As the principal biologist and field organizer of an internationally supported effort to preserve the Spix's macaw, Marcos Da-Ré has developed a new approach to conservation that places heavy emphasis on the revitalization of the human communities that share habitats with endangered or threatened species' habitats. An alternative to the "units of conservation" (parks, reserves, protected areas, etc.) that most government-sponsored conservation initiatives employ, Marcos' "community of conservation" approach addresses the survival needs and development aspirations of local human settlements as a first priority for assuring the survival of endangered or threatened species.
The New Idea
In 1991, when Marcos Da-Ré arrived in Curaça, a municipality in the semi­arid region of Brazil's northeastern state of Bahia, to work for the preservation of the rare Spix's macaw, he had only a very superficial understanding of the nature of the bird's habitat in that poor, rural setting. He soon discovered that people resident in the area had no knowledge of the plight of the macaw (which is found only in that region and is one of the most endangered species of bird). Marcos was faced with the dual task of identifying the elements of the macaw's environment that needed to be preserved, for the well-being of the species, and creating, among the local residents, a sense of empathy and identification with his project.
In deciding upon an appropriate course of action, he realized that the people in the area, who were themselves barely surviving in the barren and sun­parched environment, were a necessary component of the macaw's environment. He also quickly decided that a critically important first step in developing a program of regenerating the macaw species would be to develop a clear understanding of the how local residents lived and survived, what they believed in, and what their values were. He further understood that the survival of the Spix's macaw was directly related to and would be determined by the survival of the area's human inhabitants. Thus Marcos, trained as a biologist, began an ethnological and sociological study that culminated in the "community of conservation" concept.
In that concept, a community development program, focusing on improved, practical, and culturally pertinent means for human survival, becomes an initial and primary focus of conservation efforts. Through community development efforts, local residents regain their self-confidence and begin to see the future in less fatalistic terms. And, with that shift in attitude, a new awareness of and commitment to the environment is achieved.
In order to create an understanding on the part of the community of the need for a healthy and positive though often subtle interrelationship between man and the environment, Marcos looked for cultural practices that could serve as examples or instruments for needed change. And in the rural communities surrounding the city of Curaça, he found a culture that had adapted well to the environment and that could serve as an example for the areas farmers–that of the vaqueiro (cowboy). As a usual practice, vaqueiros let their cattle graze at will, generally along the river banks (where, in fact the macaw are found). The cattle are later spotted and slaughtered, as needed for the livelihood of the community.
Marcos began working with the vaqueiros and asked them and their children to use their "spotting expertise" to locate the habitats and trace the routes of the Spix's macaw. And, before long, two projects emerged from that relationship–an education project, spurred by the children's interest in the macaw, and an improved cattle­raising system for the vaqueiros. In the first of those undertakings, the children's interest in the macaw spotting, and the community's willingness to share in its preservation, has stimulated interest in the impoverished rural schools and resulted in a decision by an international committee on which Marcos serves to commit resources to educational and social programs in the area. In the second, the vaqueiros have decided to create fenced-in areas on the river banks for raising their animals and to plant feed crops in part of the fenced in areas and store it for use in the dry season. In so doing, the vaqueiros are incorporating "savings for the future" notions in their daily practice and, in fact, becoming part of a conservation effort while improving their quality of life.
In the city of Curaça, with similar aims in view, Marcos has identified a theatrical and musical tradition that is also endangered, and he has initiated the restoration of the municipal theater. The restored theater will not only revitalize the theatrical tradition through a series of community programs, but will also house an environmental education center that will provide information on the region and on the technical and programmatic aspects of the "community of conservation."
In recent years, social issues have claimed increasing attention from environmentalists and conservation organizations and the interface between environmental and human issues was a major topic of discussion in the Earth Summit in 1992. Unfortunately, however, such concerns have only rarely been translated from the level of discourse into concrete practice, and, in the instances in which that has occurred, the focus has been on reinforcing the conservation practices of a group (e.g., rubber tappers) that already have a conservation ethos. In areas where human communities forge a meager subsistence from a harsh and barren environment, the usual pattern is to declare the environmentally threatened area a "park," "environmental protection area," or "forest," and then to restrict the activities of people resident in the area. In the usual case, the conservation areas are established without prior consideration of social development programs that could play a crucial role in the success or failure of the environmental protection initiative.
When environments that maintain a visible exuberance, such as rain forests, pantanal, and mangrove marshlands, manifest signs of deterioration in the flora and fauna, they attract the attention of conservationists, who then designate them as threatened. In marked contrast, however, when the quality of human life is threatened by deterioration in the physical environment in which the community is situated, the problem becomes the concern of social scientists and public policy experts. But in Marcos' view, a proper understanding of the issues and options involved in both of these cases requires a multi-disciplinary approach in which the human and environmental concerns are dealt with concomitantly. And in his judgment, the "community of conservation" approach that he has developed is the only promising model for the environmental regeneration of barren and arid regions of the northeast of Brazil.
With the scientific thoroughness of the biologist, Marcos has identified the very complex network of social relationships that make up the environment that is vital to the preservation of the macaw. In the Curaça area, the "community of conservation" approach that he is developing is being implemented by a multidisciplinary team, whose attention is heavily focused on the social needs of the community that will ultimately be the sole guarantor of the environmental conservation that is being sought.
Marcos is presently fundraising and enlisting the participation of community development-oriented governmental and nongovernmental organizations in his various initiatives (education, vaqueiro methods, and theater). He sees his "community of conservation" approach as a continuing community development undertaking. When his current endeavors in the Curaça area are consolidated and the habitat for the Spix's macaw is assured in that setting, Marcos plans to repeat the program in two other municipalities that may become habitats for new generations of macaws. While this several-year process for the reintroduction of the Spix's macaw, supported by "communities of conservation," is underway, Marcos plans to implement his approach in other, analogous situations. He is already sharing his model with another environmental group from Belo Horizonte, which is working to protect another macaw species in southern Bahia.
Born and raised in the southern state of Santa Catarina, Marcos has long been interested in the multifaceted dimensions of conservation issues.
During his university years, in pursuit of that interest, he created field programs for undergraduate students in which professors from other departments were eager participants. In one of those ventures, he acted as a middleman in the relationship between ranchers and pumas who were preying on their animals. Rather than trying to convince the farmers to stop shooting the pumas, Marcos showed them that by helping to preserve the puma's habitat adjacent to their lands, their problems would be resolved.
Marcos has a special interest in birds and their habitats, and he is one of the co­founders of the Brazilian Ornithological Society. Still in his early thirties, he has been working on the Spix's macaw project for the last three years.