Wednesday, 17 November 2004

Depression over Paraguay

After visiting Patagonia in October, I had been invited by the World Land Trust partners in Paraguay (Guyra) to stop over on my way back so that they could show me something of the work they were doing. Asuncion is very much on the way home from Buenos Aires, and it was an ideal opportunity, and despite only being there for two days, they were able to pack in a remarkable amount. First stop was the HQ of Guyra, and there it was immediately apparent that we were working with a small but dynamic organisation.

Guyra is a very similar sized organisation to the World Land Trust, and although known mostly as a bird conservation organisation, has a much broader remit. While visiting their offices it was very good to see the books that the WLT's Books for Conservation programme supplied, in a very prominent place, forming the core of their library. The staff were very enthusiastic, and told me the books had made a real difference, since they are virtually impossible to obtain in Paraguay.

After a dawn start the following day (a visit to the local marshes for birdwatching), we made our way to the airport, where we took off for San Raphael in a four seater plane. The purpose was to photograph the forests from the air, to monitor the rates of clearance. San Raphael is the largest remnant of the Atlantic Rainforest in Paraguay. This once extensive outlier of the Atlantic Rainforest is now seriously fragmented, with much of it gone in Brazil, and now broken into disconnected fragments in Paraguay; the only large tracts survive across the border in the Missiones Province of Argentina.

The wildlife of Paraguay is interesting, and also a first rate example of how misleading measures of endemism can be for making decisions on conservation priorities. Paraguay has relatively few endemics -- probably no endemic birds for example. But that is almost entirely because of the way political boundaries have been drawn. If the habitats are considered, or more relevantly the biogeographical regions, then it is apparent that Paraguay is at the cross-roads of several very important biogeographical regions. This makes it a very good place to go and see a huge range of species.

One area I did not have a chance to see was northern Paraguay. Here chaco meets the Pantanal, and the huge areas of grasslands and wetlands include some of the best places for seeing Jaguars. It is a remote part of the world, much of it still largely unexplored, and there are believed to be groups of Guarani Indians living there who have never been in contact with the outside world. How long this isolation will prevail is anyone's guess, but it's good to know that such places still exist.

But back to my title: depression over Paraguay. It was as we flew over the Atlantic Rainforests of San Raphael, that this became apparent, clear lines showed where the forest was protected. smoldering fires were burning, and agriculture bounded the forest everywhere. It was an image of pressure, as if agriculture was gnawing at the perimeter of the forest.

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