|The Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 27, 2003
-- Page F5
A SOUTHERN ESCAPE FROM ISOLATION
A Brazilian park, encircled by farmland,
was more like a jail than a haven for
mighty jaguar. SHAWN BLORE details
solution -- travel corridors to link
To the human eye, it's a field of wheat and
short-cropped pasture grass. From a jaguar's
point of view, it's a moonscape, a fast-flowing
river, a vast and impassable barrier. To
the vice-director of Brazil's Iguaçu National
Park, it was the last missing link in his
plan to preserve the park's population of
South America's largest, most charismatic,
most threatened feline predator.
The park at the southern border of
is mostly known for its waterfalls,
in the Robert de Niro film The Mission.
in addition to the glorious cataracts
the snap-happy tourists, the park also
185,000 hectares of pristine subtropical
forest, off-limits to all but biologists
and animals, territory enough in theory
support a population of about 200 jaguars.
In reality, the population is less
and falling. "If you look at the
from above," says Apolonio Rodrigues,
a shaggy-haired biologist who serves
park's second-in-command, "it's
an island of trees in a sea of farms.
can't enter farmland. They're isolated."
Over time, the isolation leads to more
more severe inbreeding, and a population
that is genetically more similar and
fit to survive.
To solve this problem Mr. Rodrigues
a series of wild corridors linking
to other nature reserves farther north.
would be able to move along these corridors
and interbreed with animals living
park, creating what biologists call
The closest sizable reserve lay just
to the north on the reforested banks
Itaipu reservoir, a 120-km long man-made
lake created to service the Itaipu
Hydroelectric Plant. The long Itaipu
leads in turn to other reserves farther
But between Iguaçu Park and the reservoir
lay 20 kilometres of cattle, corn and
This is where biological training and
knowledge came in handy.
On paper, Brazil's environmental legislation
is often more rigorous than in developed
countries such as Canada. For example,
has on the books a federal stream-side
law that requires private landowners
or rehabilitate strips of land on either
side of rivers running through their
The size of the strip depends on the
of the river. For a six-metre-wide
the landowner has to dedicate 30 metres
either bank as forest.
Looking at aerial maps, Mr. Rodrigues
two small rivers, one squiggling northward
from the park, the other meandering
from the reservoir. The photographs
the streams' banks to be a scraggly,
mess. "We went to the landowners
told them about the law," the
says. "For some, it was the first
they had heard of it."
Mr. Rodrigues asked the landowners
their riversides into compliance. To
the deal, Iguaçu National Park and
Dam offered to chip in financial assistance.
The park would pay for new fencing
the streamside reserves, the dam would
for new tree seedlings. Even so, a
the landowners balked.
This is often where things end in Brazil.
In this case, Mr. Rodrigues managed
the Parana state government to step
told [the landowners], "Okay,
join the program or you can obey the
as written, in which case you've got
years to fix those streamsides all
own.' " The rest of the landowners
The problem of federal highway BR 277,
cuts right across the corridor, was
when the government sold a long-term
to the highway to a private company
undertook to double the road and impose
toll. As a condition of the upgrade,
park managed to include a requirement
the highway be elevated on a viaduct
the rehabilitated river, allowing wildlife
to travel underneath.
There remained one last problem. At
where the two rivers almost but not
came together, there remained a gap,
ridge about 800 metres long, scraped
of trees and planted thick with pasture.
The land formed part of the 1,600-hectare
Santa Maria ranch, a property owned
Paulo businessman Licinio Machado Filho.
Here, Mr. Rodrigues had no leverage
kind, except the innate beauty of the
So he went to Mr. Machado and asked.
"What really attracted me was
of bringing back the wildlife into
Mr. Machado says from his Sao Paulo
"I spent every summer on that
a child. There used to be a lot more
of every kind, in the area."
Mr. Machado agreed to cede a corridor
metres long and 80 metres wide, a parcel
that at current rates, he estimates
worth $300,000 (U.S.).
On the farm where workers are just
off their six-day work week for a Saturday
game of soccer, farm manager Fernando
takes time out to show off the corridor.
Work has just begun. A small fence
place, a few seedlings are just poking
through the weeds.
"Four or five times in the past
weeks, we've had jaguars poke their
out of the forest over there,"
gesturing to the forest on the southern
of the gap. "They must have come
the park. They look around, then go
into the trees. When this is done,
be back and forth through here all
Shawn Blore is a Freelance Correspondent
based in Rio de Janeiro