10 Jan 2020

Critically Endangered antwren receives its first protected area in Brazil

In October 2019, the Marsh Antwren was given its first ever protected area in the town of Guararema, Brazil. This tiny, Critically Endangered antbird lives in isolated populations on marshland just 50km from São Paulo, the largest city in South America.

The Marsh Antwren weighs around ten grams © Marco Silva
The Marsh Antwren weighs around ten grams © Marco Silva
By Emilia Ulloa

2019 became a big year for a small bird when, after years of hard work and advocacy, the Marsh Antwren Formicivora paludicola (Critically Endangered) received a 2373-hectare Wildlife Refuge to protect its habitat. The first ever protected area specifically for this species was established in the town of Guararema, located in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region in Brazil.

The Marsh Antwren is a tiny, insectivorous antbird that can only fly in short bursts of no more than 25 metres, and always remains staunchly within its marshland habitat. Sadly, that habitat is dwindling – the species can only be found in a small area of marshland at the headwaters of rivers Tietê and Paraíba do Sul, about 50 km from downtown São Paulo – the largest city in South America, and one of the largest in the world outright.

Because of its rarity, the Marsh Antwren remained unknown to science until 2004, when it was discovered by Brazilian ornithologist Dante Buzzetti. At first, the individuals found in São Paulo were thought to be another species, the Parana Antwren Formicivora acutirostris (Near Threatened). However, in 2015 the Marsh Antwren was identified as a separate species. Right from the start, its situation was worrying due to its highly restricted distribution, small population (estimated as between 250 and 985 individuals) and habitat loss. For these reasons, the species was classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

To save this species from extinction, SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Partner) joined forces with Guararema City Hall and local organizations Guaranature and Instituto Suinã to start a conservation project in 2017. With international support*, they began conducting surveys to monitor the population of the Marsh antwren in Guararema, and carrying out activities to engage the local community.

Based on their findings, they mapped the species’ habitat and worked together to define the limits of the Wildlife Refuge. Public consultations about the protected area were very successful, with no objections from the local community. And so, on October 24th 2019, mayor Adriano de Toledo Leite signed a decree establishing the Refúgio de Vida Silvestre do Bicudinho (Mash Antwren Wildlife Refuge) in Guararema.

Pedro Develey, Director of SAVE Brasil, says: “The creation of the Wildlife Refuge represents a great victory for the long term conservation of the Marsh Antwren.  This is the first official protected area for this unique and Critically Endangered species. The commitment of the Municipality of Guararema and other local partners was crucial for this achievement and is a good example to illustrate how different sectors of the society can work together promoting the sustainable development and biodiversity conservation”.

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As well as protecting the Marsh Antwren’s only population, the Wildlife Refuge will preserve water reserves crucial to the citizens of Guararema. It will also safeguard vital habitat for other threatened species such as the Buffy Tufted-ear Marmoset Callithrix aurita (a small primate endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest), the Crowned Solitary eagle Buteogallus coronatus (Endangered) and the Buffy-fronted Seedeater Sporophila frontalis (Vulnerable). The hope is that in the upcoming years this diversity of habitats and the beauty of its wildlife will draw the attention of birdwatchers and other eco-tourists, providing wildlife-friendly employment for local people.

The project was made possible thanks to the support of the American Bird Conservancy, Fundação Grupo Boticário de Proteção à Natureza, PLJ Writings/Neotropical Bird Club, and the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.