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Cuba’s New Directory

…set to help conserve birds

The National Centre for Protected Areas (CNAP, BirdLife in Cuba) has launched an Important Bird Areas (IBAs) directory for Cuba. Áreas Importantes para la Conservación de las Aves en Cuba details 28 IBAs – Cuba's highest priority sites for bird conservation – covering over 2.3 million ha or 21% of Cuban territory. The book was published with financial support from BirdLife International, the British Birdwatching Fair and the Canadian Wildlife Service/Environment Canada. The IBAs support critical populations of globally threatened birds, species with restricted-ranges, and those birds that congregate in significant numbers for breeding, feeding or on and migration.

The Cuban IBA directory highlights the wealth and beauty of Cuba’s unique biodiversity. It presents detailed descriptions of each IBA including information on birds, flora and fauna, protection and threats, photos of characteristic ecosystems and species, and detailed location maps. Under CNAP's leadership, the Cuban IBA program is a collaboration between Instituto de Ecología y Sistemática, el Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, la Facultad de Biología de la Universidad de La Habana, el Centro Oriental de Ecosistemas y Biodiversidad (BIOECO) y la Empresa para la Protección de la Flora y la Fauna. However, the directory is a result of contributions involving 34 authors from 18 institutions and protected areas from across the entire country, and also 28 photographers. The publication represents a significant milestone in the development of the Cuban IBA program and constitutes the first attempt in Cuba to identify biodiversity conservation priorities based on a scientifically-sound methodology.Over 370 bird species have been recorded in Cuba, including 28 that are endemic to the island and 29 considered globally threatened. Due to its large land area and geographical position within the Caribbean, Cuba represents one of the most important countries for Neotropical migratory birds – both birds passing through on their way south (75 species) and those spending the winter on the island (86 species). The majority of these species are well represented in the Cuban IBA network, and the good news is that most of the IBAs enjoy some form of protection within the extensive Cuban protected area network. In fact, only 10% of IBAs are not protected in any way – a significantly lower percentage than any other Caribbean country.

However, even within protected IBAs, Cuba's birds face a range of threats, with habitat disturbance (caused mainly by tourism development) at the top of the list. Invasive species – cats, pigs, mongoose, rats, and most recently catfish – represent a significant threat to bird populations in 85% of the IBAs while unsustainable exploitation (including hunting and poaching for the pet trade) is a threat in 54% of the sites.

"The Cuban IBA directory provides a robust framework for national level bird conservation action, and we now have an excellent opportunity to use it to leverage major commitments from policy makers, the scientific community, protected areas managers and sponsors” said Susana Aguilar, Cuban IBA Program Coordinator, CNAPThe Cuban IBA program started in 2000 with the objective of identifying and conserving a network of sites of international importance for birds and other biodiversity. With funding from the 2001 British Birdwatching Fair and BirdLife, work initially focused on conservation actions in eastern Cuba. Since 2001, seven IBAs have received conservation attention through the program including the faunal reserves of Río Máximo and Delta del Cauto, Baitiquirí and Hatibonico Ecological reserve, and Alejandro de Humboldt, Zapata, Turquino and Bayamesa national parks. So, the program has not only resulted in the identification and documentation of Cuban IBAs, but has achieved tangible conservation advances in some critical biodiversity areas as well as building the capacity of many Cuban ornithologists through provision of much needed equipment, and opportunities to exchange experiences (through events such as the first National Workshop of Ornithology celebrated in 2009).

The program continues to develop in close collaboration with BirdLife International and Nature Canada (BirdLife co-Partner) with funds from the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation, Canadian International Development Agency, the Canadian Wildlife Service/Environment Canada and a number of individual donors. However, more IBAs are in need of attention and the search for additional funds to support their conservation continues.

4th July 2014