The myth that Brazil would be the country in the world that best protects its natural environments only thrives thanks to ignorance of what has already been destroyed.
For example, it is not uncommon for tiny swaths of the northeast Atlantic forest to house dozens of endangered bird species in one location, and situations almost as complicated involve sections of the cerrado or caatinga. Fortunately, nothing is inevitable in such scenarios: it is entirely possible to prevent the collapse of unique components of Brazilian ecosystems.
This hopeful conclusion is the main message of 15 Conservation Stories, a book that celebrates the 15th anniversary of the non-governmental organization Save Brasil and is dedicated to the protection of birds that are threatened with extinction in the country. The book was written by the biologists Pedro Develey and Jaqueline Goerck and the journalist Maura Campanili and is both a chronicle of the work of researchers and conservationists and an introduction to the methods and logic of protecting endangered species.
Birds are preferred targets for this type of endeavor anywhere in the world for obvious reasons (beauty of plumage and song, ease of identification, attractiveness to tourists, etc.). In addition, the Brazilian territory is the second largest in the world in terms of species richness in the group (almost 2,000 registered) and unfortunately hosts the largest number of critically endangered birds (171 species currently).
The strategy is therefore relatively simple on paper: Geographical mapping of endangered birds and selection of so-called “flag species” – particularly interesting and charismatic animals that can act as a kind of ecological umbrella: protecting the habitat of them are also other relevant and endangered species, who live here, protected, and everyone wins.
The work of the Save Brasil team has been important in both respects, but it becomes particularly complex and requires the combination of research and conservation skills with cultural sensitivity and a lot of diplomacy when the area redesign negotiations come into play. already very degraded and under economic pressure in nature reserves.
In some cases, the NGO and its allies have even bought rural land to convert into RPPNs (Private Natural Heritage Reserves). However, for this type of approach it is very difficult to solve the problem of bird species on their own, which require relatively large areas to move, feed, and form viable breeding populations without excessive inbreeding, what can affect your health in the long term.
It is therefore necessary to gain a foothold in each location and show often poor and relatively isolated communities that the presence of an endangered species can be an economic asset – for example through bird watching tourism or agricultural production with environmental certification – and a way to improve the quality of the soil – and ensuring water supplies, two types of cultural heritage that can only be gained if there are healthy forest areas nearby.
Examples that this is possible have been found in the northeast, home of the acrobat (Acrobatornis fonsecai), which was only discovered in the wet forests of southern Bahia in the 1990s and was already threatened, and the gravatazeiro (Rhopornis ardesiacus), which lives in drier areas is native, the forests increased grapevine from the north of Minas Gerais and the neighboring regions of Bahia.
The acrobat, a relative of the John of Clay, raised awareness of the hunt for insects clinging to twisted branches and life in Cabrucas, cocoa plantations shaded by native forests – which enabled conservation initiatives to help certify the in the Region produced chocolate.
The small Bahian town of Boa Nova, on the other hand, took over Gravatazeiro with its elegant white stripes on the wings and red eyes as the reason for the town’s pride, reduced hunting and the removal of firewood from the forest, and created inns and restaurants for bird watchers.
But perhaps the most impressive story is that of an almost resurrection. After 75 years without being seen, the plateau pigeon (Columbina cyanopis) reappeared in Botumirim (MG) in 2015 with blue eyes and spots of similar shadows on its bronze wings.
Earlier records of the bird were made in Mato Grosso, São Paulo, and Goiás in the 19th and 20th centuries, showing how its distribution may have decreased radically. It is estimated that fewer than 30 individuals of the species remain, a number that should soon be improved thanks to a captive breeding program.
The printed version of the book will be sent as a gift to those who become subscribers to the Friends of Save Brasil plan (monthly cost of R $ 10). Those interested can join the plan by accessing the savebrasil.org.br website.