Measuring less than one cm in length, the Brazilian Gold frog also known as “Saddleback toad” or “Brachycephalus sp.” are some of the smallest frogs endemic to South East Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest.
They are found at very high altitude, where they are adapted to low temperature and high humidity. As a result, the populations are isolated and form technically “sky” islands on mountain tops. Over 16 species have been described. As one can see from the photo, these amphibians have three toes on each foot, and two fingers on each hand, in contrast to the usual five digits of most frogs.
Whilst climbing in search of orchids in the recently purchased Lagoinha area with Helmut Seehawer last December, we came across a large number of these golden frogs in leaf litter. On taking a photograph, one gave an enormous silent roar in protest and then leapt away a massive distance by our standards to safety. We left them to their lives in this isolated world.
Our thanks to Rainforest Trust who provided funding to purchase this land. It is located at around 1000m above sea level and nestles next to Lagoinha farm.
IUCN states that species here at REGUA are of “least concern” and very well protected from deforestation, but we hope that climate change and pollution won’t affect them adversely.
Last month REGUA secured yet another small property within the Lagoinha farm located at 600 metres above sea level with breath-taking views down the valley.
Though located within the Fatorelli farm and inside the Três Picos Park, Carlinho had acquired the occupational rights twelve years ago and over the years had made two simple houses and some plantations. The opportunity of securing this area helps reduce the pressure within the valley and Carlinho was very happy to invest in another property elsewhere.
REGUA has the mission to secure as much forest as possible and the purchase of the Fatorelli title revealed 10 owners in the property with occupational rights.
REGUA is slowly working to compensate those farmers like Carlinho wishing to vacate and allow the forests of this beautiful valley to return.
Thanks to Rainforest Trust for donating the funds for this 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.
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.
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.
The Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) was established in 2001 to protect the remaining forests of the Guapiaçu valley, about 70 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro. The most effective way to ensure this long-term protection is through land purchase, to create a continuous protected nature reserve around the valley sides. REGUA already protects over 18,000 acres and has planted over 250,000 trees in its efforts to restore cattle pasture to forest.
After 12 years of steady growth, REGUA has established itself as one of the most influential and active conservation organisations in south-east Brazil, and is now ready to build on its successes by embarking on a major new land purchase initiative. Land prices are starting to increase significantly, partly fuelled by the investment in roads and infrastructure flowing from the World Cup and Olympics to be held in Rio, but also from an increasing desire for city dwellers to build holiday homes. These uncontrolled developments are threatening to further fragment the forest unless we can purchase the key areas quickly.
In February this year the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest Trust (a UK registered charity that was created to support REGUA) held its first major fundraising evening at the Jockey Club in Carlton Terrace, London. The event was attended by about 40 people, some representing other charities but mostly individuals with an interest in our work. Nicholas Locke gave an informative presentation on the successes to date and our ambitious plans for the future.
REGUA has identified eleven properties covering 1,500 acres for purchase at a total cost of about £400,000 and the fundraising event in London has already secured pledges of £150,000 towards that target. In addition, the Rainforest Trust (the re-named World Land Trust US) has pledged a further £40,000 and is actively working to double this contribution. Meanwhile Nicholas at REGUA is working hard to map the land that we wish to acquire and to negotiate favourable prices with the landowners.
Although we have made a great start, there is still a massive fundraising task ahead of us if we are to reach our target. If you can help in any way please contact Alan Martin in the UK, or Paul Salaman of the Rainforest Trust in the US.