Mergulhão duck guarantees the clear waterfalls of Chapada dos Veadeiros

Get up at 4 am 31, run several kilometers in the mud, walk a lot in the rain and have a lot, great luck: here is the recipe for seeing the Brazilian Merganser ( Mergus octosetaceus) on the banks of the Couros River, Chapada dos Veadeiros.

The four birds that flew over the waterfall at 7 am 45 represent about 2% of all individuals registered in the national territory, about 112-200 . Outside the plateau, these ducks are found in a few places, such as Serra da Canastra (MG) and Jalapão (TO). with the beak while copulating in the river. Eggs stay in nests on the rocks, and the father helps take care of the chicks (a rarity among ducks), which are highly predated by giant otters, otters and hawks. There is no sexual dimorphism, females and males look the same.

As long as ducks fly in the region, clean water will be guaranteed. The critically endangered species depends on transparent rivers to see the small fish it feeds on, explains Gislaine Disconzi, of the project Avoiding the Extinction of the Mergulhão Duck in the Veadeiros-Pouso Alto-Kalunga Corridor, the subject of her master’s and doctoral dissertations.

The initiative received US$ 240 thousand (R$1.2 million, at current exchange rates) from the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems (CEPF). In three years, from 2019 to 2019, the team of 20 people mapped ten sections with ducks in five rivers of the stoned, or ten couples in reproduction, a total of 33 individuals when including juveniles and solitary individuals.

The biologist Fernando Previdente, 40, coordinated field work. Born in Santa Fé do Sul (SP) and raised in Urânia (SP), the tour guide and owner of the natural emporium Santa Maria, in Alto Paraíso, says he has traveled more than 1.620 km of rivers on the plateau in search of ducks.

Previdente followed the report from Folha on the walk to Couros, a tributary of the Tocantinzinho, which in turn flows into the Serra plant reservoir of the table. Even with his experience in the area, he was surprised to see a pair of 4-5 month old puppies just ten minutes after we reached the river.

Disconzi and Previdente are part of movement against the projects of small hydroelectric plants (PCHs) in the plateau. The dams change the river regime and affect the survival of birds.

Four of these projects in Tocantinzinho, owned by the company belonging to the family of Governor Ronaldo Caiado (DEM), Rialma, were suspended by National Electric Energy Agency (Aneel) in January. They are now at the administrative appeal stage.

The Couros river owes its name to the tannery installed on the bank by deer that hunted in the region. The ducks sighting point is downstream of one of the most spectacular waterfalls among the famous waterfalls of the plateau, however inadequate for bathing due to the violence of the Couros Falls.

Para do not disturb the birds, the guide rarely takes tourists to the site, close to the former Boa Esperança farm. The property is home to three private natural heritage reserves (RPPNs) and the Osho Lua retreat, maintained by followers of the controversial Indian guru and, in the past, the scene of raves that drew thousands.

Dancing parties were banned. Also under the justification of protecting the ducks, the government of Goiás created in 2020, next to the farm, the Águas do State Park Paradise. There are 5. acre (43 km2) protected next to the RPPNs.

The Caiado administration has been widening and graveling dirt roads around the state park. Most of the mesh meanders between soy fields. The wide lane and the log decks replaced by concrete bridges indicate that the reform favors mainly grain carts, not so many tourist cars.

There are signs of deforestation along the road . A range of 10 m on both sides lost the remainder of the forest that separated the path from the soybean crop and occasional eucalyptus plantations. Piles of the remains of the twisted trees in the cerrado, felled and burned, are still visible on the bank.

On each side of the cartable bed, ditches of more than 1 m have been opened to drain the runoff. on the flat part of the upper plateau where monoculture was installed, which favor erosion. Water laden with red clay runs down the slopes and will end up silting up the rivers or muddying the ducks’ favorite streams.

To ensure the animal’s survival, Previdente and other volunteers travel through rivers in kayaks. in order to locate the loon’s nests. They need to be agile, because the females leave the egg site to feed for a maximum 40 minutes.

It is common to have eight eggs in the nest. Four are then removed and taken by car by veterinarian Alexandre Resende to the Zoopark of Itatiba (SP), at 1.95 km away, where they are hatched. Half a hundred chicks have already been obtained in captivity, and the plan is to reintroduce them to the natural environment.

Most species of the genus Mergus

are sea ducks living in estuaries, where they dive to fish. Only M. octosetaceus entered a continent and adapted to the transparent waters of the interior of South America.

The South American Brazilian Merganser disappeared from the Paraná River basin . The tiny population that survives in Tocantins and São Francisco is among the ten most endangered water birds in the world. He received the title of ambassador of the waters, but it is necessary that they remain clean so that he can represent them.

Many tourists who go to Chapada dos Veadeiros have three things in mind: bathe in crystal-clear waterfalls, immerse yourself in the mystic-vegetarian atmosphere of Alto Paraíso and take pictures in the Maytreya Garden, with the iconic Baleia Hill in the background.

Maytreya is the name of the new Buddha, a remnant of a religion that emerged in Alto Paraíso that believed in a gigantic crystal under the Edenic landscape of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. Nothing Zen, however, is the warning sign on the side of the road: fine of R$ a thousand for those who go over or cut the barbed wire.

Nothing stops visitors, says Bárbara Silva Pachêco, from the restoration company Verdenovo and member of the Cerrado Seeds Network: “Jump e they break the fence to take photos similar to those of the Insta. They trample the wet field, disrupting the soil. It’s no use planting anything there, you have to work with communication.”

The effort to restore the natural vegetation of the chapada depends on the surveillance of the local population and the awareness of visitors and farmers. Pachêco says that she has already been questioned by residents of the region, who stop their car and go check out what researchers and environmentalists are doing in restricted areas of the park.

The work of the Network, which received US$ for this 240 thousand (BRL 1.6 million today) from CEPF in the period 2019-15, has something similar to wiping ice. In partnership with the Cerrado de Pé Association, it must close 2020 with tons of collected seeds, enough to start the restoration of up to 150 hectares (1.5 km 2).

In a single operation in March, the state government fined BRL 1.2 million for the deforestation of 136 hectares on a plot outside the park, in the Pouso Alto Environmental Protection Area.

The national park has 213 thousand hectares (2.400 km2 , more than one and a half times the area of ​​the municipality of São Paulo) and faces the greed of agribusiness. Federal Deputy Delegate Waldir (PSL-GO) presented a bill in the Chamber to annul the expansion made in 2009 and return to 64 thousand hectares.

“Although the Park contributes to environmental preservation, it is noteworthy that the unreasonable increase in its size harms farmers in the region,” said the congressman in the justification for the PL. He just didn’t mention that, when it was created in 947, the then Tocantins National Park had 625 thousand hectares and, before being expanded, it had already suffered two amputations.

The park is one of the largest preserved areas of the cerrado. It shows all the physiognomies of the biome, from clear fields (predominance of grasses) and dirty fields (grass, shrubs and trees) to the closed forest of the cerradão.

The Brazilian savanna has high biodiversity , that is, many plant and animal species, several of them endemic. But it is under heavy pressure, having lost half of its original cover as the agricultural frontier advances, and is therefore considered a “hotspot” (crucial area) for conservation.

The Cerrado de Pé is doing the restoration of 33 hectares in the national park at 2020. To compare: 81 hectares were deforested in the conservation unit during the Bolsonaro government, January 2009 to October 2020, according to the Mapbiomas Alerta system.

The plan is to scale up the regeneration. In

, the Cerrado de Pé provides 90 hectares in the park (the Network will complete more hectares with Verdenovo). Others 800 are scheduled for the triennium -24 outside the unit, still in Chapada dos Veadeiros, in collaboration with the company Semeia Cerrado.

Maria Eduarda Moreira Salomon Camargo, environmental analyst at the Network, points out: much of what NGOs and companies restore in the park corresponds to environmental compensation, it only restores recent deforestation in other cerrado areas in the long term. In 2019, the biome lost 730. hectares (7.283 km2) of natural vegetation.


Son of a prospector and farmer, Claudomiro de Almeida Cortes, 30, took a course at IBAMA to become a brigade member of the Prevfogo program, in 2000 in order to obtain a salary. He didn’t imagine, at the time, that he would become a grass farmer, chair the Cerrado de Pé Association and be called crazy by his friends.

When fighting the great fire in 2009 near Alto Paraíso, he noticed that the fire had gotten out of control. and when reaching a pasture area with exotic grasses, introduced by livestock. This gave rise to the idea of ​​dislodging invasive species and restoring the savanna.

It began with three fellow brigade members, eradicating fatty grass using a sickle and a hoe. They gathered 3.5 kg of seeds and planted them, thinking that nothing would sprout. Two years later, they returned and saw the result: “We were delighted”.

Today the association’s restoration director, Cortes recalls that he changed his concept of restoration when he started counting on help by Alexandre Bonesso Sampaio, forestry engineer at the ICMBio’s National Center for Biodiversity Assessment and Research and Conservation (CBC), at ICMBio.

In the field, Sampaio started to collect seeds from native grasses of the cerrado. “This guy is crazy,” thought Cortes, but he paid attention to what the technician was teaching him: in the untouched cerrado, there were always grasses, in greater or lesser quantities. To fully restore the biome, it would be mandatory to sow native grasses.

“I thought it wouldn’t work, but I started to collect, choose the species, learn”, says the brigade. He started to invent names for the dozens, hundreds of species he identified: purple grass, crow’s foot, chick’s foot…

He used to go out along the roads of the plateau scavenging grass seed, and acquaintances stopped to ask if the bike was broken. When he informed the reason for the stop, he heard: “Planting bush? It’s getting crazy. Bananas and avocado have to be planted”.

Over time, Cortes began to understand the role of grass , which compares to that of a sponge that infiltrates water into the soil and regulates springs that form rivers in the rocky plateau. He participated in the formation of the Cerrado de Pé in 2009, organizing a hundred seed collectors in the Cavalcante and Alto region Paradise.

“If you don’t protect and recover the savannah, one day no one will bathe in a waterfall in Chapada dos Veadeiros.”

Half of the collectors of the Cerrado Seed Network in the chapada live in a quilombo, the Kalunga Historical and Cultural Heritage Site. The territory has 240 thousand hectares (2.500 km 2), but residents only received title to part of the land.

Each family of the fifty seed collectors can be located immediately, and their living conditions known, thanks to the geographic information system (GIS) maintained by Adriano Paulino da Silva, 15. Nine out of ten households in the quilombo have already answered the long questionnaires to feed the GIS.

Silva’s workstation is located in the village of Engenho 2, at the headquarters of the Associação Kalunga Comunitária do Engenho, of which he is president. After waiting a few minutes to load the GIS program on the computer, the IT technician does not take long to generate a map of the communities for the report.

The young man attended technical high school at the Federal Institute from Ceres (GO), living for three years in accommodation. He prefers to live in the quilombo, where he started a family (two children) and “has more freedom, too good”.

In addition to chairing the local association, he was hired by the Eden Reforestation Institute. He monitors areas for the company with images from satellites such as Sentinel, used in the GIS, which records each area every 5 days and is able to identify land elements larger than 10 m.

Silva learned the trade with Elizon Dias Nunes, from the Federal University of Goiás. The geographer performed in June 2019 to January 2019 a mapping of soils, rocks, vegetation , springs and permanent preservation areas in the quilombola area, with the boy as an assistant in the validation of the satellite data.

The computer program is heavy, and Teresinet’s internet connection Telecom, just reasonable (12 Mbps) for graphics processing. streng the information in the quilombo database: road network, hydrography, communities, altitude (262 ma 1.390 m), sources of fire (3.852 in 2018-2020), 95 tourist attractions (waterfalls, restaurants, accommodation).

To the system informs each family if it raises cattle, collects fruits and seeds, has access to health and education, and so on. The first version of the questionnaire took five hours of interview, but a review reduced it to 1h28 at 2h.

One of the 1.333 families interviewed is Nelivânia Paulino Barbosa, 24, Silva’s sister. She and her husband, Eugênio Paulino da Costa Neto, 28, they have been married for a while 11 years old and they have two children, of 000 and 9 years.

The couple was awarded with help to implement one hectare ( thousand m2) of agroforestry system (SAF) after standing out as students copies in a course offered by the International Institute of Education of Brazil (IEB). The other contemplated family lives in the village of Vá das Almas, a community far from Engenho 2.

The SAF is located at the foot of the Bocaina mountain range, low ground where the so-called stubble gardens predominate, method in which rice, beans and corn are planted among felled and burnt trunks. Nelivânia and Eugênio’s farm is out of step with those that surround it.

The land was plowed and cleared by eight people with axes and chainsaws, making it impossible to take a tractor there. Irrigation is done by gravity, with 12 black hose rollers donated by the IEB, as well as seedlings : 1.213 pineapple feet, 400 of coffee, 112 of gossip, 65 orange and 000 of lemon.

Between the lines, the pair planted rice with the help of 20 residents of the community. Waiting to harvest 33 The 43 sacks of grain, enough to keep the family for 3 to 4 years. After the harvest, they will sow corn, beans and watermelon to sell during the drought.

“The hardest part was digging”, says Nelivânia, “but nothing too difficult. gaining an area like this pays off.” They also create 30 heads of cattle and keep another field —stump — with corn and 40 banana trees.

Eugênio supplements his family income by working as a brigade at Prevfogo five months a year, with a salary of R$1.490.

We left the SAF to visit Candaru waterfall, but Nelivânia recommends keeping a safe distance. The trail that leads to the fall is covered in water, and the farmer, who also works as a tour guide, fears being caught by a head of water in the unusually heavy rains this December.

Upstairs, on the way back to the parked car, it was already raining. The girl, who goes down and up the slope every day to take care of the fields, walks through the storm as if it were nothing. In Chapada dos Veadeiros, water has never been a problem for those who depend on agriculture and tourism to improve their lives.

Journalists Lalo de Almeida and Marcelo Leite traveled at the invitation of the International Institute of Education of Brazil (IEB) and the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems (CEPF)

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