Despite the high level of threat in the Tropical Andes, a network of protected areas today conserves some of the most important remaining intact ecosystems in the hotspot. Protected areas cover some 16 percent of the original extent of vegetation in the region, although only about eight percent of the hotspot is protected in reserves or parks in IUCN categories I to IV. However, even these parks are not inviolate, and without adequate enforcement and monitoring, they can be damaged by settlement, poaching, and illegal logging.
One method for identifying priority areas for the expansion of protected area networks is by identifying sites for species that face the greatest risk of global extinction. Globally threatened species are best protected through the conservation of sites in which they occur; these sites are referred to as "key biodiversity areas" (KBAs). KBAs are discrete biological units that contain one or more globally threatened or restricted-range species, and can potentially be managed for conservation as a single unit. In the Tropical Andes hotspot, Conservation International and the BirdLife International partnership recently completed the identification of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) which provide a starting point for incorporation of other taxonomic groups as we continue in the identification of KBAs throughout the region.
Because research has shown that small parks may not adequately protect biodiversity in the long term, conservation efforts in the Tropical Andes have focused on the need to add to and connect this network of protected areas. By connecting existing parks through corridors of protected areas and biodiversity-friendly, sustainable development projects, ecological processes like migration, dispersal, and gene flow among populations are enhanced. Conservation International has begun the implementation of the Cóndor-Kutukú Conservation Corridor, for example, that includes the following areas in Ecuador: Podocarpus National Park, Sangay National Park, Condor National Park, Cordillera de Kutukú and Cordillera del Cóndor. In Peru, the Corridor includes Santiago-Comaina Reserved Zone, Tabaconas-Namballe National Sanctuary and Cordillera Azul National Park.
The most impressive conservation corridor in the Tropical Andes, and one of the largest in the world, has been slowly taking shape in the last few decades in southern Peru and adjacent parts of Bolivia, along the interface between the Andean and Amazonian regions. This corridor begins in Peru's Manú National Park, which at 18,812 km² is one of the largest rainforest reserves on Earth, and stretches through the 3,250-km² Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, parts of the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone in Peru, and across the Bolivian border to the 19,000-km² Madidi National Park. From Madidi, the chain of protected areas continues with the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve, the Chimane Indigenous Territory, the Beni Biosphere Reserve, and the Ulla Ulla reserve. The future of this promising biodiversity corridor depends heavily on effective implementation and enforcement of protective measures.
In recent years, a series of major conservation investments have contributed to conservation efforts in the Tropical Andes. For example, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has committed to investing US $6 million in the Vilcabamba-Amboró Corridor in Peru and Ecuador, and the Global Conservation Fund has invested US $1.3 million in projects that have led to the creation of nearly 30,000 km² of new protected areas in the hotspot. Included in the projects supported by the GCF were two debt-for-nature swaps, one in Peru in 2003 and another in Colombia in 2004. Both of these were carried out in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the United States Government; they will provide US $10.6 million to 10 sites in Peru and US $10 million to five sites in Colombia over a 12-year period.
Other conservation efforts in the region include projects to mitigate the direct effects of large-scale infrastructure development and resource extraction, programs for the conservation and rehabilitation of specific species such as the Andean condor and the yellow-eared parrot, public awareness and participation, and the development of already degraded areas for agricultural production, rather than clearing standing forests.