Cobbled corridors aim to protect Brazil wildlife
SOUTHERN PANTANAL, Brazil (CNN) -- Cobbling together public and private lands, conservationists, ranchers and the government are protecting critical habitats in Brazil, including a biologically rich area four times the size of Switzerland.
Along the Rio Negro River, almost everywhere on its banks, around each bend, there is always more wildlife.
"This is a place of abundance. Productivity in this system is higher than every other system we know," said conservationist Reinaldo Lourival while cruising on the river.
On this journey a team is posting signs marking the boundaries of a new private nature reserve.
"This private reserve, the Santa Sophia, it goes from the Rio Negro lower swamp until the Aquiduana River," Lourival said.
It is only one part of a network of reserves now being assembled to save this awesome natural heritage in the largest freshwater wetland on Earth: the Brazilian Pantanal, an area as big as the state of Missouri.
The Pantanal supports an astounding variety of animals and plants including endangered species like the jaguar, the hyacinth macaw and giant river otter.
Most of them flourish here in healthy numbers, all on land that belongs mostly to cattle ranchers.
"They protected this area for 150 years, so this is why you still have this environment like it is," Lourival said.
But low prices for beef and declining profits are now driving some ranchers to clear-cut forests for new pastures, introduce exotic grasses and use more intensive production methods that threaten this complex web of life.
That is why Conservation International helps to create these private reserves. They connect what was once an isolated state park to key habitats of the Pantanal and to neighboring savannas, which allows wildlife to migrate for hundreds of kilometers along a protected corridor.
"The corridor is a new approach for conservation work. We need to have more areas, and diversity of habitat is essential to the protection of species in general," Lourival said.
The group helps ranchers establish reserves under state law and give advice on earning revenue from eco-tourism. The ranchers receive tax exemptions on land they set aside permanently.
"We decided to do that because we think it's better for the region, and for us too," ranch owner Belkiss Rondon said.
There are plans for at least four more Brazilian conservation corridors, two in the Atlantic forest and two in the Amazon basin. Each is to be assembled by connecting a number of separate protected areas, including private reserves.
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