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Surveys reveal riches of Paraguay’s San Rafael

hunting is probably the main threat

Ten years of survey work in the San Rafael National Park in Paraguay have established that it is ‘as important for both avian diversity and threatened species as any other location in South America’. The 405 species recorded so far include 70 Atlantic Forest endemics, and 16 Near Threatened and 12 globally threatened species, including the Endangered Black-fronted Piping-Guan Pipile jacutinga and Marsh Seedeater Sporophila palustris.

San Rafael has more of the 79 Atlantic Forest species recorded in Paraguay than any other Paraguayan site, and its overall avian diversity is comparable to much larger Atlantic Forest sites in Brazil (for example, the Tibagi River Basin in the state of Parana, which is 30 times larger than San Rafael, has 476 species). Many Brazilian IBAs include a larger altitudinal gradient and greater area than San Rafael while containing a similar number of threatened and endemic species, say the authors of a recent paper The avifauana of San Rafael National Park, Paraguay.San Rafael is also important for grassland birds, with 93 species recorded, of which 14 were only found in this habitat, including the Vulnerable Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xanthopsar flavus, and the Vulnerable Chestnut Seedeater Sporophila cinnamomea, which like the Marsh Seedeater is a Mesopotamian Grasslands endemic.

Although San Rafael was decreed a national park in 1992, the boundaries were only delimited in 1997, and still have to be legally recognised. BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay raised the money to buy 6,200 hectares of near-pristine Atlantic Forest, but the majority of the park’s 748km2 are unprotected and suffering encroachment from agriculture, particularly soybean cultivation and cattle grazing.

For birds like Black-fronted Piping-Guan and the near threatened Solitary Tinamou Tinamus solitarius, hunting is probably the main threat, with both birds found well away from areas of settlement and urban encroachment.

The consolidation of the entire 748km2 must be considered an urgent priority for conservation in Paraguay, say the authors of the BCI paper. They add that a further expansion in the number of forest rangers (recently increased from four to nine, with a resulting decrease in deliberate grassland fires, and an increase in threatened grassland species reported) should be the first step.

4th July 2014