Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve


Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve is an awesome complex amalgamating almost 300 protected areas covering 112,500 square miles (291,450 km2) of critically endangered Atlantic coastal rain forest—forest which thrived 20 million years before the Amazon started flowing but now, through shortsighted cutting, 93 percent gone. Scattered remnant patches are ranked the world’s second most critical tropical forest ecosystem (after Madagascar). Of 202 threatened Brazilian species, 171 are here, including tiny gorgeous golden lion tamarins, several near-extinct forest cats as well as some 1,000 orchid species.

 Woolly spider monkeys, or muriquis, are largest New World primates and one of the world’s rarest and most endangered. Opposable thumbs are almost absent but long, muscular tails, up to 32 inches (80 cm), almost one-and-a-half times their body length, serve almost as fifth hands. They hang by them, climb with them, grasp and hold food and other objects with them. Because of their extreme rarity, their habits are little known—but one characteristic repeatedly observed is their gentleness and lack of aggression, reinforced by constant hugging, between the same and opposite sexes as well as all infants in their social group. Their range is restricted to Atlantic coastal mountain forests of Brazil, habitat greatly reduced by deforestation and clearing.

Woolly spider monkeys, or muriquis, are largest New World primates and one of the world’s rarest and most endangered. Opposable thumbs are almost absent but long, muscular tails, up to 32 inches (80 cm), almost one-and-a-half times their body length, serve almost as fifth hands. They hang by them, climb with them, grasp and hold food and other objects with them. Because of their extreme rarity, their habits are little known—but one characteristic repeatedly observed is their gentleness and lack of aggression, reinforced by constant hugging, between the same and opposite sexes as well as all infants in their social group. Their range is restricted to Atlantic coastal mountain forests of Brazil, habitat greatly reduced by deforestation and clearing.

One of these remnants is Caraça National Park, a spectacular Atlantic forest ecosystem in mountains east of Belo Horizonte, with three primates, maned wolves, and rare, endemic birds such as hyacinth visor-bearers, long-trained and scissor-tailed nightjars, Brazilian ruby hummingbirds, swallow-tailed cotingas, and gilt-edged, brassy-breasted, green-headed, and cinnamon tanagers.

Another is Caratinga Biological Station, a private reserve which takes visitors by arrangement and has one of the world’s most endangered primates—also the largest primate in the Americas, the leaf-eating muriqui or wooly spider monkey—along with three other primates and over 200 rare birds including rufous-capped motmots, blue-winged macaws, flame-crested and blackgoggled tanagers, streamer-tailed tyrants, crescent-chested puffbirds, and tawny-browed owls.

Third is Brazil’s oldest national park, Itatiaia, on a dramatically beautiful forested slope extending into 9,000-foot (3,000-m) cloud forests, last stronghold for such avian endemics as spot-billed and saffron toucanets, variegated antpittas, mantled hawks, Surucua trogons, blondcrested woodpeckers, and many others including a superb hummingbird array.

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