Teresa Chang and her husband were looking for a retirement home but created an ecosystem that is home to 79 species of birds, 16 unique to this region, after a decade of tending to the bare and neglected 123-hectare (300 acre) lot they bought in northern Peru. In 2009, they registered the Amotape Dry Forest Private Conservation Area as a privately protected area, a category only defined in Peruvian law a few years earlier. It is one of thousands of voluntary initiatives set up to protect biodiversity hotspots in South America, which hosts 40% of global biodiversity, covering roughly two million hectares (five million acres), which experts say are crucial for reaching the Global Biodiversity Framework’s target of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030. But most regional governments offer little incentive for independent actors to conserve their land, even in biodiversity hotspots, and landowners are frequently subjected to threats, financial constraints and lack of technical advice. Almost half of Brazil’s private conservation areas hadn’t been reported to the World Database on Protected Areas, the study found.

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