The amazing thing about planting trees is that they will grow with a little effort, dedication and perseverance.
The area of the Matumbo Gap acquired by the Danish Travel Fund is an example of such an area. Planted in early 2017, the area a year later has already closed and the grass has virtually gone, crowded out by the strong saplings as they drink up the generous Brazilian rainfall throughout the summer, and grow towards our sunlight .
REGUA planted over 25,000 trees in this area some of which were also funded by the World Land Trust’s “Forests of the Future” initiative.
The mix of over 150 native species are growing very well and REGUA has engaged the Rio Rural University in monitoring plant plots to measure growth.
The Atlantic Forest snake species, Bothrops jararaca, a type 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 accidentally gets bitten.
According to serpent specialists, 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.
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.
REGUA’s World Land Trust “Keepers of the Wild” project sponsored ranger Rildo da Rosa Oliveira found this one by a rock and left it apparently dozing. He didn’t want to look closer!
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.
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 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!
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 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!
One of the two most common species of hawkmoth found at REGUA is Xylophanes porcus continentalis which is found from Central America to southern Brazil. At least that is what we thought until a new paper was recently published in the European Entomologist by Jean Haxaire and Carlos Mielke. Their paper describes two new species that occur in south and south-east Brazil, and suggests that the entire X. porcus family needs further investigation.
REGUA is one of the world’s best dragonfly hotspots in terms of diversity, and the group was not disappointed. With a total of 166 species seen, the tour even surpassed previous tours.
Not only were there second records of Lestes tricolor and Micrathyria spinifera, and good views of the critically endangered Minagrion ribeiroi and its rare cousin Minagrion waltheri, the group also managed photos of two species not previously documented with photos in nature. Edonis helena is a rarely seen small dragonfly from northern Argentina only recently known to extend into Brazil. A small population occurs in the area. The second was Macrothemis capitata, rediscovered by Tom several years ago at Salinas, but now found in the The Três Picos State Park at the top of our watershed.
Best of all, the group found two species new to the reserve list. The first was an exciting tiny damsel, Nehalennia minuta, found at the old wetland in the reserve. This species occurs widely in South America, but is not often found. And the second was Progomphus virginiae, a beautiful little gomphid found at a forested rocky stream, described from Santa Catharina State. The reserve odonata list now stands at 207 species!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.