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In Peru’s highlands, a one-man wonder for birds

Tino Aucca Chutas has been a leader in bird and nature conservation in Peru for many years. Royal Cinclodes (right) is one of the species he works to protect. Photos by American Bird Conservancy and Jonathan Chancasana/Shutterstock

“I was born in Cusco, I live in Cusco, and I want to die in Cusco. This is where I am going to help the most,” says Constantino (“Tino”) Aucca Chutas. For the last 21 years, Tino has been president of Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), a Peruvian conservation organization that manages 16 reserves in nine regions of the country, restoring threatened habitats and conserving birds and other wildlife. Since 2018, Aucca has also been president of Acción Andina, a group working to protect forests of the high Andes, not just in Peru but also Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Aucca’s conservationist journey began in 1989 while a University of Cusco biology student. That year, he served as field assistant for Danish ornithologist Jon Fjeldså, who was researching Birds of the High Andes and needed to visit areas where there was still guerilla activity. “We traveled together for nearly two months to finish that book,” Aucca remembers. “I thought: ‘If I survive this trip, this is going to start a new story.’”

Since its inception, ECOAN has prioritized partnerships with local communities. “At conferences, others said, ‘the main threat is humans.’ My question was, ‘If you know that, why don’t you work with humans?’ We must work with people in managing the environment.” American Bird Conservancy shares this vision and has worked with ECOAN on community-based projects for more than two decades.

In 2014, Aucca participated in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima. After not seeing any concrete results at the meeting, he went back to his colleagues to discuss what they could do in their region, where decades of cutting and livestock grazing had depleted high-elevation forests, fueling declines in rare species such as the critically endangered Royal Cinclodes.

“I said, ‘We must send a message to the world.’ We decided to plant more than 57,000 Polylepis tree seedlings with the local community in a single day.” This effort spawned an annual event called Queuña Raymi, during which, Aucca says, “you can see thousands of people running around in the highlands carrying and planting seedlings, no matter the distance, difficulty, or weather — all to help watersheds and mountains.”  

You can read more about this work on American Bird Conservancy’s website.

Watch a video about Queuña Raymi here:

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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