17 May 2017

Ravaged by deforestation - but a new refuge brings hope for the Cherry-throated Tanager

Over 85% of Brazil's Atlantic Forest has been felled over the last few hundred years - but life continues to cling to the fragments that remain. A newly-created reserve will ensure that one of these fragments, along with the six globally-threatened birds it harbours, will endure for the foreseeable future

Cherry-throated Tanager © Ciro Albano
Cherry-throated Tanager © Ciro Albano
By Alice Reisfeld

Just five hundred years ago, the Atlantic Forest formed a thick green blanket across the east coast of Brazil. Then settlers arrived from Europe, sparking one of the most terrifying rates of deforestation the world has ever seen.

Today, plantations and quarries stand where 88% of the Atlantic Forest once proudly stood. All that remains of this vital ecosystem today are scattered patches of degraded, fragmented forest.

The decimation of the Atlantic Forest is an ongoing tragedy for biodiversity. Despite only being a fraction of its former glory, the Atlantic Forest is still home to a huge number of plants and animals – enough, in fact, to rival the more famous Amazon. Even in its current state, new species are being discovered all the time in the fragments that remain – or in the case of the Critically Endangered (CR) Cherry-throated Tanager Nemosia rourei, rediscovered.

This colourful tanager was known only from a single shot specimen in 1870 for many decades, before its dramatic rediscovery in the 1990s. However, the species remains staggeringly rare, with an estimated global population of less than 200 adult birds. It may be that there are further populations out there skulking in as-yet unexplored fragments, but for now all we can do is protect the habitats that host the populations we do know about.

And this week, there was a major advancement on this front – the establishment of a 1,688 hectare refuge protecting one of the last strongholds of this beleaguered species. The newly-created Águia Branca Private Reserve now represents the second largest private protected area in the Brazillian state of Espírito Santo.

The newly-created Águia Branca Private Reserve, home to the Cherry-throated Tanager. © SAVE Brasil

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SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Partner) has been acting in the region since 2005, and has supported Grupo Águia Branca (one of the country’s largest transportation and logistics company) in the creation of this private reserve, which is located between two state parks, Forno Grande, and Pedra Azul.  For many years SAVE Brasil has also been working along the state government for the creation of a 4,300 hectare wildlife refuge adjacent to the private reserve. The public consultations were held in April 2016, but the process is still ongoing.

This area, which is recognized by BirdLife as a priority IBA (Important Bird & Biodiversity Area), is home to over 250 bird species, of which are six are globally threatened – none more so than the Cherry-throated Tanager.

The cherry-throated tanager occurs primarily in the canopy of humid montane forests at elevations between 850 to 1,250 meters.  Single individuals or groups of up to ten birds can be found and they are occasionally associated with mixed-species flocks. The population is estimated at only 50-249 individuals.  Sadly, occasional records are always of small groups of 2-3 individuals observed at the same site, which indicates that the same individuals are observed over and over.  Therefore, there may be less than 50 individuals in the world.

The Caetés region is also important for five other globally threatened birds: White-necked Hawk Leucopternis lacernulata, Brown-backed Parrotlet Touit melanonotus, Golden-tailed Parrotlet Touit surdusVinaceous Amazon Amazona vinacea  and the Bare-throated Bellbird Procnias nudicollis.  Threatened mammals also occur in this region, including the endangered Buffy-headed Marmoset Callithrix flaviceps and the Brown-throated Sloth Bradypus variegatus.

The creation of the private reserve represents an important victory for the long-term conservation of the these species, and it is hoped that it will accelerate the process to create the proposed public protected area, protecting a total of 6,000 hectares of a unique Atlantic Forest habitat. Now, that really would be the cherry on top.

 

We are grateful to BirdLife Species Champion Dr. Urs-Peter Stäuble, who supports our work for Cherry-throated Tanager through the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.