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Birds from the pampas

Green beef reconciles the interests of livestock farmers and biologists in the south

Adriano Becker/Save BrasilSaffron-cowled blackbirds, common in BagéAdriano Becker/Save Brasil

Ornithologists have begun to defend livestock farming and the farmers behind it and value  wild animals in Bagé, in Rio Grande do Sul. “Birds and agribusiness can coexist”, guarantees biologist Pedro Develey, conservation director of the Society for the Conservation of Brazilian Birds (Save Brasil). He started bringing together two groups that are customarily distant after taking part in a survey that showed that the wealth of birds on the pampas, a landscape that is typical of the south of Brazil and marked by huge unfenced grassland areas, covered by sparse vegetation.

On just three farms in the municipality of Bagé he and the other biologists identified 144 bird species, a third of the estimated total for the whole of the pampas, including the emu, Latin America’s largest bird. They witnessed rare scenes, such as a flock of 103 saffron-cowled blackbirds (Xanthopsar flavus), with their yellow breasts and black wings, flying over a low hill. Based on these data, Develey and the 40 cattle breeders from the Association of Meat Producers of the Pampas of the Western Plain (Apropampa) discovered a joint line of work where both sides win; the green beef label, a concept that reconciles livestock farming with environmental preservation. In practice, these are cattle raised on natural pasture, containing 106 types of native grasses, counting only those from the first three farms investigated.

“A farm with a lot of bird species is a healthy farm, with fewer pests and less spending on herbicides”, says Develey. In December last year, as a result of the first meeting of the cattle breeders of the natural pastures of the pampas in the South Cone, the book “Aves do Pampa” [Birds of the Pampas] was published. This is a manual for identifying the commonest birds in the Bagé region, with part of the results of the inventory of species on the farms. Set up in 1999 by biologist Jaqueline Goerck as the Brazilian arm of Bird Life International, Save Brasil adopts different action strategies for each place it operates in Brazil . It also mobilizes town administrations, public prosecutors, teachers, artists and students. “Conservation projects only go well when local communities participate.”