Contact: Bob Nelson For immediate release
(212) 854-6580 December 11, 1997
Editors: Color photographs of the lion tamarin are available.
Columbia University and Environmental Groups Join
To Save "Mata Atlantica," Brazil's Unique Coastal Forest
Organizations Sign Memo of Understanding in Washington Dec. 15
Columbia University, the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo and a Brazilian
environmental organization will draw up plans to identify and conserve the
unique biological diversity of Brazil's "Mata Atlantica," the endangered coastal
forest that centuries of farming, cattle grazing and urban development have
shrunk to 4 percent of its original size.
The organizations will sign a memo of understanding Dec. 15 at the
Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to formalize their scientific cooperation.
The parties to the agreement are the FundaÙÑo Para a ConservaÙÑo e a ProduÙÑo
Florestal (Foundation for Forest Conservation and Production) of the State of SÑo
Paulo, the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecol÷gicas (Institute for Ecological Research,
IPE) based in Nazare Paulista, and the Trustees of Columbia University,
represented by the University's Center for Environmental Research and
"This agreement will serve as a catalyst to bring the knowledge we have
already gained to bear on the intensive work to be done within SÑo Paulo state,
including redoubled efforts to develop long-term management plans for our
precious endangered species," said Fabio Feldman, Secretary of the Environment
of the State of SÑo Paulo.
Though public attention in the United States to Brazilian environmental
issues has focused on the Amazon rainforest, coastal forests are far more
immediately threatened, scientists at the participating organizations said.
Among the forest's endangered species are the lion tamarins, a squirrel-sized
monkey with long gold or black fur that have been the subject of intensive
scientific study and conservation attention only in the last 30 years. The black-
headed lion tamarin was classified as a separate species in 1990. The animals
were at one time common along the Brazilian coast, but now can be found in only
scattered patches of forest; some species of the primate number fewer than 1,000.
Hundreds of such species are endemic to the forest, found nowhere else in
the world. Seventeen of the forest's 23 primate species are unique, according to an
estimate from the University of Minas Gerais. Dozens of indigenous birds,
amphibians and plants are also at risk.
"Of all the environments in Brazil, the Mata Atlantica is by far the most
endangered," said Don J. Melnick, director of CERC and professor of
anthropology and biological sciences at Columbia. "Since this area harbors some
of the rarest plants and animals in Brazil and has the highest priority for
conservation, we want to lend collaborative assistance to comprehensively
describe what is there and comprehensively develop plans for its conservation."
Destruction of the Atlantic forest has occurred since the first European
settlers arrived in the 16th century. But it has only recently become the focus of
international conservation efforts. Considerable public education and research in
the states north of SÑo Paulo (Rio, Bahia and Minas Gerais) has also been
undertaken, and the lion tamarins are now recognized nationwide as a symbol of
the need for forest conservation.
Local governments and environmental groups are buying up secondary
forest, and small groups of the monkeys have been successfully reintroduced.
There is even a waiting list of farmers willing to set aside unused acreage to help
conservation efforts. Further public education will be needed to demonstrate that
preserving the forest is a net public good, participants to the agreement said.
The principal goal of the three organizations is to develop conservation
management plans for each endangered species and the habitat in which it lives,
which in many cases will involve population surveys and genetic studies to
accurately determine the distribution of diversity in the remaining forest patches.
Genetic studies of the four species of lion tamarin are already under way.
Economic, agronomic and community work will also be needed to develop
strategies for long-term sustainability of this highly vulnerable ecosystem.
Among the officials expected at the signing on the third floor of the embassy
at 3006 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., at 11 A.M. are Mr. Feldman; Paulo-Tarso
Flecha de Lima, Ambassador of Brazil to the United States; Marcos Egydio
Martins, executive director of the FundaÙÑo; Suzana M. Padua, president, and
Claudio Padua, director of research, of IPE; Michael Crow, vice provost of
Columbia; Dr. Melnick; and Mary C. Pearl, associate director of CERC and
executive director of Wildlife Preservation Trust International.
The agreement, which specifies a period of cooperation of five years, sets
forth programs in public education and outreach in both the United States and
Brazil; environmental research, such as the ongoing work in lion tamarin
genetics; and programmatic work in conservation and management of existing
species in SÑo Paulo state. Scientists and students will travel in both directions to
conduct research and participate in educational programs.
As an attempt to conserve species so close to the very large and growing
metropolis of SÑo Paulo, the three-party agreement will serve as a model for
balancing economic growth with natural resource conservation, Dr. Melnick
said. Widespread habitat fragmentation from urban development can often result
in invasions of exotic species that push out native species, the Columbia professor
CERC and the IPE have been cooperating on research and education
programs since 1995. The two organizations established IPE's research
headquarters near Morro do Diabo (Devil's Mountain), a 100,000-acre state park in
western SÑo Paulo state that contains the largest population of lion tamarins.
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