Shoco Conservation: nature-based solutions through collaborative efforts

Published on November 5, 2021

The ‘Shoco’ or Aruba Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia arubensis) is one of the national symbols of Aruba. It is endemic only to Aruba and is an endangered species protected by law. The Shoco faces numerous threats, including land clearance and development, and urbanization into former natural Shoco habitat, resulting in conflicts between socio-economic activity and species conservation. With the decline of suitable Shoco habitat, the burrowing owl population will also continue to decline.

Research indicates that Aruba needs at least 300 breeding pairs of Shocos for a healthy and resilient Shoco population. Aruba’s remaining protected nature areas are limited in food supply and suitable nesting grounds and insufficient for 300 breeding pairs of Shoco, making it necessary for Shocos to live and reproduce in urban areas, which is not without its challenges. Shocos often make their nests in development sites and other urban areas with open spaces where there is ‘good sand’ to dig in. Shoco nests on construction sites often get destroyed during development activities. Prevention, threat minimization, and conservation measures are desired when land development displaces and negatively impacts resident owls and their nests, including in urban areas and construction sites.

Creating urban nesting sites

Approximately five years ago, Aruba Birdlife Conservation (ABC), Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba (FPNA) and The Global Owl Project (GLOW), jointly set up a Shoco conservation project. After several years of accumulated success, the project transformed into a National Shoco Conservation Program, based on awareness, minimizing the impacts on Shoco’s and their habitats, and creating new Shoco nesting sites with artificial burrows. To this end, the local conservation partners FPNA and ABC have installed some 70 artificial burrows so far in suitable locations on the island, but their end goal is to place approximately 500 artificial burrows to ensure a viable Shoco population.

The placement of artificial burrows is a conservation action and a way of mitigating impacts on Shocos in urban and developing areas, including construction sites. Now, for the first time in Aruba, a housing project developer – Bona Vista Hills – has proactively approached the local conservation partners to incorporate Shoco conservation from the onset and help mitigate impacts of the project on the Shocos present on the terrain.

During site inspections carried out earlier this year at the Bona Vista Hills development project, ABC and FPNA, discovered two nesting sites: one where a Shoco pair was currently active and another site where another pair had been active in previous years. To compensate for the loss of Shoco nesting sites due to the development activities, five artificial Shoco nesting sites – each on a roundabout at the end of a street – were included into the housing development plan as a mitigation measure. This has resulted in this Shoco Habitat Compensation Project being the first of its kind for Aruba, due to the nature-based solutions incorporated into the project development. It is not surprising that this project has attracted the attention of Minister Arends of Transport, Integrity, Nature and Elderly Care, who recently visited the Bona Vista Hills to learn more first-hand.

You can help protect Shocos!

Local conservation partners ABC and FPNA have been conserving and monitoring the Shoco population for numerous years already. Although they strongly state that natural habitat protection is better than compensation, they will step in as a last resort where the national laws, policies and permitting system fails to protect the Shoco. For Shocos to be able to survive in urban areas it is important to reduce risks from traffic collisions by driving consciously when Shocos are nearby. Beware that Shocos may fly across roads last minute, so reducing your driving speed and being vigilant could help save a Shoco life. Also, keep dogs and cats well away from areas where Shocos live. Beware of Shoco nests when riding your bike off-road; do not ride over them. This makes the birds nervous, and they may end up abandoning their nest. Also beware when using pesticides around your home and garden. The Shoco diet consists of small prey such as mice, cockroaches, and beetles. Numerous Shocos have already died by indirectly being poisoned through the food they eat.

If you see a Shoco in danger, please contact either Fundacion Parke Nacional Aruba or Aruba Birdlife Conservation for assistance.