Con­ser­va­tion cut­backs put Brazil’s Ama­zon an­i­mals at risk

The Star Malaysia - - World -

Brasilia: Bened­ito de Souza scoops back sand hid­ing a nest of baby gi­ant Ama­zon River tur­tles that he had cov­ered over weeks ago to hide from preda­tors. Sud­denly ex­posed, dozens of the tiny rep­tiles make a run for it.

Dur­ing the dry sea­son in Brazil’s Ama­zon, the Pu­rus River snaking through the Me­dio Pu­rus Ex­trac­tive Re­serve shrinks to leave vast beaches on which thou­sands of tur­tles lay their eggs every year.

The marks from their noc­tur­nal ac­tiv­ity can be seen in the sand by day from pass­ing boats.

A lo­cal com­mu­nity leader who did his first en­vi­ron­men­tal course in 2007, he watches over the Pu­rus River beaches with his neigh­bours dur­ing the June-to-Novem­ber sea­son to pro­tect the eggs.

The great Ama­zon River tur­tle, also known as the Ar­rau tur­tle, can grow to a me­tre in length.

Al­though not clas­si­fied as en­dan­gered, “in fact, they are”, said Roberto La­cava, head of the ch­e­lo­nian pro­gram for Brazil’s gov­ern­men­tal Ibama en­vi­ron­men­tal agency.

His unit was cre­ated be­cause pop­u­la­tions of sev­eral species in the re­gion were deemed to be im­per­iled.

With only 20 of­fi­cers to cover eight vast Brazil­ian states, the pro­gramme re­lies on vol­un­teers to carry out its work in the Ama­zonas state, a ter­ri­tory big­ger than the whole of Peru.

But as Ibama fund­ing has been cut back, some of those vol­un­teers turned to the dark side, us­ing their knowl­edge to be­come poach­ers in­stead of pro­tec­tors.

“Many hoped to be paid, and when they weren’t, they be­came preda­tors,” de Souza said, plac­ing baby tur­tles in a tank for trans­porta­tion to a lake where their odds for sur­vival would be bet­ter.

This year, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has an­nounced a 43% re­duc­tion in the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry’s bud­get on which Ibama de­pends.

And that comes against the back­drop of what crit­ics say is Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer’s steady ero­sion of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions.

“Poach­ing grows where there is an ab­sence of the gov­ern­ment,” said Ana Claudia Tor­res, with the fish­ing man­age­ment pro­gramme for the Mami­raua In­sti­tute, based in the Ama­zon town of Tefe.

The pro­gramme was started in 1997 and is used to put checks on catches of ara­paima fish present in five Brazil­ian states.

Weigh­ing up to 220kgs, ara­paima is one of the world’s big­gest fresh­wa­ter fish. It has been on the en­dan­gered list since 1975.

How­ever, Tor­res said, “if we con­sider their num­ber in terms of stock, in Ama­zonas state we could say their pop­u­la­tion has re­cov­ered and they are no longer vul­ner­a­ble.”

In the Me­dio Pu­rus Ex­trac­tive Re­serve, there are 200 lakes con­tain­ing ara­paima, 16 of which have man­aged fish­ing pro­grammes, Jose Maria de Oliveira, man­ager for the Chico Mendes In­sti­tute for Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion in Me­dio Pu­rus, said, adding that struc­tur­ing and al­low­ing lim­ited sales of the fish had helped com­bat poach­ing, un­der­lin­ing that vig­i­lance alone is not enough.

In­vest­ment in com­mu­nity projects is also re­quired.

Ze Ba­jaga, the tech­ni­cal co­or­di­na­tor for Brazil’s Na­tional In­dian Foun­da­tion (Fu­nai in the town of Labrea, de­scribed an equally grim sit­u­a­tion.

Ba­jaga said poach­ing is grow­ing and “with­out vig­i­lance, the man­aged pro­gramme will weaken.”

“The sit­u­a­tion is re­ally dan­ger­ous We are on the brink of an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter.” — AFP

Big catch: Fish­er­men load­ing an ara­paima onto their boat in the Western Ama­zon re­gion near Volta do Bu­cho in the Ituxi Re­serve. —AFP

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