On October 24, the southeastern Brazilian municipality of Guararema declared the new 5,860-acre Bicundinho Wildlife Refuge. There, within a two-hour drive of sprawling Sao Paulo's city center, the Critically Endangered Marsh Antwren clings to existence within isolated wetlands. This little antbird — known to biologists as Formicivora paludicola and to Brazilians as Bicudinho — lives in small territories within the dense reeds of the Putim watershed. This new refuge is the first to protect the antwren's marsh habitat. It also safeguards remaining Atlantic Forest habitat that is home to the Vulnerable Buffy Tufted-ear Marmoset, a squirrel-sized monkey.
The Marsh Antwren was considered a subspecies of southern Brazil's Paraná Antwren (Formicivora acutirostris) until 2013, when Brazilian researchers showed that the two should be considered separate species. The Marsh Antwren has lost over 170 square miles of habitat in last 200 years, and with accelerated development in the area over the last century, its range dwindled dangerously close to extinction.
Thankfully, the Guararema municipal authorities, the local organization Guaranature, and SAVE Brasil, based in Sao Paulo, felt an obligation to conserve this species and its wetland habitat along the Putim River. With ABC support, SAVE Brasil conducted a population survey and census, and with Guaranature and municipal authorities mapped the bird's habitat and designed the wildlife refuge's boundaries.
Public outreach and consultation was critically important in this process: The community and private landowners within the new wildlife refuge were supportive. They took pride in their local wildlife, but also, having recently experienced drought, understood the importance of watershed protection.
“This wildlife refuge is our first municipal protected area and represents a great advance for our region,” says Ricardo Moscatelli, Environmental Sustainability Advisor at Guararema's Municipal Secretariat of Environment and Urban Planning. “It will protect not only the Marsh Antwren, a Critically Endangered bird, but also all natural elements of the Putim Basin, including other threatened animals, flora, and water resources.”
Adriano Leite, Mayor of the Municipality of Guararema, says, “I believe that with the establishment of this protected area, we are greatly advancing in preserving the environment, which directly impacts the quality of life and the well-being of the population.”
“American Bird Conservancy congratulates and applauds the Guararema municipality and Mayor Leite on this historic achievement to establish the Bicudinho Wildlife Refuge,” says Daniel Lebbin, ABC's Vice President of Threatened Species. “This is a globally important step forward toward saving the Marsh Antwren from extinction, and we hope it serves as a model for other nearby municipalities to follow suit in protecting their wetlands.”
The Guararema municipality hopes that the wildlife refuge's diversity of habitats and unique wildlife will attract birders and other tourists to visit. ABC is supporting follow-up work by SAVE Brasil and the municipality to develop bird tourism, including guide training, public bird walks, interpretative signs, marsh boardwalks, and a local birding guidebook, and to develop a refuge management plan and continue monitoring the Marsh Antwren population.
Work to conserve this area and species is supported by American Bird Conservancy, SAVE Brasil, David and Patricia Davidson, Michael Reid, and Regina Bauer Frankenberg Foundation.
Bennett Hennessey is ABC's Brazil Conservation Program Coordinator.