All posts by Nicholas Locke

Rildo finds Bothrops Jararaca

The Atlantic Rainforest snake species, Bothrops jararaca (a species of pit viper) is one that locals hold in the highest regard and with good reason.   It is dangerous only if one steps on one and accidently get bitten.   According to serpent specialists, research biologists, snakes are not uncommon in REGUA’s forests.

I have to admit that although I have walked many times in the forest I have failed to find one.   However, I am sure that finding one coiled on the path can be a harrowing experience.    In the distant past most local people would kill every snake irrespective of colour, thickness and length.

Bothrops jararaca (© Rildo da Rosa Oliveira)

Today the REGUA rangers know that reptiles form an important part of our biodiverse forests and are not aggressive.   They now leave them to their own business, and are helping to spread the word that unless they are inadvertently disturbed, most snakes would slither off into the forest before we are even aware of their presence.

World Land Trust “Keepers of the Wild” project sponsors ranger Rildo da Rosa de Oliveira who found this one by a rock and left it apparently dozing.   He didn’t want to look closer!

Rothschild Silkmoth (Rothschildia hesperus)

Dr Adrian Spalding, president of the British Entomological and Natural History Society in company of Devon’s Marsland reserve director Gary Pilkington visited REGUA in search of insects and birds last October.    The weather was not helpful being hot and dry, so together with Jorge, REGUA’s resident lepidopterist, we headed for a night’s “moth trapping” at Bel Miller’s house in nearby Macae de Cima.

Rothschildia hesperus (© Nicholas Locke)

The weather at that point changed and a light drizzle started.   Bel had mentioned that the weather had also been dry so the rain was most welcome.   Before dinner, Gary set up the light and whilst we had our meal, we could see the moths homing in.   Dr Adrian was up and down and taking photographs of species that converged by the light.    Jorge patiently placed examples of Hawkmoths for identification and send mouth-watering photos to Alan Martin, co-writer of REGUA’s publication “A Guide to the Hawkmoth of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil”.

A multitude of Silkmoths, Tiger moths, Hawkmoths and other micro moths as well as other insects attracted by the light and humid weather came in droves and Adrian said that this must be “the best night EVER I have mothed!”    Gary was similarly delighted, his head covered in moths busy taking photos.

A superb Giant Silkmoth visited, Rothschildia hesperus (Linnaeus, 1758).   Occurring from Argentina to South USA, this is a canopy rainforest species found from sea level to 1400m. It has a wingspan of 10-12 cm and the male is larger bearing transparent triangular windows in each wing.   Females have more rounded wings than males. The adults do not feed, for after mating and laying eggs, and their life’s function is fulfilled.

Dr. Adrian and Gary were in their element. Who wouldn’t be, covered in moths !!

The elusive Solitary Tinamou at REGUA

The Atlantic Rainforest endemic Solitary Tinamou (Tinamus solitaries) has to be one of the hardest birds to see at REGUA.   I have only once seen one walking a distant trail some years ago.   The bird leapt onto the path in front of me and we walked serenely in single file for what seemed like an eternity but perhaps it was only a few seconds before it left.    I rejoined the bird group I was with half an hour later and told them excitedly what I had seen.    All I could see on their faces were torturous expressions of sadness.    Never again!

Solitary Tinamou egg (© Rildo da Rosa Oliveira)

The Solitary Tinamou occurs throughout the Atlantic Rainforest and suffers from the loss of habitat.   Hunters’ reputation depended on bagging these birds, but with the conservation efforts and reduced hunting the populations are rising and the birds can be heard throughout the reserve.    Ranger Rildo da Rosa Oliveira found this single egg.   He wasn’t able to go back to make sure it hatched, but we do hope all is well for the chick and its parents.

 

 

The latest news on the tapirs

Adam and Eve at REGUA (© Adilei Carvalho de Cunha)
Adam (left) and Eve at REGUA (© Adilei Carvalho de Cunha)

The tapirs still haven’t been fully released into the wild but their pen surrounds a large inlet of water and in the heat of the day both adults, baptized Adam and Eve, enjoy staying in the water to savour the coolness.

Adam has a radio collar attached but Eve’s collar was removed to let a sore heal. Seeing two tapirs wallowing in the protected and natural habitat at REGUA is quite a sight!

We are hoping for a soft release by the end of February – more news to follow!

A great success for land purchase

REGUA and the Fatorelli family signed the deeds to the Lagoinha valley on 14th January 2018, at long last completed this delicate land purchase. The Rainforest Trust has not only been totally supportive but also very generous and patient, helping us to maintain the calm and vigour required during the entire period of negotiation. This has been one of the most complex and delicate land deals we have been engaged in, but through gentle persistence we managed to secure the property at an affordable value. I still feel fairly faint with the completion of this ultra-sensitive land purchase.

The story behind the scenes is really of soap opera magnitude. The Fatorelli property has a title that extends over the entire Lagoinha valley and this valley is located between two adjacent tracts of Atlantic Forest. Since the 1940s the property has been occupied by 40 tenant farmers working and living off the land. They have simple houses and undertake slash and burn agriculture causing serious habitat damage, some still hunt and the impact on the valley’s biodiversity is severe and one in conflict with REGUA’s objectives.

Nicholas at the head of the Lagoinha valley (© REGUA)

Over recent years farmers’ interests have declined and many wish to leave the valley and follow their family, moving to the nearby towns.

Tenant rights in Brazil are transferable and outsiders can buy plots on which to build second homes, attracting opportunistic local city dwellers to the area. The construction of second houses attracts others and ultimately poses a problem for the long term conservation aims of the Guapiaçu watershed along with many other areas of the world.

Limited energy and vehicle access are two factors that have helped reduce the threat locally up to now, but the availability of cheap plots and desire for second homes can abruptly change the scenario. This has been seen in the more accessible areas around the village of Guapiaçu in just the last decade.

Following the successful World Land Trust sponsored ‘Matumbo Gap’ land purchase, REGUA has addressed this issue, sought support and reached fair agreements to compensate those occupying the land and enabling them to vacate their properties. This gives REGUA the opportunity to protect the forest and allow it to recover.

Now the land is purchased it can be protected and will recover (© REGUA)

REGUA is home to 11 species classified by the IUCN as Threatened – Brown-backed Parrotlet, White-necked Hawk, Golden-tailed Parrotlet, White-bearded Antshrike, Salvadori’s Antwren, Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant, Russet-winged Spadebill, Bare-throated Bellbird, Black-backed Tanager, Buffy-fronted and Temminck’s Seedeaters are all classified as Vulnerable. A further 26 species at REGUA are classified as Near-Threatened further 28 bird species at REGUA are classified as near-threatened. In addition it is home to several troops of Southern Woolly Spider Monkey or Muriqui Brachyteles arachnoides South America’s largest and rarest primate classified as endangered. Many of these species are decreasing in number giving more urgency to the purchase and protection of the remaining Atlantic Forest.

In theory reserves and parks should not have houses or people living within their limits, but when protected areas are established with tenant farmers already living within, the Government prefers to avoid confrontation and circumnavigates issues permitting tenants to continue their lives and activities on site until they are ready to move.

Tenant farmers are protected by law yet do not have deeds with which to prove ownership. By openly negotiating with the families, explaining the aims and arriving at favourable agreements, the Fatorelli case is felt to be a key success story for the conservation movement in this country.

REGUA’s new full time ranger will regularly walk the Lagoinha valley and REGUA will continue to offer opportunities to those wishing to change their home for one closer to their families. The REGUA reserve continues to expand and guarantee an immense forested corridor to benefit its fauna and flora diversity. This is triumph for the conservation world and shows that sensitive conflict areas occupied by humans can be solved.

Rangers protect Southern Muriqui forests

The Southern Muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides) restricted to the Serra do Mar mountains of South East Brazil and classified as “endangered” on the IUCN red data list, used to have a much larger home range.

(© Rildo da Rosa Oliveira)

Sadly forest loss, fragmentation, timber extraction and urban expansion reduced its home range area and today the sighting of this magnificent species is really rare.     Some retired hunters have never seen them!

Rildo da Rosa Oliveira is one of REGUA’s team of rangers.   Rildo, who is funded by the World Land Trust “Keepers of the Wild” programme, caught these amazing photographs of the species with young of various ages indicating the population is stable and healthy.

Rildo (himself an ex-hunter) is engaged in helping University researchers in their studies. REGUA likes to promote research in the Reserve as a means to maintain a positive presence in the forests which are home to peccaries and pumas, the Solitary Tinamou and the Variegated Antpitta as well as important tree species.    Maintaining a low impact and constant presence dispels the hunters and charismatic important species such as the Southern Muriqui become less flighty over time.

(© Rildo da Rosa Oliveira)

These animals are now being more regularly sighted and specialist André Lanna suggests REGUA might be home to the largest population of the Muriqui in South East Brazil, or the world for the matter, as the species is endemic to this region.

REGUA wishes to thank the World Land Trust for their support that permits ranger Rildo to keep a whopping 2500 hectares free for the species and the forests of hunters.

 

Tapir introduction going well

‘Snowflake’ in the REGUA forest (© REGUA)

The introduction of the Lowland or Brazilian Tapir Tapirus terrestris at REGUA is going very well. The two adults (previously referred to as Napoleon and Daphne) have been baptized ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ by the REGUA Young Rangers and the one year old calf (previously named Frank) has been given a new name, ‘flokinho’ or ‘Snowflake’ – probably because you see him very rarely here in the forest. He regularly wanders in and out of his release pen and ventures around the entire lowland area.

The researchers have been doing a great job and attached a radio collar to both adults and the programme is going according to schedule. For those who have never seen a tapir running in the forest, this is an opportunity not to be missed. They run faster than a champion Samoan rugby player with a similar frame and promptly disappear into the forest. There is a great pool in their release pen in which they can wallow and the adults love relaxing.

These tapirs are just terrific animals and although we are providing a fruit and vegetable supplement, they much prefer browsing the natural vegetation. They appear to enjoy nocturnal activities and we are set to release them at the end of February if all goes well.

Based on their and our learning, more will follow.

3rd Dragonfly and Damselfly Tour a resounding success!

An eminent group of European Dragonfly and Damselfly specialists converged at REGUA this month to see their beloved species under the professional guidance of Tom Kompier from the Netherlands.

Tom Kompier leads a successful team (© Raissa Knupp)

Tom (dressed in the National garb above) visited regularly over two years under the auspices of Rio de Janeiro National History Museum, and wrote the definitive guide book on Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Órgãos region, identifying an amazing 204 species, one of which is new for science and will named after REGUA!

This is the third organised dragonfly and damselfly tour at REGUA and the group saw 147 species in their eight days here.   The weather in the first two days wasn’t helpful, but the group not only cherished seeing their species but loved their time enjoying the REGUA hospitality.

Thank you for coming and sharing your enthusiasm of these quality habitat indicator species!

Increasing the link in the Lagoinha Valley

(© REGUA)

After many months of negotiations several important pieces of land were finally successfully negotiated with former Lagoinha valley land owners during 2017.   REGUA has been slowly acquiring land in the Lagoinha valley to consolidate a forested corridor between the Primatology reserve and REGUA land.

The valley has been traditionally farmed for over a century and many years ago it was considered inconceivable that REGUA could even embark on the challenging process of acquiring the land owned by over 50 families for the purpose of conservation. Ownership was identified, property limits mapped and the acquisition of each property was negotiated with each of its owners.    What appeared a dream many years ago is now reality and REGUA has acquired over 25 small holdings that will now be permanently protected. This has a been a real success story and much is owed to REGUA ranger Messias whose grandfather once owned this large farm as well as his brother Claudio.

REGUA wishes to thank its benefactors Urs Peter and Lindsay Bury who once again provided the valuable funds and with matched funding from Rainforest Trust we secured another area in this precious habitat.

 

Arrival of the tapir!

Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris at REGUA about to have a radio transmitter collar fitted, 12 December 2017 (© Nathalie Horta)
The travelling cases are carefully positioned to release the animals into the specially built pen at the REGUA wetland (© Thomas Locke)

After five years of planning we are delighted to announce to arrival of three Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris at REGUA, a male, female and calf.

This reintroduction project has been carried out in partnership with Professor Fernando Fernandez of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and his team and Rio de Janeiro State Environmental Department (INEA).

The tapirs arrived yesterday afternoon after a tiring trip of over 1,000 km from the State of Minas Gerais. Their travelling cases were unloaded and taken to a specially prepared pen created in a secluded landscape where the animals can become accustomed to their new environment.

For a while we will provide fruit and vegetables for them to eat – up to 8 kg per animal per day. During this stage strict guidelines will be followed to ensure they do not become habituated or reliant on the provision of food.

The Lowland Tapir has been extinct in the state of Rio de Janeiro for over 100 years and the arrival of these animals at REGUA represents the very first reintroduction of tapirs in Rio de Janeiro state.

Our forests have lost their largest land mammal and one responsible for spreading the seeds of many trees and ensuring the strength and health of a forest – often referred to as the ‘Gardener of the Forest’. With the return of the tapir, REGUA will have great help in the regeneration process of the forest. Here’s wishing our new tapir family a successful future!