San Rafael National Park- Protection for All Time

San Rafael Rainforest by Emily Horton
Atlantic Rainforest by Emily Horton
San Rafael by Emily Horton

First Published by World BirdWatch

In 2001, Guyra Paraguay realized that if it didn’t act quickly, the country’s most important remnant of Atlantic Forest, at San Rafael, would soon be lost. San Rafael (also known as Tekoha Guasu, ancestral territory of the Mbyá People) had been designated a national park for the Rio summit in 1992 and had also been one of the first Important Bird Areas to be identified for the whole of South America. However, it  remained a park on paper only, under the ownership of 55 different private landlords and suffered heavy encroachment every year.

Although studies had hardly begun, it was known to be the most important Paraguayan site for endemic Atlantic Forest birds. More recent research has confirmed its importance with 405 species recorded so far including 70 Atlantic Forest endemics and 16 near threatened and 12 globally threatened species, including the endangered Black-fronted Piping-Guan (Pipile jacutinga) and Marsh Seedeater (Sporophila palustris).

San Rafael has more of the 79 Atlantic Forest species recorded in Paraguay than any other Paraguayan site, and its overall avian diversity is comparable to much larger Atlantic Forest sites in Brazil.

With the support of the Garfield Foundation and Rainforest Trust, the first parcels of land were acquired from Sudameris Bank in November 2002. This first 2, 271 acres, known as Guyra Reta I, became part of a nucleus formed by the different properties subsequently acquired and managed by Guyra Paraguay. A second portion of land was bought from Sudameris Bank in February 2004, thanks to a donation from Conservation International through the Global Conservation Fund.

In close collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, a reception was held in Washington, DC, thanks to the efforts of the Paraguayan Embassy in the United States, under the leadership of the then Ambassador Ms. Leila Rachid de Cowles, known as the “Godmother of San Rafael.” The money raised from this allowed the second acquisition of 140 acres, known as Arroyo Tajy, to be completed in December 2003. A further donation from Conservation International, WWF Washington, and The Nature Conservancy enabled to Guyra to purchase another 2,150 acres in 2005.

In August 2006, another three properties were acquired totalling 399 acres. These lands were bought with a donation from Rainforest Trust, along with the Bike for BAAPA initiative and funds raised by PROCOSARA. Further donations in 2008 from American Bird Conservancy and Rainforest Trust resulted in another 560 acres.

In March 2011, the sale of another 274 acres represented the first partnership between Guyra and the Mbya Guaraní People of the “Arroyo Morotí” community within the ancestral Tekoha Guasu. This has been made possible with donations from Hans Swegen and others. This new area has been named the “Swegen Forest of the Tekoha Guasu.”

The work at San Rafael continues to be at the forefront of conservation in South America. A pioneering project is now also underway which aims to show that REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) can deliver significant and lasting benefits to forest communities and biodiversity, while meeting corporate social responsibility commitments and contributing to climate change mitigation by sequestering carbon and avoiding deforestation and forest degradation.

The proponent of the project is Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO), a leading provider of services to the offshore oil and gas industry. As part of its commitment to become carbon neutral, SPO is seeking to offset its unavoidable emissions, estimated at 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Guyra Paraguay continues to work hard to reach the target of protecting a minimum of 20,000 acres. San Rafael is a crucial stepping stone in the conservation corridor of the trinational Atlantic forest.

Rainforest Trust Supports New Reserve to Protect the Tucuman Parrot in Bolivia

Tucuman Parrot
Tucuman Parrot
The parrot nestlings’ diet is composed almost entirely of the cones and seeds of a local conifer, called “pino de cerro” (Podocarpus parlatorei), which is becoming scarce at a global level because of logging.

The threatened Tucuman Parrot will benefit from land just purchased by Asociación Armonía with the support of Rainforest Trust to establish the 44-acre Tucuman Parrot Reserve. The new reserve protects the largest Podocarpus conifer trees in the area, which are vitally important as nesting sites for the parrot. The strategic purchase of this forest came as a local sawmill was attempting to gain logging rights to the land, so our decisive actions came just in time.

With the support of Rainforest Trust and Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s Tropical Forest Forever Fund, Asociación Armonía has purchased and protected 44 acres of critical breeding habitat for the threatened Tucuman Parrot in Bolivia. Asociación Armonía has been working with the Quirusillas community in the department of Santa Cruz since 2010 to raise awareness of the plight of the threatened Tucuman Parrot and provide alternatives to logging that are consistent with sustaining and restoring local ecosystems. These activities include educational programs in local schools, developing honey production businesses, and working with women to develop handicrafts and increase their participation in community decision-making.

Significant progress has been made. In 2009, the Tucuman Parrot was recognized as a natural heritage symbol of Quirusillas and is now included as the central figure in the municipal coat of arms. In addition, the mayor of Quirusillas signed a declaration in support of the ban on capture and trade of the Tucuman Parrot.

“Establishing this reserve is one of several strategies we are implementing to prevent the extinction of the Tucuman Parrot in this region. We are also planning to erect artificial nest boxes to increase breeding opportunities for the species and to attract tourists to this reserve. Bringing tourism dollars to the area would provide a stronger incentive for the community to continue to implement environmental protection measures,” said Bennett Hennessey, Executive Director of Armonía.

The Tucuman Parrot is endemic to the Southern Yungas eco-region, a narrow strip of cloud forest on the east slope of the Andes in southeastern Bolivia and northwestern Argentina. There are two main threats to the Tucuman Parrot: habitat loss and the pet trade. The cloud forest that characterizes the parrot’s natural habitat is now greatly diminished and degraded due to selective logging, which removes the largest trees parrots require for nesting as well as cattle grazing and agriculture. The illegal capture of the Tucuman Parrot has declined since its peak in the 1980s but remains a major threat. Capturing these parrots for the pet trade often results in the destruction of the nesting tree, reducing potential reproduction efforts for future generations. As a result, the global population of the Tucuman has declined by 75% in the last three decades, and the species is now listed as vulnerable to extinction by BirdLife International.

The parrot nestlings’ diet is composed almost entirely of the cones and seeds of a local conifer, called “pino de cerro” (Podocarpus parlatorei), which is becoming scarce at a global level because of logging. Currently, a local sawmill is attempting to gain logging rights to areas in the vicinity of the new reserve. If they succeed, this reserve will be the last nesting location of this threatened bird in this region. So there is an urgent need to expand the new reserve. Also the new reserve is adjacent to the Quirusillas Municipal Reserve, effectively extending the area under protection.

The creation of the reserve was made possible with the help of Rainforest Trust and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s Tropical Forest Forever Fund. Additional support has been received from the Conservation Leadership Program, The Whitley Awards Foundation, and Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation.