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On guard: protecting wildlife in a heavily hunted Brazilian forest

The Brazilian government offers tax relief to landowners who set aside areas for preservation. While this has expanded the system of private ecological reserves considerably, the Brazilian government currently lacks funding to enforce the protection of these lands from threats such as hunting, leaving the responsibility to the landowners.

To address the question of how to effectively protect these areas, a group of researchers compared mammal abundance before and after the initiation of a guard patrol system in the 3,096 hectare Reserva Ecológica Michelin (REM) in’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science (TCS). They found that wildlife populations did recover after the initiation of a guard patrol system, with relative abundance of the fauna increasing by 72.6%. The study suggests that, “effective protection is possible in heavily hunted landscapes” and “the private reserve initiative can be an effective component of the national conservation strategy.”

The REM is located in costal Bahia, one of the most species-rich parts of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest System. But rampant hunting, timber felling, firewood collecting, forest clearing, and a high human population density have caused huge declines in biodiversity in this region. Hunting, historically a subsistence activity in the Atlantic Forest, has become a leisure activity and has driven many animals to local extinction including: the red and green macaw (Ara chloropterus), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and brown howler monkey (Alouatta guariba).

Four guards were hired to patrol the REM. The unarmed guards patrolled by foot and found that they could effectively deter hunters by disabling and removing their traps, chasing away hunting dogs, or simply asking the hunters to leave. The researchers identified that hiring men from the local community was a crucial part of the strategy as local guards are “familiar with the forest, have an extensive network of family and friends in the surrounding landscape, and know who the problem hunters are.”

In the REM, the guard system proved to be effective, but at an annual cost of $9.4/hectare the price may be too high for individual property owners. For the growing network of private reserves to safeguard wildlife, reserve owners must find creative ways to finance the protection of reserves, such as investing in agriculture.

“Beyond the problem of costs,” the study states, “the fundamental issue is that unless the local farmers change their inherent values concerning wildlife conservation, the existing tension between opposing visions of how wildlife resources should be used will remain. Reserve owners must therefore remain vigilant if they are to adequately protect their forests.”

Flesher, K. M. and Laufer, J. Protecting wildlife in a heavily hunted biodiversity hotspot: a case study from the Atlantic Forest of Bahia, Brazil. Open Access Journal – Tropical Conservation Science Vol.6 (2):181-200, 2013

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