Expedition to unexplored areas of Amazon uncovers new species

Posted on 24 August 2011

The discovery of a new primate species and suspected new fish and plant species highlights the need for management plans for some of the last unexplored areas in the Amazon.
Mato Grosso, Brazil: The discovery of a new primate species and suspected new fish and plant species and the presence of other animals in endangered categories highlight an urgent need for management plans for some of the last unexplored areas in the Amazon.

The discoveries were made on an expedition backed by WWF-Brazil in December 2010 to a part of Mato Grosso state that is considered to be an unexplored area in the Meridional Brazilian Amazon. The team discovered a new primate species and possible new fish and plant species and also sighted five animals on the endangered species list of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).

Researchers took specimens of the discoveries which are now being examined and detailed studies will verify if these do in fact come from a new species.

The team of 26 people made up of researchers and support staff, covered around 950km of forest inside the four protected areas of the Guariba-Roosevelt Extractive Reserve, the Tucumã State Park and the Roosevelt River and Madeirinha River Ecological Stations.

The areas were created back in the 1990s but now are under threat from social and environmental problems including serious land tenure conflicts, illegal deforestation, illegal fishing activities, and exploitation of local labour in irregular activities such as large scale ranching and commercial plantations.
The aim of the expedition was to gather information to support the improvement of the management plans for the Mato Grosso state protected areas.

Exciting discoveries

Forty-eight different species of mammals were confirmed to be living in the region, including armadillos, anteaters, deer and monkeys and a primate species that is being considered as new to science. This species is being described at Emilo Goeldi Museum in Pará.

The team members investigating the region’s fish registered 208 species, of which 192 have had their identities confirmed and 16 are still being processed. Among these last 16 there may also be two previously undescribed species. The team’s bird specialists identified 313 bird species, including two migratory species and some that had previously only been registered in other South American countries.

The team studying fish also brought two possible new species back to the laboratories; one is a catfish and the other a tetra, a small brightly coloured freshwater fish. Other very small fish were found, known locally as ‘piaus’ and they too may have new species among them.

The expedition also discovered several threatened species, according to the expedition’s preliminary report signed by the biologist in charge of the mammal species studies Júlio Dalponte. These animals were: the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).

Geographer Gustavo Irgang, who with WWF-Brazil was jointly responsible for the overall coordination of the expedition, said “We fulfilled our schedule, there were no serious setbacks and we got back to our laboratories and study centres with the possible discovery of new species. We only have reasons to celebrate”.

Over the coming months all the information will be set out in reports that will provide support for the formulation of management plans for the protected areas.

Under threat

The region drained by the Guariba and Roosevelt rivers lies within the Juruena-Apuí block. The block consists of around nine million hectares and is covered by forests, some of them flooded, and patches of Cerrado formation. Together they are home to 500 species of birds and a variety of primate species.

Since the year 2003, WWF-Brazil has been working in this area to combat deforestation and contribute to the conservation of the Amazon.

The area explored by the expedition team is overrun with illegal loggers and occupied by huge cattle farms.

Violence associated with land tenure conflicts and social problems such as lack of health or education services and electricity supplies are very common throughout the area. Additionally, there are environmental problems like predatory forms of fishing, contamination of river water, deforestation, unchecked expansion of agricultural activities and lack of surveillance and inspection on the part of the state and federal environment authorities.

One person trying to deal with some of these problems is Edelso Ferreira Rodrigues who is manager of the Tucumã State Park and the Roosevelt River and Madeirinha River Ecological Stations. In his struggle to protect these areas he faces a number of challenges, “Logistics here are naturally complicated and up until a few months ago we did not even have a boat for the work in the protected areas. I carried out inspections using borrowed or hired boats and often had to pay for the fuel out of my own pocket” says Edelso.

But according to Edelso the government is starting to allocate a larger budget for these PAs equipment is starting to arrive and members of the government’s technical staff make their visits more frequently.
“The process has already progressed a lot even though the steps have been very gradual” says Edelso “However slow the process may be, we are intensifying our activities here including the inspections that need to be carried out in this area.”


The state of Mato Grosso was the state with the most destroyed vegetation in its territories in January 2011, according to the most recent issue of the bulletin Forest Transparency – the Legal Amazon published by the Deforestation Warning Service of the Man and the Amazon Environment Institute (SAD/Imazon).

The bulletin reports that in the first month of 2011, 47 square kilometres of vegetation in Mato Grosso was destroyed, the equivalent of over half of all the devastation registered for the Amazon in the same period.

Mato Grosso also heads the list for degraded forest areas, which are areas that have been intensely exploited by logging activities or affected by the setting of fires.

In January 2011 the State had 353 square kilometres of degraded forests corresponding for 93% of the areas for the entire Amazon region at the time.

Biologist Fátima Sonoda is environment analyst in the Environment Department of the State Government and said “I feel that the question of Protected Areas needs to be taken much more seriously, especially by decision makers and the public sector”.

“What we need to do is to make constant efforts to increase the quantity and quality of our partnerships and call on companies, non- governmental organisations, and research institutes to intensify their conservation work”.
A Blue and Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) seen during the expedition
© WWF-Brazil / Juvenal Pereira
The new species of monkey discovered on the expedition belonged to the 'Callicebus' genus
© Julio Dalponte
One of the birds found during the expedition, a Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)
© WWF-Brazil / Juvenal Pereira
Rosalvo Duarte and James Bilce, members of the ictiology team, conducting their work at Madeirinha River
© WWF-Brazil / Juvenal Pereira
Flowers found near the Roosevelt River
© WWF-Brazil / Juvenal Pereira