28 Apr 2016

Say ‘no’ to extinction: saving Bristly and his 14 companions

One of Bristly's fourteen remaining companions. Female Stresemann's Bristlefront spotted by Ciro Albano
One of Bristly's fourteen remaining companions. Female Stresemann's Bristlefront by Ciro Albano
By Shaun Hurrell

Stresemann’s Bristlefront Merulaxis stresemanni: a long-tailed bird with distinctive forehead bristles, a rufous rump, a musical whistle song, seen perhaps eating frogs and insects, and with a tennis-ball-sized tunnel for its nest. Spotted a handful of times since its rediscovery in Brazil’s Atlantic forest in 1995, that’s about all we know of this unique bird. Apart from one scary fact: there are fewer than fifteen individual birds left of the entire species.

Some species cling to existence on mere scraps of remaining habitat until… they’re gone. And once they’re gone, there is no turning back. But while those few individuals resist we have a chance to save them. A chance we are not going to miss.

That is why, today, BirdLife International embarks on an ambitious new global initiative to prevent the extinction of endangered species including Stresemann’s Bristlefront, as part of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE).

The multi-million dollar initiative teams-up coordinators BirdLife, the American Bird Conservancy, the Global Environment Facility, and the United Nations Environment Program with the governments of Brazil, Chile, and Madagascar – where projects to restore and protect AZE species’ habitat with community support will first be demonstrated.

AZE is a global initiative working to prevent species extinctions by identifying and safeguarding the places where Endangered or Critically Endangered species are restricted to single remaining, irreplaceable sites.

“Protecting the last remaining habitats for Critically Endangered species is a vital strategy for preventing extinctions,” said Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with whom the initiative will work closely.

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BirdLife is well-versed on Preventing Extinctionsto not save the rarest of the rare would be unthinkable. Saving these tiny habitats is saving entire species.

Stresemann’s Bristlefront habitat is a remnant strip of humid forest in a valley at the border of Bahia and Minas Gerais states, Brazil. Every day the sound of chainsaws firing up, the crackle of forest fires, and the smell of cow dung are getting ever closer. Rapid deforestation for logging, plantations and cattle ranching have devastated the state’s forest, which is a unique habitat-type (South American Atlantic forest) high in endemic species and of which only 10% of its original South American extent remains in Brazil. The ten individual birds are clinging to existence, stranded in an ‘island’ of forest.

With fewer than fifteen birds left – is it possible to save them?     

It can be done. In arguably one of the world’s great conservation success stories of recent times, BirdLife saved the Seychelles Warbler which survived only on a single island – Cousin Island in the Seychelles, a mere 0.3km2. In 1959, only 26 birds remained. Through purchasing the island and involving local people in the project, a brand new home-grown conservation organisation was established – Nature Seychelles – who today care for several species that they have brought back from the edge of extinction. Last year, Seychelles Warbler was taken off the endangered list, with a population of 3,000 birds and growing!

Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza, Ministry of the Environment, Government of Brazil is onboard: “By expanding the Mata do Passarinho Reserve and working with local landowners, this initiative will provide a vital life line for the Critically Endangered Stresemann’s Bristlefront.”

The initiative, entitled the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE): Conserving Earth’s Most Irreplaceable Sites for Endangered Biodiversity aims to save AZE species at a total of five demonstration sites in Brazil, Chile, and Madagascar, and at an additional 10 sites globally.

“We are truly honoured to be working with the Governments of Brazil, Chile and Madagascar”, said Pepe Clarke, Head of Policy at BirdLife International.

Saving the rarest frogs, reptiles and plants too

“In Chile, the initiative seeks to create conditions for the survival of three amphibian species,” says Diego Flores Arrate, Ministry of the Environment, Government of Chile, “by protecting their habitat and reducing impacts from farming, ranching and logging activities, considering a participatory approach with different stakeholders.”

Additionally, Tsitongambarika forest in Madagascar provides habitat for two plant and eleven recently-discovered frog and reptile species. This is also a BirdLife Forest of Hope site, where Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Partner) recently secured a permanent protected area statusAsity Madagascar is now co-manager of the site together with local communities, and has already been fulfilling this role to ensure the site's conservation for several years. But the site next needs the implementation of a management and financing plan in order to secure its future for the endemic and endangered species that live there.

“The initiative is particularly links local action to national and international policy, helping minimise the impact of development projects on the sites.” emphasises BirdLife’s Clarke.

When a species only has a few individuals left, we think each deserves a name.

So let’s start by naming Stresemann’s Bristlefront ‘Bristly’, who was last spotted in Mata do Passarinho Reserve with an active nest. Now, thanks to this project there is more hope for the future of Bristly’s family.

Watch and listen to Bristly here: