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.