Ravaged by deforestation – but a new refuge brings hope for the Cherry-throated Tanager

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(Alice Reisfeld 17 May 2017; Photo: Ciro Albino)

Over 85% of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest has been felled over the last few hundred years – but life continues to cling to the fragments that remain. A newly-created reserve will ensure that one of these fragments, along with the six globally-threatened birds it harbours, will endure for the foreseeable future

Just five hundred years ago, the Atlantic Forest formed a thick green blanket across the east coast of Brazil. Then settlers arrived from Europe, sparking one of the most terrifying rates of deforestation the world has ever seen.

Today, plantations and quarries stand where 88% of the Atlantic Forest once proudly stood. All that remains of this vital ecosystem today are scattered patches of degraded, fragmented forest.

The decimation of the Atlantic Forest is an ongoing tragedy for biodiversity. Despite only being a fraction of its former glory, the Atlantic Forest is still home to a huge number of plants and animals – enough, in fact, to rival the more famous Amazon. Even in its current state, new species are being discovered all the time in the fragments that remain – or in the case of the Critically Endangered (CR) Cherry-throated Tanager Nemosia rourei, rediscovered.

This colourful tanager was known only from a single shot specimen in 1870 for many decades, before its dramatic rediscovery in the 1990s. However, the species remains staggeringly rare, with an estimated global population of less than 200 adult birds. It may be that there are further populations out there skulking in as-yet unexplored fragments, but for now all we can do is protect the habitats that host the populations we do know about.

And this week, there was a major advancement on this front – the establishment of a 1,688 hectare refuge protecting one of the last strongholds of this beleaguered species. The newly-created Águia Branca Private Reserve now represents the second largest private protected area in the Brazillian state of Espírito Santo.

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