Endangered Species Handbook

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Grasslands, Shrublands, Deserts

Drylands of the World: SOUTH AMERICA

     The majority of South America's grasslands, from low altitudes to Andean meadows, have suffered desertification from livestock similar to that seen in other parts of the world.  Agriculture has taken over large portions of tropical grasslands.  Brazil's Emas National Park is an ecological island covering 131,868 hectares (325,846 acres) of grassland with some gallery and dry forest in the center of thousands of square miles of cultivated grain fields.  This vestige of the original Brazilian grasslands has a rich variety of birds and several endangered mammals, including Giant Anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) and the beautiful Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus).  The once widespread grasslands of the region is threatened by pesticide use, erosion and other destructive practices in surrounding plantations.  Conservation International and a local environmental group working to protect the Emas are attempting to reduce these threats and develop environmental education and ecotourism in this park (Fonseca et al. 1999).   This park and its wildlife are seen in “Emas: High Plains of Brazil,” a 1985 film that shows many of the endangered species; aerial views show the island-like isolation of this national park (see Video, Regional, Latin America).
    The endangered Maned Wolf was formerly widespread on the savannahs, northern pampas and chaco regions of central and eastern Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (Nowak 1999).  This longer-legged canid is designed to hunt in the savannah, able to peer high above the tall grass for rodents, birds, frogs and insects; it also feeds on fruit, especially that of a shrub known as fructa de lobo (Solanum grandiflorum), a member of the potato family (Dorst 1967).  Its head and body are about 4 feet long, with shoulder height of 2.4 feet, making it a fairly large animal, but it weighs only 20 to 23 kilograms (44-50.6 lbs) (Nowak 1999).  Looking somewhat like a Red Fox on stilts, its stick-like black legs contrast with long, shaggy, reddish-yellow body fur.  The fur on its back and nape stands up stiffly, giving it the appearance of a large and stocky animal, while in reality, it is slight and wiry.  The Maned Wolf does not closely resemble any other canid, and has been placed in a genus of its own. These wolves have been killed and persecuted under the false impression that they are a threat to livestock and have suffered from habitat loss, the annual burning of grasslands and live capture for zoos.  Classified as Near-threatened by the IUCN (Baillie and Groombridge 1996), the Maned Wolf is Endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and on Appendix I of CITES.
     Native deer of three species inhabit South America's grassland, wet savannah and shrub woodland.  Two of these have become endangered by loss of their natural habitats to livestock, agriculture and overhunting.  Pampas Deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) were once abundant in grasslands from southern Brazil to eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and northern and central Argentina (Nowak 1999).  In spite of an enormous original distribution, these deer have undergone steep declines and now survive only in tiny remnants of their range.  The species has been listed on Appendix I of CITES and as Endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  Three subspecies of the Pampas Deer are listed in the 1996 IUCN Red List Animals (Baillie and Groombridge 1996).  These lovely deer inhabit a wide variety of grassland habitats, all at low elevations, including flood plains, rolling hills and grass tall enough to completely conceal a standing deer (Nowak 1999).  Four hundred years ago, before the arrival of Europeans, these deer were abundant, especially on the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay (Nowak 1999).  Native Indians had a relationship with the Pampas Deer similar to that of the Plains Indians with the American Bison in North America, relying on it for their livelihood.  The Indians were expert horsemen who hunted the deer for subsistence purposes, but when Europeans settled, they killed them for commercial trade (Nowak 1999).  More than 2 million skins were exported in the decade 1860-70 from Argentina, and others were taken in neighboring countries (Thornback and Jenkins 1982). 
     In spite of this slaughter, Pampas Deer remained widespread until the grasslands were settled. Cattle, sheep, exotic Sika and Fallow Deer, and European Hare were introduced, and the land was plowed for crops (Thornback and Jenkins 1982).  Domestic livestock transmitted disease to the deer, further decimating them, and hunting continued in an uncontrolled manner (Nowak 1999).  In Argentina, only a few remnant herds survive, totaling about 500 animals (Nowak 1999), while the population in southeastern Brazil is nearly extinct (Rizzini et al. 1988).  In Uruguay only about 1,000 Pampas Deer remain in nine isolated sites (Nowak 1999).  Populations in central Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and part of northern Argentina are low and declining (Nowak 1999).  
     The Cerrado of eastern Brazil is a wilderness of savannah, woodland/savannah and dry forest.  Until recently, it had not been recognized for its biological wealth, either internationally or by the government of Brazil (Mittermeier et al. 1999).   Now it is receiving the attention of conservation organizations within Brazil and has been a focus of the recent book, Hotspots (Mittermeier et al. 1999), describing these high-diversity areas.  Action is being taken to preserve portions of this area, home to a wide variety of unusual plants and animals.  The Private Natural Heritage Reserve system is similar to the conservation easements, or agreements not to develop land, that have been taken on privately owned land in the United States.  Private conservation organizations in Brazil, especially FUNATURA, have been active in establishing these areas in the Cerrado, and to date over 20 of these wildlife sanctuaries have been established (Fonseca et al. 1999).  Such land can receive tax deductions and legal protection provided by the Brazilian state.  A book on the biology and wildlife of the area was published in 1993 (Pinto 1993), and in 1995, a major conference was convened on the conservation of the Cerrado and Pantanal, drawing 215 experts from Brazil and international participants (Fonseca et al. 1999).   It identified 70 priority areas within the Cerrado for conservation and made suggestions for legislation to create incentives to preserve biodiversity and the environment (Fonseca et al. 1999). 
     A large national park was established in the Cerrado in 1989 covering 84,000 hectares (207,564 acres) of a 13-million-hectare region along the Sao Francisco River threatened by agricultural plantations and charcoal production (Fonseca et al. 1999).  It is the first and only debt-for-nature swap ever approved for Brazil, signed by FUNATURA and The Nature Conservancy, providing some $2 million in government bonds whose interest would fund conservation within the park over the next 20 years (Fonseca et al. 1999). 

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