Land Purchase and Protection at Serra Bonita
Six properties were purchased in 2014, expanding the Serra Bonita Reserve by 552.5 acres. This excellent achievement brings the Serra Bonita Reserve to 5,258 acres. The new areas are at lower elevations containing some of the nicest forest on the mountain. In addition to beautiful and mature forest, the areas harbor many bird species that cannot be seen in higher elevations, where most visitors spend their time. The endangered banded cotinga (Cotinga maculata) was observed in this area by Bob Ridgeley in 2013. Six more properties are being targeted for purchase in 2015, pending on finding financial support, to add another 355 acres of protected Atlantic Forest.
The SBR continues to employ four reserve wardens who monitor the interior trails by foot and mule and inspect the perimeter by motorcycle. Their regular duties include patrolling, but also ongoing needs such as maintaining trails, boundary markers and signage, especially as the SBR is expanded. The wardens also guide visitors and school children who frequent the SBR to do research, observe nature or participate in environmental education activities.
The Harpy Eagle´s return!
The presence of the Harpy Eagle is confirmed!! This species, the Harpia harpyija (in the Tupi language, Uiraçu - pronounced oo-ee-rah-sue) is considered locally extinct. A couple years ago a camera trap in the forest, belonging to a team surveying for mammals, captured the image of a juvenile harpy eagle. Early in 2014 an adult was sighted on a tree at the top of the SBR and a few other times. This confirms the presence of a family of Harpy Eagles at the SBR, making it the only Reserve in the Atlantic Forest that harbors a resident family of Harpy Eagles, in nature and without the use of a reintroduction program. This is a great conservation success story by any measure, but even more exciting as the Harpy Eagle is the mascot of the SBR and the Instituto Uiraçu.
Brown Howlers at the SBR
In February, 2014 the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity (ICMBio - a branch of the Brazilian Ministry of Environment) captured a female brown howler (Alouatta guariba guariba) wandering the streets of Teixeira de Freitas, a city 130 miles South from the SBR. This particular species of howler monkey is one the 25 most endangered primates in the WORLD!! She was transferred to the SBR to be paired up with the male howler Pelé, in an attempt for their reintroduction at the Reserve, as the species is locally extinct.
Artist Kitty Harvill visited the howlers and made paintings of them for a fundraising campaign by the international conservation organization, Rainforest Trust. These funds will partially support a project to reintroduce howler monkeys at Serra Bonita (about 53 other paintings were made by different artists to help raise awareness for the cause).
The howlers were initially kept together in a nursery and have since been released to start acquiring the habit of feeding from the forest. They both learned from each other what to eat, and where to find the food. The female, named Taty, eventually wandered into the forest searching for other howlers. Presently she is in the forest, nearby, and can be seen and heard on occasion. The male Pelé remains around the SBR facilities, coming and going as he pleases, but always near humans. He is very friendly to visitors.
ICMBio became enthusiastic about the possibility of releasing and reintroducing other captured wild animals due to the successful habitat protection efforts of the SBR and a partnership is being discussed on how to implement a rehabilitation and reintroduction center there.
IU leadership and engagement in the local community
The Instituto Uiraçu was elected in 2014, by the voting population of the municipality of Camacan, to be a member of two municipal councils, for a 4-year term each: the Environmental Education Council and the Environment Council. The IU was selected to the Chair of the municipal Environment Council in the person of Clemira Souza, currently the President of the IU. She participated actively in meetings throughout the year, holding environmental educational meetings for the board members and assessing requests for the municipal administration to issue environment licenses for private and public enterprises.
Support for improvements needed for SBR infrastructure
At the SBR, another almost 50 meters of cobblestone pavement were completed in Bahian blue granite. This work, while being aesthetically pleasing to look at, also helps improve all-weather transportation and minimizes wear-and-tear on vehicles. This work was made possible with funds provided by Vitor Becker and Clemira Souza.
The IU is currently seeking for support for the construction of a Visitor´s Center, a Canteen and an animal screening center at the SBR, to improve services to the community, receive and educate visitors to the SBR and make visitation a source of long-term sustainability for the Reserve.
Twenty new species found at the SBR!
The promotion of greater understanding of the biota of the Atlantic Forest in Bahia continues to be a major focus of the work at the SBR. This work is greatly facilitated by the presence of the Research Center and the Lodge built inside the SBR and the opportunity it provides in having access to lab space and protected forest habitat within steps of one another.
In 2014, eight research projects were conducted at the SBR, in collaboration with the IU Director of Scientific Research (Dr. Vitor Becker). About 70 researchers visited the RSB for different projects, collecting data and samples. Five papers were published about the flora and fauna of the SBR, adding up to a total of 32 papers already published since the creation of the Reserve. Up tp date, 20 new species have been found at the SBR: 7 plants, 1 bird, 1 amphibian (one of the world’s smallest, the flea toad), a snake and 10 insects.
Birding, record visitation and long-term sustainability
The SBR had the largest number of visitors since its creation: over 450 people visited the Reserve in 2014 (with 200 birders and researchers). A substantial percentage of this growth is due to the recognition of the SBR as a refuge for a great diversity of birds (415 species!!) and the resulting interest in visitation by the international recreational birding community.
These 415 species include 68 species endemic to the Atlantic Forest and 42 species that are listed internationally in the categories of endangered (21), vulnerable (10) and threatened (11). Many Brazilian and North American birders have arrived on private tours with top-level bird guides The increase in visitation has led to important advances in the SBR’s long term sustainability: for the first time since the creation of the Reserve, the wages of the workers were fully covered by visitation revenue, and it was not necessary to supplement this budget need with the owners’ (Vitor Becker and Clemira Souza) personal funds.
Environmental Education and Community Outreach
In 2014, the Instituto Uiraçu once again organized and implemented three annual Environmental Education events: the Week of the Water, the Week of the Atlantic Forest and the Week of Science and Technology. Those events engage schools and community organizations to participate in lectures, field trips, workshops, marches, cultural activities, exhibits and volunteering. The events are coordinated by Clemira Souza, President of the IU, and volunteer IU members Kalinka Correia (biologist), Camila Santana (art educator) and Diva Amado (administrator).
The Instituto Uiraçu also launched a weekly community radio program in Camacan for environmental education purposes, organized and executed by Camila Santana. This program, with the participation of members of the community, addresses common themes about the value of nature and its conservation and answers the audience’s many questions about the SBR.
IU Communication and Social Networking
The IU got a new logo, a beautiful Facebook “fanpage” and a channel on Youtube, created and maintained by volunteer communications professional Bruno Miranda (please “Like” us at Serra Bonita Reserve) and volunteer IU member Moema Becker. Bruno has updated photos and video footage taken by himself and other contributors (and has been using a Canon 60D camera kindly donated to the SBR project in 2014 by the Orchid Conservation Alliance!!).
One more highlight of the year was the broadcasting of a TV program about the SBR on Rede Globo, a nationally distributed channel [http://globotv.globo.com/rede-globo/globo-rural/v/pesquisador-brasileiro-e-um-dos-maiores-especialistas-em-mariposas-do-mundo/3199345/]. This show led to an almost immediate increase in the public´s interest in the SBR and in the number of visitors to the site. The visitors were not only the more regular birdwatchers and scientists, but a broader variety of people of all ages, origin and fields of knowledge.
Fine Cacao cultivation at the SBR
At the moment approximately 247 acres of organic cacao are being cultivated within the SBR. Although the witch broom fungus still exists, with care, high quality cacao beans can still be produced in low quantities and represent a high-value economic activity that is compatible with the habitat conservation work at the SBR. In 2014, Fazenda Santo Antonio was purchased and this acquisition should greatly advance the cacao production, as this property has facilities and 123 acres with cacao, cultivated under the traditional cabruca system.
Experienced cacao farm manager Norberto Hess has been contracted and 2015 will be an important year in rehabilitating this farm and making a serious attempt at producing a high quality/low volume fine cacao product. Making progress in this work is important as the SBR has been approached by several international firms offering a premium price for high quality cacao rooted in an Atlantic Forest-based biodiversity conservation initiative.