While Great Britain were clocking up the medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in Brazil, the World Land Trust (WLT) was in an event, as yet, not recognised as an Olympic sport – raising funds for land protection. To stand on the top step, WLT and partner Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) needed to raise £40,000 by the closing ceremony.
Bronze or silver would not do; it had to be GOLD!
Well in the end, thanks to the generosity of supporters from around the world, the project easily walked away with a gold by exceeding the total by £6,904.
The resulting prize was not a medal but the means to purchase and protect a precious parcel of Atlantic Rainforest; two hundred and twenty-one acres to be precise. Appropriately, the land previously called ‘Paloma Coelho’ will form the Olympic Forest Reserve and become a sanctuary for a number of rare and threatened species which occur there.
We cannot afford to lose any more of the Atlantic Rainforest!
We are used to hearing about threatened species but here we have one of the most threatened ecosystems on the globe. Stretching along the cost of Brazil and into Argentina and Paraguay, the Atlantic Rainforest has been subjected to sustained deforestation to make space for agriculture, ranching, plantations and urbanisation, resulting in the disappearance of 93% of this critical habitat.
It is no overstatement that we cannot afford to lose any more of the Atlantic Rainforest. It not only supports many of Brazil’s threatened species; it is also a hot spot for endemic species. Of Brazil’s 69 severely endangered mammals 55% are found here, as well as 100% of the 16 endangered amphibians, and 65% of the 20 endangered reptiles. Over 450 species of birds have been recorded in the rainforest, 60 of which are endangered.
It is estimated that over 2,000 species of vertebrates rely on the Atlantic Rainforest. Of these 200 species of birds and 21 species of primate are endemic. Add to this around 20,000 species of plant and it soon becomes apparent why WLT and REGUA placed such a high priority on its protection.
The Olympic Forest is located within the Guapiaçu watershed and forms an important section of the forested Tres Picos National Park. The area contains a healthy mix of trees, palms and ferns; and streams that feed the Guapiaçu River. In addition to a large number of birds, mostly endemic to this region, there are signs that some of the larger mammals are also found in the park. And it’s not only the wildlife which will benefit as the streams on the reserve provide an important water source for the surrounding community.
The purchase helps WLT partner, since 1998, REGUA in its mission to conserve Brazil’s Atlantic Forest in the upper Guapiaçu River watershed. REGUA currently protects over 18,000 acres of forest. This approach, purchasing as many privately owned land plots as possible to incorporate into the wider reserve, is the most effective way to ensure the long-term protection of the Atlantic Forest of the upper Guapiaçu valley. Vital work as the area has recently seen an increase in urbanisation.
Partners in conservation
This project is only one example of where the two organisations have combined their efforts. As well as assisting the re-planting of trees in areas where the forest had been lost, through WLT’s ‘Keepers of the wild’ program, REGUA has been able to appoint a ranger for the reserve from the local community.
The aim of ‘Keepers of the Wild’ is to employ local people who will be the eyes, ears and hands of the WLT on the ground providing much needed protection for the reserve and its wildlife. They also help raise awareness of conservation issues and the work of WLT and its partners amongst the local communities. Launched in 2011, the incentive now funds 19 partners to employ 32 rangers in 15 countries.
More of the same?
We need more collaboration between conservation organisations worldwide. The Olympic Rainforest is just one example of what can be achieved and is just one of many that the WLT is involved with. Now that gold has been won in Brazil, I wonder who will carry the flame for conservation in Beijing?
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