Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
Background of the park
Chapada Diamantina National Park is located in the northeast of Brazil, an area that is of global importance for biodiversity conservation. The landscape, characterized by mountains and canyons, is of rare beauty. Several waterfalls contribute to this beauty, including one of the biggest of Brazil, the Smoke Fall, which is approximately 340 m high. The park contains many water sources that belong to the Paraguaçu watershed, which contributes to the water supply of several communities and cities such as Salvador, the capital of the Bahia State, which is sometimes called “Brazil’s capital of happiness”, due to its countless outdoor celebrations.
The park was created in 1985 and is managed by the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity, the Brazilian agency responsible for protected areas, created in 2007. It has been recognized as a national park according to Category II of the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories.
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Size and location
The park covers an area of 152.000 hectares and is located in the Bahia State, northeast Brazil, approximately 400 km from the city of Salvador, the capital.
Flora and Fauna
Chapada Diamantina National Park is composed of many different ecosystems, including rainforest, deciduous forest, dry forest, savannas, grasslands on rocks and wetlands. The grasslands on rocks cover approximately 65% of the area and have a large diversity of plants, many of them endemic, such as Vellozia sincorana, locally known as “candombá”, the amaryllis Hippeastrum solandrifoliu, the bromeliads Alcantarea nahoumii, Cryptanthus diamantinense, Orthophythum amoenum, the orchids Sophronitis bahiensis, Sophronitis sincorana, Adamantinia miltonioides and Thelychista ghyllanyi.
The park’s rich fauna includes not only Brazil’s most iconic big cat, the jaguar (Panthera onca), but also many species that are not yet well known. Fifty-eight species of mammals have been found, as well as 132 species of birds, among them the hummingbird Augastes lumachellus, which was discovered in the park. Furthermore, the area is home to 88 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 45 species of fish, 12 of which were new to science.
One of the main difficulties faced by the park staff is dealing with various conflicts between nature and humans, aggravated by people that still live in the park illegally. There are approximately five of these communities, totalizing more than 300 persons, that cause different kinds of damages to the biodiversity and other natural resources such as water.
The illegal practices developed by communities that live in the park or in the buffer zone include hunting, diamond and other precious rocks mining, and the extraction of plants, trees and parts of them. The tree Couma rigida and the pipewort Syngonanthus mucugensis, for example, have become rare because of overexploitation. Cattle grazing in the grasslands and savannas and the opening of trails for tourism, which occurs often and without control of the park administration, are additional problems linked to people settling in the park.
Another severe concern are invasive plant and animal species, such as the molasses grass (Melinis minutiflora), pine trees (Pinus sp.), the bee Apis mellifera scutellata, the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica), and 2 species of fish (Cichla temensis and Tilapia sp.).
Fire is frequently put to the area for various reasons, such as retaliation for environmental restrictions, to renovate the grassland for the cattle, to facilitate hunting and mining or to prepare areas for agriculture. One of the worst years in that context was 2008, when more than 60.000 hectares were burned, according to information collected and processed by the park staff.
All of these issues are difficult to be solved or managed because of different factors, namely the lack of political commitment for nature conservation. As is the case for many of Brazil’s protected areas, Chapada Diamantina National Park does not have enough people and financial resources to ensure adequate management. According to the management plan of the area, in 2006 the team was composed of only 10 people with a budget of not more than US$ 24.000,00. However, there is increased support during the dry season, i.e. six months each year, thanks to a fire management programme by IBAMA, a Brazilian environmental institute that provides training on prevention and combat of fires to locals. In 2007, IBAMA contracted 42 people, and many residents from outside the park also volunteered in combating fires.
Several institutions work in the park to conduct scientific research, improve practices for the development in the buffer zone or explore opportunities for tourism. The park has a council formed by people that represent different local interests, as requested by the Brazilian Federal Law on Protected Areas.