Last night I took a boat ride on the Rio Negro with Patrick and Reinaldo. It was the best place to see a sunset yet! We fly out of the Pantanal in the mid-morning, surrounded by butterflies and dragonflies in the long-grasses near the make-shift runway, and two caiman near the river fighting over a piece of cloth stolen from a nearby clothesline. I enjoyed the Fazenda, but a part of me thinks it is time to leave as the pererecas – the little green frogs found in the rooms – have gotten smarter. Over these last two days, they have taken to hiding on the sills above the doorwells, and diving on my head as I walk underneath them.
ACTIVITY: Create a butterfly habitat in your backyard garden
As Patrick, Julie and I board the tiny Cessna to fly to the Cerrado, I notice that the airplane pilot has piled about a foot of padding on his seat so that he can see over the dashboard of the plane. This is NOT comforting.
The flight to the Cerrado shows strikingly drastic changes in landscape over a relatively short period of time: The land starts off as marshes and lakes surrounded by woods, then gradually loses the wooded areas for huge swamps, then the swamps give-way to miles and miles of land cleared for agriculture.
||Over these last two days they have taken to diving on my head as I walk underneath them.|
The farms are spotted with small islands of trees, or stretches of green along riverbanks. Under Brazilian law, land-owners must be mindful of two laws when managing their land. First, federal law requires land-owners to preserve native vegetation along riparian embankments. This is called a "permanent reserve." Second, land-owners must retain a certain percentage of their property in its natural vegetative state. The state determines what percentage is applied to this rule, called the "legal reserve." In Mato Grosso do Sul, the state requires that 20% be protected, while in the Amazon, landowners must protect up to 50% of their property.
While these laws provide strong written protection for Brazil's incredible wildlands and biodiversity, they are only effective if the political will is present to monitor and enforce them. In areas like the Cerrado, where the government itself encouraged exploitation of the land, both permanent and legal reserve rules were frequently violated. Now, conservation groups are working with the state government to efficiently find ways for the landowners to pay back the state by restoring native vegetation on their land or purchasing land for conservation in key areas of the proposed Corridor.
When we arrive in the Cerrado, we join three researchers working in Emas: Leandro is doing studies on raptor populations found in the park and out-lying areas, Marcelo is studying bird population dynamics, and Paula is surveying reptile and amphibian species.
||Every night, she drives around the park with a huge spotlight, looking for snakes, lizards and frogs crossing the road.|
We charter a plane to survey Emas, and see that the 132,000 hectare park is actually covered by a number of different ecosystems. Marcelo explains that there are actually six different types of habitat in the Cerrado region – and all of them can correctly be labeled as cerrado landscapes: There are the cerrado open fields, the cerrado scrublands, the traditional cerrado with heavy vegetation and some trees, the cerrado humid fields, the cerrado with 15-20 meter tall trees and close floor vegetation and the cerrado gallery forest with a fully developed canopy and understory. To make matters even more confusing, cerrado is also used to describe any island of trees and vegetation surrounded by wetlands or grassy savannahs.
We land in the park and take the traditional mid-day break to wait out the incredible heat. Patrick naps first, while Julie and I discuss the wildlife we've seen. Later, after we've all had a quick siesta, we walk to a bridge near the research station to watch the sunset. On the way Paula tells us about her work. Every night, she drives around the park with a huge spotlight, looking for snakes, lizards and frogs crossing the road. When she finds one, she jumps out of the car and identifies it – trapping it if necessary – before letting it continue on its way. She has found 23 different species of frogs, 25 types of lizards and 52 snake species in Emas. The snakes include six poisonous ones: three pit vipers, two coral snakes and a rattler. I make a mental note to wear thick boots and jeans while walking through the underbrush here.
SPECIES: Learn more about the herpetofauna – reptiles and amphibians – in Brazil
After watching a beautiful sunset over the Cerrado, we return to the ecotourism lodge where we are staying. Tomorrow we will get to see Marcelo and Leandro in action, and meet some more researchers in the park. Hopefully we'll also be able to see some more animals along the way.
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