Where Did the Macaws Go?
What happens when an idealistic young field biologist meets some of Brazil's most notorious wildlife traffickers? In the case of Dr. Charles A. Munn III, nothing short of a conservation miracle.
Back 1987 Dr. Charles Munn, a newly minted field research biologist working with the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Fund), was asked to lead the Brazilian government’s field survey of their dwindling hyacinth macaws. Munn's findings were horrifying.
Too Valuable to Survive?
Only a fraction of the hyacinth macaw population that once counted in the 100's of thousands still existed, and it was in a rapid human-caused decline. The source of the problem was shrinking habitat compounded by a growing human population with little means of economic support. When working the mines or subsistence farming were not enough to assuage hunger, the big birds easily filled soup pots and stomachs. Worst of all, Munn learned that the remaining hyacinth macaws, ounce for ounce, were more valuable than cocaine as exotic pets on the international market.
An Extraordinary Idea
The findings were dismal and pointed to the imminent extinction of this magnificent bird. Then Charles Munn met the people most capable of saving the last birds of one particular region of the Brazilian Cerrado - the area's most accomplished wildlife traffickers.
Dr. Munn is no ordinary conservation biologist. Charles A. Munn III is a man with a mission, a "green dream." His wildlife research convinced him that eco-tourism is the only way to protect wildlife. And who knows best how to fulfill that mission? The folks who know the wildlife best: successful traffickers.
Traffickers To Protectors
Hyacinth Valley Camp is Born
Flash forward a few years and the miracle that is Hyacinth Valley Camp was born. Located at the very edge of what has now become the 1.8 million acre (730,000 hectare) Parnaiba Headwaters National Park, outside the village of Sao Goncalo, Wolf Valley Camp is your gateway to natural wonder - and now a protected stronghold for the endangered hyacinth macaw.
Responsible Tourism Turns Traffickers to Protectors
His guests have described Lourival Lima, who manages the lodge, as an “animal whisperer.” And indeed visitors are often amazed at how well he understands animals and birds, and how quickly he can locate them. He has had a lifetime of practice. Lourival Lima, the guardian of endangered hyacinth macaws and maned wolves, was once one of the most infamous illegal wildlife traders in Brazil. That is until the determined Dr. Munn entered the scene.
It took a few years, but Dr. Munn ("Charlie" to his friends, and that seems to include just about everyone) persuaded Lima that he could have greater economic security by protecting the birds rather than hunting them.
Protecting Birds & Habitat
Ahead of the Government
In the mid-1990’s, a full 12 years before the Brazilian government's formation of Parnaiba Headwaters National Park, Lourival, with encouragement, help, and funds raised by Dr. Munn. abandoned wildlife trafficking and entered the world of eco-tourism. Hyacinth Valley Camp, later renamed Wolf Valley Camp was created on Lima's 2,500-acre (1,011 hectare) property.
The Amazing Hyacinth Macaw
The perfect place to watch these most beautiful and biggest of all parrots (3.3 ft. / 1m) is the blind Lourival set up just for that purpose. Right in front of you the hyacinth gather together cracking open palm nuts, their principal food, with a thundering smash. Wolf Valley Camp also attracts blue-and-gold macaws, green-winged macaws, and other gorgeous avian favorites. Families of black-tufted marmosets and Brazilian guinea pigs are also frequent visitors. (Read more about 7 Cerrado species you many see here.)
The Good News Spreads
Soon after the launch of his Wolf Valley Camp, Lourival himself took up the reins as "chief persuader," convincing his good friend and former wildlife hunting colleague, Mauro Oliveira, to join him in this new wildlife-friendly life. Mauro now runs Wolf Cliff Camp. Located an hour or so deeper in what is now officially Parnaiba Headwaters National Park. The camp sits on 10,000 acres (4,046 hectares) of private property purchased by the non-profit wildlife conservation group, BioBrasil Foundation with funds again raised by Dr. Munn.
When One Bird is Protected - Every Species Wins
It is here at Wolf Cliff Camp that you will see the tall, elegant looking maned wolves, (IUCN Near Threatened) nicknamed “fox-on-stilts” for their red color and long, black “stocking-ed” legs.
Relax and sit in the soft evening air as these shy creatures explore the edges of the camp. It is easy to become to so enthralled that you forget about your camera. That would be a shame. The maned wolf is South America's largest canid and is among the most unusual and beautiful creatures in Brazil's Cerrado.
From Wolf Cliffs, your guide will take you even further into the park to witness what scientists have dubbed “Einstein monkeys” at work. This one troupe of bearded capuchins are the only tool using non-ape primates on the planet. You will be able to sit (silently of course) within a few yards (meters) of them as they carefully examine a nut, find the most stable side to balance it, then use stones as tools, some as big as their heads, to open them. They are quite serious about their work. The experience is amazing.
A Road Less Traveled
Parnaiba Headwaters National Park is little known and little visited. The Wolf Camps are the only facilities in the park, an area that spans across 4 Brazilian states. Lourival, Mauro, Paulo, and others who once were the very successful traffickers of the hyacinth macaw, maned wolf, giant anteater, greater rhea, giant armadillo, and more, are now their primary protectors.
Your visit employs the local population; enhancing the well-being of the people and allowing them the opportunity to dedicate themselves to protecting the wildlife.
Wolf Camps and You
The Facilities: Both camps have lodges that are simple, efficient, and fit neatly into the environment with as small a footprint as possible. Both have private bathrooms and basic but very serviceable, showers. Neither have air-conditioning nor a pool, but you will not miss them. This area is dry (no mosquitos); the mountains are cool at night.
Wolf Valley Camp has a generator for electricity (at strategic times), so you can charge your equipment. Wolf Cliffs Camp does not have electricity.
Give yourself time at each of the camps. Martin Haggland of Arcana Mundi Expeditions advises that a five to six-day stay is perfect. Exploring Parnaiba Headwaters National Park is not a do-it-yourself adventure. You will want a guide, and thanks to the vision and perseverance of Dr. Charlie Munn you will have the best – and there will be an abundance of wildlife to experience.
A Powerful Wildlife & Human Experience
Many visitor reviews, including some world-renowned wildlife photographers, have noted the surprisingly delicious meals of local cuisine prepared by your host's families at both camp/lodges. But it is the powerful wildlife experiences lead by passionate guides that will forever remain in your heart and mind.
How to get there
The Wolf Camps are approximately 500 miles (800 km) north of Brasilia. Fly into Barreiras, Brazil. It is a four to 5-hour overland drive to the village of São Gonçalo and the entrance to Wolf Valley Camp. Your hosts will meet you at Barreiras and bring you to their Wolf Camps. The adventure begins!
For more information on medical and travel documentation issues see Parnaiba Headwaters National Park
Special Thanks To:
Dr. Charles A. Munn lll
SouthWild Wolf Camps
Martin Haggland of Arcana Mundi Expeditions
Paulo Barreiros, Phill Crosby, and Scott Anagnoste for their exquisite wildlife photography
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