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Priorities of Minas Gerais

Atlas indicates 105 areas of high biological wealth as a target for researches and conservation

Looking more like a little bear that lives hanging in the trees, the kinkajou has reappeared in the state of Minas Gerais, amongst the trees of a stretch of the Atlantic Rain Forest, on the border with Rio de Janeiro. Also known as night walker, the species of Potos flavus had remained almost 60 years in complete anonymity, with the risk of disappearing, because of hunting: its meat is much appreciated. Good news like this, alongside others that are not so good, mark the second edition of the Atlas da biodiversidade de Minas Gerais [Atlas of the biodiversity of Minas Gerais], coordinated by two non-governmental organizations, the Biodiversitas Foundation and Conservation International.

Sponsored by Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, the work leads to the main conclusion: little headway has been made in terns of environmental conservation since 1998, when the first edition came out. The destruction of natural environments, driven by the expansion of the cities, of cattle raising, of mining and of tourism, is still part of the daily life of the citizens of Minas Gerais. In the light of this situation, Biodiversitas is proposing the expansion of the number of areas regarded as a priority for conservation: from the 86 listed in the first Atlas to 105.

Defined by the size or degree of conservation of the areas and by the occurrence of species that are endemic (exclusive) or threatened with extinction, these spaces correspond to about 20% of the area of the state, equivalent to at least twice the area now protected in conservation units, which cover almost 8% of the territory of Minas Gerais. Sometimes located inside farms or close to cities, they represent the remnants of the Atlantic Rain Forest, Cerrado (savanna) and Caatinga (scrubland), the major ecosystems of Minas Gerais.

Keeping this area with the lowest possible human intervention means preserving species threatened with extinction, like the muriqui monkeys (woolly spider monkey Brachyteles hypoxanthus), Brazil’s largest primate, typical of the Atlantic Rain Forest. There are endemic species even in the environs of the cities, like the Aeshna eduardoi dragonfly, with blue patches on its abdomen and yellow stripes on the thorax, found in the Morro do Ferro (Iron Hill), in Poços de Caldas, and in the Rola-Moça State Park, in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte.

In the Cerrado, it is more and more difficult to find the Brazilian merganser (Mergus octosetaceus), a bird with a long thin beak that lives in the clean waters of the Serra da Canastra ( ridge), the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), of up to 1 meter in length, or a species of stingless bee, the Melipona rufiventris, a victim of deforestation and of the excessive exploitation of honey. Among the trees that risk disappearing are the Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), in the Atlantic Rain Forest and the Caatinga, under pressure from subsistence farming and extensive cattle raising, a species of star tree (Myracrodruon urundeuwaMyracrodruon urundeuva) and the “barriguda” or bottle tree (Cavanillesia arborea).

A result of the work of work of 197 specialists from 56 research institutions, the Atlas classifies the priority areas in four groups, according to their biological wealth. There are 16 special areas, of unparalleled beauty or importance, like the Peruaçu valley, to the north of Minas, with caves of archeological interest, the Serra da Mantiqueira, a remnant of the Atlantic Rain Forest, to the south, and the Peter Lund area, of paleontological interest. Another 35 are classified as being of extreme importance, with a high incidence of species of animals and plants under threat of extinction – like the region of Cariri, to the north, where muriquis and rare amphibians live.

There are also 36 of a very high importance, and 18 that are highly relevant, like the São Francisco river and its main subsidiaries, surrounded by cattle raising, steel making, and agriculture. There is a prospect that these more delicate spaces will be taken seriously in the public policies: the Environmental Policy Council (Copam) has incorporated the Atlas into the official environmental legislation of Minas Gerais. “In practice”, comments Yasmine Antonini, a consultant from the foundation, “the Atlas has turned into an instrument whose recommendations can guide, for example, the analysis of projects of companies that may bring negative impacts to the environment.”

Drawn up with the support of the Minas Gerais Secretariat for the Environment and the Minas unit of the Brazilian Environment Institute (Ibama), the Atlas reflects the gains in scientific knowledge accumulated in five years. The Peruaçu Caves National Park, classified five years ago as being of potential importance, since its biological wealth was not known for sure, is seen today as being of extreme importance, as a consequence of the researches carried out in this time. In the Cerrado of Peruaçu, there live species that are threatened to disappear, like the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the brown brocket deer (Mazama gouazoubira).

The Atlas also expresses how much Minas Gerais still has to count. The Novo Oriente region of Minas, in the northeast of the state, close to the municipality of Teófilo Otoni, for example, has entered the list of priorities for housing a granite cave with rare and little studied species, like the onychophora, a sort of slug with paws, related to the Peripatus acacioi, a rare animal with a long body and a moist skin, located at the transition between a worm and an insect. Then there are the areas of the Araguari river, to the west of the state, and the Alto Rio Grande, to the south, are no longer a priority, as they were in 1998: they have simply disappeared, covered by the areas of the reservoirs formed by hydroelectric power plants. “These were irreversible impacts”, Yasmine laments.

The Project
Atlas for Conservation of the Biodiversity of the State of Minas Gerais; Coordinators Gláucia Moreira Drummond and Cássio Soares Martins – Biodiversitas; Investment R$ 300,000.00