Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Paraguay: Visiting the Atlantic Rainforest

5 November, 2004 - 00:00 -- World Land Trust
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The World Land Trust (WLT) has a new partner - Guyra Paraguay. John Burton, CEO of the World Land Trust, visited Guyra in Paraguay in October 2004, to see the extent of deforestation in the Atlantic Rainforest. Here is his account of the journey:

Map of South America - click to see a larger version

A visit to the Atlantic Rainforest

On route home from Patagonia, I visited Paraguay, a short hop from Buenos Aires, to get a better understanding of the activities of Guyra, our new partner in Paraguay. I was able to squeeze in a dawn visit to the mudflats on the river that bounds Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Flocks of Buff-breasted Sandpipers occur here, and it is a major stopping off point for a large proportion of the world's population as it migrates south to Argentina.

Guyra

The Office of Guyra was a hive of activity, and I had the advantage of being shown around by Rob Clay – English by birth, but now firmly established in Paraguay. He was particularly pleased to point out the office library, which is often used by students and visitors – and a very large proportion of the books were donated to Guyra through the World Land Trust Books for Conservation programme, sponsored by the Natural History Book Service.

The Atlantic Rainforest – increasingly fragmented

One of the main purposes of my visit was to see the problems confronting the Atlantic Rainforest remnants in Paraguay. The Atlantic Rainforest extends the length of the Brazilian east coast and into Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, but it has undergone severe deforestation – it now covers a mere fraction of its former range. In Paraguay, the Atlantic Rainforest is reduced to one large tract – San Rafael – and numerous increasingly scattered and fragmented small patches. Guyra make regular overflights in a light aeroplane to photograph the changes in the forest, and I was able to accompany them, and see the extent of the damage.

The protected areas of forest were clearly visible from the air, with straight line demarcation – everything unprotected was being cleared, or already converted to agriculture. Felled trees could be seen, and fires were burning everywhere. Fortunately our partners are part of a very effective consortium that is working to protect as much of the remaining Atlantic Rainforest as possible. But developing sustainable incomes is going to be difficult.

A meeting point for wildlife

We had a session thinking about this, and realised that Paraguay needs to offer eco tourists something special. It does not have any endemic birds – or any spectacular endemic mammals. But then we realised that the reason it does not have endemics, is that it is a meeting point for several major habitats – and those habitats all have species found nowhere else in the world, but occur in neighbouring countries as well as Paraguay. So Paraguay's unique selling point is that you can actually see a huge variety of wildlife in a relatively small country. And some of the most spectacular wildlife is found in the Chaco and Pantanal grasslands*, which are also relatively unexplored. And because grasslands are every bit as threatened as topical rainforests, it is in these areas that we think we should looking for new reserves.

 

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