- The acquired land plot is located in a region of the Atlantic Forest, and will be connected to the Poço das Antas reserve by a bridge that will cross over a major highway.
- Brazilian NGO Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD), in collaboration with US NGO SavingSpecies and Dutch charitable foundation DOB Ecology, has acquired a 237-hectare (585 acre) plot of land next to the Biological Reserve of Poço das Antas, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Currently, a four-lane highway separates the newly acquired land from the reserve.
- The organizations now plan to restore the forest in the plot and build a bridge that will connect both areas over the highway. The bridge will allow animal species to circulate between the two regions, curtailing the negative impact of forest fragmentation.
- One of the species that will benefit from the new corridor is the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), an endangered primate which only occurs in this region. The tamarin has been the focus of conservation efforts in recent years.
Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. However, over the last 500 years its extension has been dramatically decreasing, and today it occupies roughly 15 percent of its original area and 7 percent of its original forest cover. The remaining forest areas are severely fragmented, causing habitat loss and increasing the pressure on the remaining species.
Conservationists have found that a way to alleviate the impact of fragmentation is to implement wildlife corridors that connect interspersed patches of remnant forests. On April 9, three conservation NGOs announced they had acquired land for one such corridors – also known as a land bridge. The area will be created in the vicinity of the Biological Reserve of Poço das Antas, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The corridor will include a bridge overpass over a large highway that runs north of the reserve and will allow animals to circulate beyond the limits of the reserve.
Among the species that will benefit from the corridor is the endangered golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), endemic to the region. The golden lion tamarin’s protection has been at the core of the project.
SavingSpecies is one of the three non-profits that have joined efforts to create the corridor. The other two are the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD), a Brazilian NGO that has been working on the conservation of the golden lion tamarin for the last 25 years, and the Netherlands-based DOB Ecology, a philanthropic organization that supports restoration and conservation programs in Africa and South America.
“This fragmentation and infrastructure cut off tamarin populations from each other,” said Stuart Pimm, President of NGO SavingSpecies. “Since tamarins live their lives in trees, even high in the forest canopy, a ‘bridge in the canopy’ from one forest to another is necessary for the tamarins to connect to each other.”
To create the corridor, the NGOs purchased Fazenda Igarapé, a 237-hectare (585 acres) land plot located next to the reserve, adjacent to the four-lane highway that limits the reserve on its north side. The next steps will be to reforest 100 hectares (247 acres) of the land which is currently occupied by pastures, and to install a bridge to connect the Fazenda Igarapé to the Biological Reserve of Poço das Antas. If everything goes according to plan, the works to install the bridge will begin in the next weeks. Once ready, the corridor will allow tamarins and other species from the reserve to expand their habitat northwards.
A fruitful partnership
The new corridor will be the second one for SavingSpecies and AMLD in the region. Ten years ago, they followed a similar approach, purchasing and reforesting a 140-hectare property located some 28 km (17 miles) from where the new corridor will be. That land plot abutted the Biological Reserve of União and connected the reserve to other forests uphill.
“The restored land was incorporated into the reserve area and therefore under federal protection, its future secured,” Pimm said. “That improved forest connectivity greatly for the tamarins, increasing genetic diversity among previously isolated forests.”
Thanks to projects such as these, the population of golden lion tamarins has been steadily increasing in recent years. According to the IUCN, the major threats that tamarins face today are “reduced numbers and limited possibilities for growth in the few fragmented and degraded forests that remain in their restricted range,” noting that “current and future conservation efforts are attacking this problem with reforestation and the establishment of corridors.”
“Thirty years ago, there were only 200 tamarins left. Today that number has increased to 3,200, but the landscape continues to be seriously fragmented,” said Luis Paulo Ferraz, Executive Secretary of AMLD.
In the last decade, different wildlife corridors have been implemented by the Brazilian government as a way of connecting often-interspersed protected areas. Officially, the first wildlife corridor created was the Mosaic Capivaras-Confusões, that in 2006 connected two national parks in the state of Piauí, Serra da Capivara and Confusões. Located in north-east Brazil, the corridor created a 412,000 hectares (1,020,000 acres) stretch of protected ‘caatinga’, a type of desert vegetation that covers circa 10 percent of Brazil’s territory.
Since then, other corridors followed in different regions, including some in the Atlantic Forest.
Outside of Brazil, bridges to connect green areas that overpass roads – or land bridges – are becoming increasingly common. The Netherlands has dozens of wildlife crossings, called ‘ecoducts’ in Dutch, and in Canada the 41 Banff Wildlife Bridges allow animals in the Banff National Park to safely cross over the Trans Canada Highway. These type of bridges remain rare in Brazil.
“This bridge will be the first of its kind in Brazil and it could become a model for landscape connectivity involving highways,” says Ferraz, from ALMD. “We have a great responsibility and we want to show that it is possible to do things right.”
Ignacio Amigo is a freelance journalist based in São Paulo, Brazil. You can find him on Twitter at @IgnacioAmigoH.
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