Brazilian Bird Extinct in Wild Makes Return to Jungle
By Pedro Biondi
Extinct in its habitat for at least three decades, the Alagoas curassow (Pauxi mitu) is now back in the jungle and facing a test of survival, thanks to the joint efforts of more than a dozen institutions to pull this pheasant-like bird back from the brink.
Three pairs of curassows were reintroduced a month and a half ago in a 980-hectare (2,400-acre) area of the Atlantic Forest in the Brazilian state of Alagoas. Researchers are keeping tabs on them remotely, via GPS tags, to see whether they can find food and shelter, reproduce, and stay safe from predators on their own.
The bird is the first case of the reintroduction of an animal declared extinct in the wild in Latin America, and one of just a handful in the world. According to Luís Fábio Silveira, curator of the ornithological collection at the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo, there are "very few similar cases" in the world. Success stories include the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), the Hawaiian crow (Corvus hawaiiensis), the black-footed ferret or American polecat (Mustela nigripes), and the Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus).
The journey that led to the Alagoas curassow's resurrection started four decades ago, thanks to the obstinacy of Pedro Nardelli, a businessman who kept a scientific bird-breeding facility in Nilópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. In 1979, he traveled to the metropolitan region of Maceió, in Alagoas state, looking for specimens of the curassow, a red-billed, black-bodied, fowl-like bird. Described for the first time in the 17th century by the German naturalist George Marcgraf — who included a mention of its culinary use, one of the factors behind its eventual extinction in the wild — the species was very rarely seen in its original territory, a small area of Atlantic Forest between the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco. Besides the hunting, the bird was also threatened by the advance of sugarcane plantations in the region.
The five curassows that Nardelli was able to rescue were captured in a forest area that, ironically enough, would give way to a new sugar and ethanol plant, thanks to the accelerated pace of deforestation imposed by Proálcool, a national program aimed at stimulating sugarcane ethanol production. "If Nardelli had arrived two years later, there would be no more [curassows]," said civil engineer Fernando Pinto, who worked at the ethanol plant at the time and later became the breeder's main partner in the rescue mission. "Destiny called."
A pair of Alagoas curassow at the moment of release, after leaving the acclimatization aviary. Clarice Maia / Agência Alagoas / Mongabay
Back in Rio de Janeiro, Nardelli managed to get one of the male curassows and two of the females to reproduce. The trio would spawn the sole lineage responsible for passing on the species' DNA. Pinto began traveling to Rio de Janeiro more frequently. "We spent whole weekends literally inside the aviary, talking only about birds," he said. "That breeding facility, perhaps the biggest in Latin America, was my Disneyland."
While testing the constitution of a safe breeding stock, Nardelli promoted the idea of crossbreeding with the closely related razor-billed curassow (Pauxi tuberosa) to try to secure a sort of "DNA backup" of the nearly extinct bird. In the process, however, the breeders lost the spreadsheets that identified the genetically pure individuals and the hybrids. A team from São Carlos Federal University (UFSCar), led by Mercival Roberto Francisco, joined in to separate the wheat from the chaff: in 2008, a genetic rescue program for the species was initiated, using minute analysis to differentiate the pure birds from the hybrids.
Francisco, a professor of ex situ (out-of-habitat) conservation and wildlife management, kept in close contact with breeder Roberto Azeredo, of the Society for Wildlife Research (Crax), who 20 years ago inherited part of Nardelli's breeding stock. Their challenge now is to increase the genetic diversity of purebred Alagoas curassows. For this, Azeredo has suggested that pairs with the greatest DNA difference be made to breed — or rather, to marry, since the bird is normally monogamous; pairs stay together until one individual dies.
This selection process is the central point of the project to reintroduce the Alagoas curassow into the wild, considering the risks of inbreeding in a lineage that descends from just three individuals.
Back to the Habitat
An Alagoas curassow in captivity. The species waited three decades to come back to nature. Luís Fábio Silveira / Agência Alagoas / Mongabay
In 1996, already thinking of creating the conditions under which the bird could return to nature, Fernando Pinto founded the Atlantic Forest Preservation Institute (IPMA). The NGO coordinates environmental education actions in the communities and farms of the Zona da Mata, a coastal plain in Brazil's northeast. It seeks to sensitize sugarcane farmers, whose fields comprise the largest areas of remnant vegetation in the region, to conserve or restore the habitat of the Alagoas curassow. Pinto counts 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) already converted or in the process of being converted into private natural heritage reserves (RPPNs).
One of these areas is the RPPN Mata do Cedro, in the municipality of Rio Largo, a forest fragment situated within the area of the former Utinga Leão plant (now just Utinga), a sugar and ethanol producer struggling to avoid bankruptcy. The researchers selected the area for the reintroduction of the Alagoas curassow into the wild because of its extension — the ideal habitat should span at least 500 hectares (1,200 acres) of forest — and also because of the absence of hunters.
To ensure it was a safe environment for the bird, the Alagoas Environmental Institute (IMA) and the Alagoas Environmental Police ran daily patrols over the course of two years to monitor the area. "There was no incident of illegal hunting, but we can't lower our guard. In Brazil, especially in the north and the northeast, there's a very strong hunting culture," said Epitácio Correia, the manager of the fauna, flora and conservation units at the IMA.
On Sept. 19, six individual Alagoas curassows were transferred by plane from Contagem, in the state of Minas Gerais, where the Crax breeding center is located, to Alagoas. For the first time in three decades, the species was back in its natural habitat. The birds were initially taken to an acclimatization aviary, built within an Atlantic Forest fragment, in preparation for permanent released on Sept. 25.
Thanks to the satellite tags, the researchers will be able to monitor literally every step of the six newly released birds. If the curassows succeed in the challenge of evading natural enemies such as small wildcats, and prove themselves able to generate offspring, the task force's plan is to release three more pairs into the wild each year until 2024. Meanwhile, the breeding in captivity continues; there are about 90 Alagoas curassow in aviaries across Brazil.
The sugar plant also provided an area to build an environmental education center, to be inaugurated in January and named after Pedro Nardelli. A fourth pair of curassows will be kept there, in captivity, as a living exhibit for children and adolescents.
Nardelli didn't live to see his dream come true. He died in August, the month when the reintroduction was initially scheduled. But he could, at least, honor the event at which Alagoas Governor Renan Filho named Pauxi mitu the official bird of the state in 2017.
Watch the video of the release:
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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