In its original form, the Atlantic Rainforest once stretched across 500,000 square miles along the eastern coast of Brazil and Argentina. A biodiversity hotspot, this rainforest was home to countless, thriving plant and animal species. However, as the area started to be developed and urbanized as human populations moved in, this once thriving ecosystem began to degrade.
Over the course of the past 100 years, the Atlantic Rainforest has been exploited to the extent that only seven percent has been left in tact. But, despite this drastic decrease in the rainforest, it still exists as a vital ecosystem for the animals and plants who have managed to survive throughout the years. Home to the Woolly Spider Monkey, Pump, Red-billed Currasow, and over 100 different species of orchid (among thousands of other diverse species), the Atlantic Rainforest needs to be protected more than ever as pressure from the development of Rio de Janeiro creeps towards the forest. With more plans to develop the city as the 2016 Olympic games approach, the rainforest is being put in grave danger.
Guarding the Atlantic Forest
Rainforest Trust has a close partnership with the Brazilian conservation organization, Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA). The REGUA reserve in Brazil encompasses the Upper Guapiaçu River Basin in the State of Rio de Janiero. Working in collaboration with REGUA’s efforts, Rainforest Trust is helping to raise the necessary funds to purchase 1,128 acres of land across the Guapiaçu Valley that will be included in the existing reserve. By purchasing this additional land, REGUA and Rainforest Trust can prevent further fragmentation of the delicate rainforest ecosystem, and hopefully ensure the protection of the many species who call this land home.
As humans enter more into the forest to develop the land, poaching becomes a major issue of concern for the local wildlife. To help to protect the many endemic species who call the Guapiaçu Valley home, REGUA employs forest guards.
Rhildo da Rosa Oliveira has worked as a forest guard with REGUA for the past five years. A native of Brazil, Oliveira’s experience working with REGUA has allowed him to truly understand the importance of this area.
“It has been my home for all of my life,” Oliviera tells One Green Planet, “and I am now starting to realize the biological value of the forest and the animals, rather than it just being a place where there was timber.”
REGUA intentionally employs local people as forest guards to help foster an understanding of the ecosystem and encourage people to feel responsible for its protection. The rainforest has been regarded as an incredible source of natural resources since people began to develop the region. Between the number of plants and animals, the Atlantic Rainforest could easily be regarded as a goldmine for a local community, however, it is REGUA’s goal to instill and understanding of the intrinsic and environmental value of these species in an effort to sustainably preserve the forest.
Many forest guards are skilled hunters who are now learning to apply the skills they once used to track animals to help locate and identify poachers.
Every morning around 7AM, Oliviera sets out to walk the trails he is responsible for protecting. Part of his job is to ensure that the paths through the forest are maintained, but he also keeps an eye out for animal traps.
“I look for tracks and also disturbance in the forest which indicates human presence,” explains Oliviera. While he has not directly encountered a poacher himself, he has removed a number of traps from the forest.
In addition to disabling traps and tracking poachers, Oliviera serves as a guide for researcher and visitors. By spreading the appreciation for the rainforest he has developed in his work with REGUA with others, Oliviera is helping to raise awareness of the plight facing this beautiful natural place.
While being on constant guard to ensure the protection the forest’s plants and animals might be daunting, Oliviera tells One Green Planet, “It is not a challenge, it is so much part of my life that I love being in the forest.” He continues, “I can see the beauty and value of the biology of REGUA and the forest here and want it to be protected for the future.”
What You Can Do
The goal of the rainforest guards, like Rhildo da Rosa Oliveira is to ensure that the remaining section of the Atlantic Rainforest remains in tact for years to come. While 92 percent of the original rainforest might have been lost to human development, there is still a portion left that is worth protecting, all the more for its small relative size. Rainforest Trust’s efforts to support the important work of REGUA and the forest guards are potentially the key to ensuring the future integrity of the remaining forest.
You can help REGUA and Rainforest Trust on this mission to protect the Guipiaçu Valley by making a donation to help them purchase the needed 1,128 acres of land. Rainforest Trust has been instrumental in helping to raise funds for the Forest Guards, their Giving Tuesday campaign raised a total of $35,00 to help them meet their goal. You can join Rainforest Trust in helping REGUA obtain more land for protection, by clicking here.
Lead image source: REGUA