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From: Gunnar Engblom
Subject: Peruvian Plantcutter urgently threatened
Date: September 4, 1998
I am leading a private birding trip in Peru at present. We just visited the well-known site at El Rafan for Peruvian Plantcutter, Phytotoma raimondii. I learned from a local man, Umberto Perez, that a (US?) sugar company has received concession to 2000 ha of land bordering the Rio Saña. This will totally wipe out the entire remaining habitat of this Plantcutter site. As you may well know there are only 12 historic sites for this extremely rare species. And only 4 of these localities have proved to have the species the last 30 years. The Rafan locality is the most frequently visited by birdwatchers. I roughly calculate this area to about 30 ha. There has been considerable logging since my visit two years ago. This is specially true near the road to Rafan. Sticks and thorns from the cut trees have been assembled to a fence marking the area of the concession. Umberto Perez told me that the area near the river had already been logged and leveled.
Stanton Sugar Cooperation has apparently made some sort of agreement with Pueblo Joven Tupac Amaro, which comprises Rafan. Teniente Governador is Sr Espinoza Bello. This little patch holds Phytotoma raimondii, probably because there is more varied vegetation here than in other places. Here we found the widespread Algarrobo (scientific name?) which today was observed as a favoured foodplant; Chilco - seen as dune vegetation on other localities lacking the Plantcutter; Zapote - crotonlike Mude (Maytenia sp) seen to be food plant at other times. It has succulent leaves and is usually confined to sand dunes (with salt content?); and Vichayo broadleave bush.
All these may have importance as foodplants individually, but it is likely that the combination of leaves may be of importance, rather than a single foodplant.
There is now an urgent need for action. The question is what strategy to use. I propose that InkaNatura, who has a branch in Chiclayo take the local responsibility of action. In the US, can anyone provide background information about Stanton Sugar Company?
Please come with input what to do. Your experience in similar situations?
Some starting points for InkaNatura to consider.
1. Does El Algarrobo along the coast have some type of legal protection? I think it does!
2. Isn't it mandatory these days to do an environmental impact study according to Peruvian law?
3. Find someone in Chiclayo who can assume the responsibility to tackle the locals and that is knowledgeable about the conservation aspects.
4. Find out more about the agreement and the sugar company.
5. The fact that Phytotoma raimondii is one of the most threatened birds in Peru (probably the most threatened in my opinion) should of course be one of the top reasons. However, one should not make this the main cause, since stopping the project would spoil possibilities for an income for a basically marginalized local population. Hopefully an agreement to save the woodland areas only would be a good compromise. If starting protesting too harshly, there is a chance that the locals or the sugar company feels threatened and will either burn or level the area immediately and then arguing that there is no more to protect. A serious strategy could i.e. include talks with the company to persuade them to grow sugarcane in the desert surrounding the existing woodland. The company would have to pay for an impact study and and afterwards supply protection for the site.
Action must be taken immediately since the site could be gone any day. I will have to go on with my birding trip in the following weeks and may not be easily in contact. I think InkaNatura may be suitable to take on this task on a immediate basis, since we are already cooperating in a small project concerning finding out the real present distribution of Phytotoma raimondii and its habitat requirements. This will be in line with InkaNatura's desire to be involved in more bird protection projects
We also went to Quebrada San Isidro, which is a classic locality for White-winged Guan, Penelope albipennis. We didn't see it, but the habitat is great and virtually untouched in the upper areas. I think the two families in the two valleys, between which the guans seem to wander, easily could be persuaded to be guan guardians. Some sort of social program in to reciprocate the conservation effort would be suitable. I noticed the kids were poorly dressed and very dirty and did not attend the school 10 km away. I reckon their health in some cases is not so good. It is my feeling, however that the biggest threat to the guans in the area is not arms and hunting but rather the habitat destruction. In the San Isidro area there is logging of Gualteca trees (scientific name, please) as material for constructing boxes for fruit, such as lemon/lime. Is Gualteca not a protected species? There is considerable logging in the lower areas for this species.