The discovery of a spectacular new bird species, the Araripe Manakin, in northern Brazil thrilled bird enthusiasts around the world 20 years ago. But as researchers learned more about the manakin, their initial excitement gave way to a sense of urgency and calls to protect its habitat.
That's because fewer than a thousand of these endemic birds remain. Making matters worse, Araripe Manakins depend upon a very specific type of forest found only at the base of the Araripe Plateau in Brazil's Ceará state. And encroaching human development—including farming, cattle grazing and home construction—means they face extinction.
But if Weber Silva, a Brazilian ornithologist, has his way, that will never happen.
It was Silva who discovered the Araripe Mankin in 1996. That was only the beginning of his involvement. Realizing that much-needed protection for the Manakin wasn't on the way, he returned to the Araripe Plateau several years later, determined to learn everything he could about the bird.
Silva's painstaking fieldwork provides invaluable information about the Araripe Manakin: everything from breeding habits to population density. This data, Silva hopes, will supply conservationists with the insights they need to make smart decisions and help ensure the manakin's survival. And he's wasted no time putting it to good use.
Working with his wife, Karina Linhares—herself a botanist—Silva has already developed and implemented effective conservation management plans for the manakin. Meanwhile, Linhares has transformed Silva's data into a highly targeted reforestation plan to give the bird exactly what it needs most: forested habitat.
Of course, bringing this rare species back from the brink won't be easy—it's one of the world's most endangered birds—but Silva and Linhares aren't alone. In 2014, ABC helped them and partner organization Aquasis buy 140 acres to create a protected reserve for the manakin.
The purchase was a giant step forward for the critically endangered bird, but it is only the start.
Now ABC has teamed up again with Silva and Aquasis in the effort to purchase another property, this one 158 acres. The acquisition will double the size of the existing reserve, connect it to Brazil's much larger Araripe National Forest, and potentially protect eight breeding territories.
The reserve also provides a vital source of water for the surrounding communities living in Brazil's drought-stricken caatinga shrublands. It also serves as an essential refuge for other birds that specialize in this habitat, such as the Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, the White-browed Antpitta, and the Caatinga Antshrike.
Thanks to Silva's years of hard work, we now know enough about the Araripe Manakin to effectively protect it.
Editor's note: In December 2016, thanks to an outpouring of support, we were able to acquire the land needed to double the size of the Oasis Araripe Reserve. Thank you to all who helped us improve the prospects for this rare species.
Joe Lowe is American Bird Conservancy's Web Manager. Prior to joining ABC, Joe worked at Natural Resources Defense Council and Rainforest Trust. He has also worked as Communications Manager for Yunga Perdida, a nonprofit ecotourism organization, and as a reporter. Joe holds master's degrees in environment and natural resources and in journalism.