The Armadillo Conservation Program: A pioneering initiative to save armadillos in the Orinoco Llanos of Colombia from extinction
How do you maximize the probability of success of conservation actions? A good strategy is to involve stakeholders from the start and to combine different strategies, including research, policy formulation and enforcement, practical interventions and education. This can be a daunting task for any species—but even more so if the conservation target is an inconspicuous taxon that has been notoriously neglected by the scientific community, such as armadillos.
There are currently 20 recognized species of armadillos, which are the only mammals bearing a carapace and whose closest living relatives are sloths and anteaters. They are restricted to the Americas and are used for human consumption throughout their range, but also affected by other threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation. Developing conservation plans for armadillos is difficult because of the scarcity of scientific information on basic aspects of their ecology and reproductive strategies.
A new scientific publication in Oryx explains the approach used by the Conservation and Management Programme for the Armadillos of the Llanos of Colombia, also known as the Armadillo Conservation Programme. Initiated in 2012, this pioneering multidisciplinary programme aims at raising awareness, collecting scientific data, and designing and implementing conservation actions for the five armadillo species living in the Orinoco Llanos of Colombia. It is led by a multi-institutional alliance that ensures active participation of stakeholders during all stages of the programme.
To date, the education programmes, awareness campaigns, publications and marketing strategies of the Armadillo Conservation Programme have reached over 30,000 people of various ages. The armadillo populations are effectively protected from poaching and monitored in 23 private reserves and farms that participate in the Friends of the Armadillos network, which covers an area of 500 km2. Large-scale illegal commercial hunting and trade have been reduced by implementing the ‘Restaurants free of wild meat’ label, in which local restaurants commit to not selling wild meat to their customers. As an incentive, the restaurant owners are offered workshops that provide them with tools to increase their revenues without selling illegal products, and their premises are promoted by the environmental and tourism authorities. Research performed by the Armadillo Conservation Programme’s staff and grantees has, among others, provided the first data on the ecology of the Vulnerable giant armadillo Priodontes maximus in Colombia. It also allowed to re-assess the conservation status of the northern long-nosed armadillo Dasypus sabanicola, which was recategorized from Least Concern to Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group and co-author of the paper, stated that “This is the first comprehensive, successful conservation strategy that has been developed for armadillos. It could serve as an example for developing similar initiatives in other areas.”
Fernando Trujillo, scientific director of Fundación Omacha and co-author, added “One of the most important achievements of the programme is that it has raised awareness of armadillos, which is fundamental for the long-term success of this conservation strategy. Some of the initiatives, such as the ‘Restaurants free of wild meat’ label, have raised much interest in other parts of Colombia, so hopefully they will be implemented in other areas to protect the local wildlife.”
The Armadillo Conservation Program is supported by Oleoducto de los Llanos Orientales. The Alliance is composed of Oleoducto de los Llanos Orientales, Fundación Omacha, the environmental agencies Corporinoquia and Cormacarena, Bioparque Los Ocarros, and Corpometa.
The paper, “Connecting research, management, education and policy for the conservation of armadillos in the Orinoco Llanos of Colombia”, appears in Oryx – The International Journal of Conservation and is available open access.
Image credits: Fundación Omacha, Armadillo Conservation Programme