CONNECTING THE CERRADO
Goal: To protect at least 2000 hectares (4,942 acres) of native Cerrado in a network of interconnected private reserves within 20 km of Cantão Park.
The Cerrado biome of Central Brazil is the world’s most biodiverse tropical savanna, with over 11 thousand species of plants, 837 species of birds, 1200 species of fish, and very high endemism of amphibians and reptiles. Due to its high agricultural potential, it is also one of the most threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world, with 80% of its original area already gone and only 3% in protected areas, almost all of them located in highlands and drier regions, unsuited for agriculture.
The Cantão ecosystem in the Araguaia valley of Central Brazil is the world’s richest ecotone. Here, rich, moist lowland Cerrado comes into direct contact with Amazonian flooded forest, resulting in a steep species gradient with very high biodiversity. Unfortunately, only the Amazonian side of this amazing ecotone is protected, within Cantão State Park and Araguaia National Park. The Cerrado side all consists of private lands which are quickly being deforested. Brazil’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, and the vast majority of Brazil’s annual harvest (as well as most of the beef production) comes from the Cerrado, so the government is reluctant to intervene. High land costs make the establishment of public PAs unfeasible, making federally recognized private reserves (RPPNs) the only alternative. Land prices in the region were about half of current prices before the first big soybean producers arrived around 2012 and put in the grain storage and transport infrastructure that made it viable for smaller ranches. However, now prices for land where soybeans can be grown is skyrocketing everywhere in the Cerrado, even where there is still no infrastructure.
To start off, Instituto Araguaia has directly purchased 240 hectares (about 618 acres) of prime Cerrado land to create one of the core areas of a private reserve (RPPN), and is working with landowners to establish more RPPNs on private ranches and in rural resettlement projects. A species survey and habitat map is being carried out by Instituto Araguaia’s field team, supported by a team of Biology specialists and a GIS technician, to ensure that all RPPNs in the network have adequate connectivity with each other and with Cantão Park, with most of the bordering the park. Instituto Araguaia has been studying wildlife movements across the ecotone since 2010, using camera traps and other means. Most larger Cerrado species can and do use the park’s forest ecosystems to disperse, forage, and even reside for much of the year.