in the Creation Decree. This figure has been confirmed and updated using Geographic Information System (GIS) digital archive information, indicating a slightly larger extension of 135,011 hectares.
Objectives of the Reserve
- Protection of flora and fauna: The reserve’s main purpose is to safeguard the diversity of plant and animal species present in the region. This involves ensuring the conservation of their natural habitats and minimizing threats that could affect their survival.
- Conservation of water resources: Water bodies such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands are fundamental to ecosystem balance and biodiversity maintenance. The reserve is committed to preserving these water resources and ensuring their sustainable use.
- Research and study: The reserve promotes scientific research to better understand the present ecosystems, the species that inhabit them, and the natural processes occurring within. These studies enable informed decisions regarding their management and conservation.
- Species identification and cataloging: A crucial aspect of conservation is the identification and cataloging of all species present in the reserve. This knowledge is essential for monitoring their conservation status and taking appropriate measures for their protection.
It is part of the physiographic province of the Chaco-Benian Plain in Bolivia. Geomorphologically, this reserve consists of a variety of landscapes including:
- Floodplains: These are flat, low-lying areas that are periodically flooded due to the presence of rivers and lakes. These floodplains are essential for water regulation and provide important habitats for various aquatic flora and fauna species.
- Swampy lowlands: These are low, waterlogged areas characterized by the presence of wet and swampy soils. These lowlands harbor rich biodiversity of species adapted to aquatic environments and are vital for wetland conservation.
- Terraces: These represent elevated areas in relation to floodplains and swampy lowlands. These terraces can offer different and drier habitats that often support a diversity of flora and fauna adapted to less inundated conditions.
The variety of geomorphological landscapes in the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve contributes to its rich biodiversity, providing a wide range of habitats for different plant and animal species. Additionally, the presence of wetlands and rivers is of particular importance for maintaining ecological balance and the functioning of the region’s ecosystems.
It has a warm and humid tropical climate, characterized by average annual temperatures ranging between 22 °C and 27 °C. Average annual precipitation varies significantly, ranging between 1,100 mm and 5,500 mm.
The reserve is located in a transition zone or ecotone between savannas and Amazon rainforests. In this area, average annual temperatures are higher, generally between 24 °C and 28 °C. Precipitation is also more abundant in this ecosystem, with values that can exceed 7,000 mm annually.
The Santa Ana municipality sector, which is part of the reserve, experiences warmer months from August to March. Conversely, the coldest months in this region are from May to June.
It is part of the Amazon River Basin, which is one of the major river basins in South America and one of the most important in the world. This macro-region encompasses a vast area covering several countries in South America and is dominated by the Amazon River system and its tributaries.
Within the Amazon River Basin, the reserve is also located in the sub-basin of the Yacuma and Matos rivers. These rivers are significant tributaries of the Beni River, which in turn is a major tributary of the Mamoré River, ultimately joining the Madeira River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River.
Biodiversity of the Reserve
It covers two distinct ecoregions and three sub-ecoregions characterized by their unique landscapes and ecological features:
- Southwestern Amazon Rainforest Ecoregion: An important component of the Amazon and characterized by dense tropical forests and exceptional biodiversity. In the Reserve, this ecoregion is divided into two sub-ecoregions:a. Amazon Flooded Forest Sub-ecoregion: Encompasses areas that flood seasonally or periodically due to the presence of rivers and lakes. These floodable forests are critical habitats for diverse flora and fauna species adapted to water level fluctuations.b. Amazon Pre-Andean Forest Sub-ecoregion: This sub-ecoregion covers transition areas between the Amazon plain and the foothills of the Andes. Here, the forests showcase species diversity, including adaptations to different altitudes and microclimates.
- Floodable Savannah Ecoregion: Characterized by vast expanses of savannas that flood seasonally or during periods of river and lake flooding. These floodable savannas are crucial habitats for wildlife such as waterfowl and species adapted to this temporary aquatic environment.
It is the habitat of numerous plant species, with a record of at least 815 higher plant species. The total number of species is estimated to potentially reach up to 1,500 different varieties. The reserve’s vegetation presents a complex mosaic of forests, wetlands, and savannas, providing diverse habitats for a wide range of plant species.
Among the notable flora species present in the reserve are:
- Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla): also known as "caoba," it is a majestic large tree with valuable wood.
- Palo María (Calophyllum brasiliense): a native tree of the region with medicinal properties and good-quality wood.
- Tajibo Morado (Tabebuia heptaphylla): a tree with purple flowers that stands out for its ornamental appeal.
- Cuchi (Astronium sp.): a characteristic tree of the region’s forests with medicinal properties and wood used in carpentry.
- Palma Pachiuva (Socratea exorrhiza): a palm that is part of swampy forests and plays an important role in the ecosystem.
- Jatata (Geonoma sp.): a genus of palms present in the region, providing shelter and food for various animal species.
It harbors a variety of animal species, with a record of at least 852 identified animal species so far. Among the notable species are:
- Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus): also known as the giant anteater, it is a large mammal and an endangered species.
- Spider Monkey (Ateles paniscus): also known as the spider monkey, it is a primate species that inhabits the forests of the region.
- Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus): a dark-colored howler monkey with distinctive vocalizations found in the reserve’s forests.
- Jaguar (Panthera onca): the largest feline in the Americas and an iconic species of the reserve’s fauna.
- Marsh Deer (Odocoileus dichotomus): a deer that inhabits wetlands and floodable forests in the region.
- Caprimulgus candicans: a nocturnal bird in a serious state of threat, underscoring the importance of its conservation.
- Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja): a raptor considered one of the largest and most powerful in the world.
- Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata): an aquatic bird found in the reserve’s bodies of water.
- Turdus haplochrous: an endemic bird exclusive to this region.
- Yellow-Spotted River Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis): a turtle that inhabits rivers and wetlands in the reserve.
- Yacare Caiman (Caiman crocodilus yacaré): a caiman found in the region’s bodies of water.
- Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger): a large caiman inhabiting wetland and forest areas.
The terrestrial ecosystems of the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve include forests, savannas, and grasslands. These habitats provide refuge for a diverse range of species and are essential for ecological balance in the region.
The Biosphere Reserve also encompasses a network of rivers and lagoons that host a wealth of aquatic life. These ecosystems are vital for the region’s health and provide important ecosystem services such as water regulation and nutrient cycling.
Local Communities and Culture
Indigenous Populations and Traditions
The population residing in the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve is primarily of Chimán origin, with the presence of Movima ethnic groups in the northern zone. After a land titling process carried out by the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), a portion of the southern sector of the reserve was excluded, and over 50% of the population previously within the reserve’s boundaries were outside the EBB. These people are now concentrated in communities such as Puerto Méndez, Galilea, Santa Elena, San Antonio, Pachiuval, and Limoncito.
Currently, within the current limits of the reserve, around 200 Chimán families live, totaling approximately 1,000 inhabitants. Additionally, there are about 12 small ranches and cattle posts, mainly located towards the northwest (bordering the Yacuma plains) and north. The Chimán communities are distributed along the Maniquí and Rapulo rivers to the west, Maniquí Viejo and Maniquicito in the center, and Curiraba to the east.
In the outer buffer zone of the protected area lies the town of San Borja, with a population of approximately 14,650 inhabitants. The municipality of San Borja has a total population of 35,534, with 58.77% of the population in urban areas and 41.23% in rural areas. The estimated population density in the municipality is 2.2 inhabitants per square kilometer.
The main livelihood strategy of indigenous people and farmers inhabiting the protected area is subsistence through agriculture, hunting, and fishing. These livelihoods are closely tied to the natural environment and biodiversity of the region, often involving sustainable practices passed down through generations.
The history of human occupation in the region dates back to ancient times when indigenous Tsimane and Movima peoples already inhabited and utilized the natural resources of this area. With the arrival of the Jesuits in the 17th century, new cultural contacts and changes in the social and economic dynamics of the region began. However, indigenous communities have largely maintained their traditional practices and connection with nature to the present day.
Sustainable Use of Natural Resources
These communities have developed sustainable ways of using natural resources, including hunting, fishing, and collecting medicinal plants. These sustainable practices are vital for preserving the health and biodiversity of the Reserve.
Tourism and Local Economy
Tourism provides an important source of income for local communities. By promoting sustainable tourism, we can support local communities and help preserve the incredible biodiversity of the Reserve.
Tourist Attractions and Activities
This type of tour will take you to explore the beautiful lagoons present in the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve. You will be able to appreciate stunning landscapes and observe various birds and wildlife in their natural habitat. You’ll enjoy the tranquility and beauty of these lagoons, which serve as important habitats for wildlife.
In this tour, you’ll have the opportunity to explore observation towers strategically located in the reserve. From these towers, you can enjoy panoramic and privileged views of the surrounding nature, including lush vegetation and the diversity of birds and animals inhabiting the area.
This exciting tour will take you through the vast savannas of the reserve. You’ll marvel at the beauty of these expansive open landscapes and discover the wildlife that thrives in this unique ecosystem. It’s a unique opportunity to see wild animals in their natural habitat and appreciate the region’s biodiversity.
In this tour, you can visit and learn about the traditional "trapiches," which are part of the local culture in the Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve. Trapiches are small facilities where sugarcane is processed to obtain sugar and other derived products. Besides learning about this traditional process, you’ll also get to enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings.
The Pascana tour will introduce you to "pascana," which are traditional structures in the region used as shelters for livestock and local inhabitants. During this tour, you’ll learn about the cultural significance of pascana and enjoy bird and wildlife observation around these structures.
Boat Tour along the Maniquí River
This exciting journey allows you to navigate the beautiful Maniquí River in a boat. During the tour, you’ll have the chance to observe various species of birds and reptiles, such as caimans, lizards, and turtles, which call the riverbanks and waters their home. This experience will bring you closer to the wildlife of the region and let you enjoy the natural beauty of the river and its surroundings.
San Borja is the main city near the protected area. It features a Botanical Garden that allows visitors to observe the characteristic flora and fauna of the region. It’s an ideal starting point for those who want to explore the reserve and its natural wonders.
Río Curiraba (Curiraba River)
At the Curiraba River, visitors can appreciate a wide variety of birds and diverse fauna, including monkeys, capybaras, pink river dolphins, tapirs, felines, river otters, among others. Its scenic beauty is impressive due to the natural richness and limited human intervention in the area.
Laguna Normandía (Normandía Lagoon)
This lagoon is part of a highly sought-after trail by tour operators and visitors. Here, spectacular landscapes can be observed, and the presence of caimans adds a special touch to the tourists’ experience.
Totaisal Peasant Community
The Matos River, which holds the international designation of a RAMSAR site, is located near the Totaisal community. Visitors here can enjoy attractive landscapes, walks through the riparian forest, horseback riding, canoe trips, and the observation of various species of fish, flora, and fauna typical of the region.
T’simane Chacal Indigenous Community
Located 35 km from San Borja, this T’simane ethnic community can be reached by river (river route). Visitors can witness the daily life of the community members and their intricate craftsmanship, providing an authentic insight into their culture and traditions.
Laguna Monte Rosa o Trébol (Monte Rosa or Trébol Lagoon)
At this lagoon, visitors can admire the flora, fauna, and T’simane culture. Moreover, they have the opportunity to observe the daily activities of the community and the richness of avifauna and ichthyofauna present in the area.
Galilea Peasant Community
The Galilea peasant community, located 9 km from San Borja on the road to San Ignacio de Moxos and the entrance to the protected area, is known for its main activity of crafting and selling "Jipi Japa" handicrafts. It’s an opportunity to learn about the local inhabitants’ craftwork and lifestyle.
How to Get There
The Beni Biological Station Biosphere Reserve is accessible via various transportation routes, and the best time to visit is during the dry season from May to September. However, each season offers a unique and valuable experience.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit the Beni Reserve is during the dry season, which extends from May to September. During these months, rainfall is less frequent, providing more comfortable conditions for visitors. Temperatures are also moderate, ranging between 22°C and 27°C on average annually, avoiding both extreme cold and intense heat.
During this period, the weather is more favorable for outdoor activities such as hiking, bird watching, and river exploration. The drier conditions make it easier to access different areas of the reserve and increase the chances of spotting the rich fauna and flora of the region.
If you prefer a warmer environment, you can also consider visiting the reserve from August to March. During this period, average annual temperatures can reach between 24°C and 28°C. However, it’s important to note that there might be an increase in the amount of rainfall during these months, which could affect some outdoor activities.
Regulations and Rules for Visitors
Visitors to the Reserve must adhere to various regulations designed to protect its biodiversity and culture. These regulations include limitations on fishing, hunting, and plant collection. Respecting these rules is crucial for the long-term health of the Reserve.
Challenges and Threats to the Reserve
Climate change poses a significant threat to the Reserve, with potential effects such as altered precipitation patterns and rising temperatures. It’s crucial to take measures to mitigate these impacts and protect the Reserve’s biodiversity.
Deforestation and land conversion for agriculture and livestock are also major threats to the Reserve. The protection and restoration of these ecosystems are essential to maintain the health of the Reserve and its biodiversity.
Threats to Fauna and Flora
Illegal hunting and the trade of wildlife species also endanger the Reserve’s biodiversity. It’s important to take steps to protect these species and prevent their illegal exploitation.
Opportunities for the Future
Education and Awareness Opportunities
The Reserve offers numerous opportunities for education and raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity and conservation. From school programs to ecotourism initiatives, there are many ways to learn about the significance of these ecosystems.
Development of Sustainable Tourism
Sustainable tourism can play a significant role in protecting the Reserve. By offering visitors the chance to experience the incredible biodiversity of the Reserve in an environmentally responsible way, it can foster appreciation and protection of these unique ecosystems.
Projects and Future Perspectives
There are many opportunities for research, conservation, and education in the Reserve. As we continue to learn more about these ecosystems, we can develop more effective strategies for their protection and ensure their survival for future generations.