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Dispersing the Seeds of Camp 41

In July 2017, Marc Magaud, Senior Advisor to the Director General to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), visited Camp 41 on the Amazon Biodiversity Center's research reserve north of Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. He wrote the post below on LinkedIn (login required) as a token of his appreciation.

Jubilation and tribulations in Amazonia

by Marc Magaud, Senior Advisor to the Director General, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)

Just as a new analysis of the current biodiversity crisis - strikingly titled “Biological annihilation” - was being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), I had the immense privilege of visiting Camp 41 in the Amazon. The camp is the home base in the Brazilian jungle for the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, created by renowned ecologist Dr. Thomas Lovejoy. For 38 years, this project has been a lab for conservation scientists, a classroom for students, and an inspiration to world leaders to preserve robust, biodiverse ecosystems of the Amazon - the "lungs of the planet."

Lovejoy regularly hosts academics, journalists, policy makers and donors in his retreat, only a few hours North of Manaus. The camp is light-years away from the pressures of “civilization”, with no electricity or communication network, and hardly any human activity in its surroundings. Yet, despite its remoteness, Camp 41’s researchers have been documenting the effects of anthropogenic change for over 3 decades… and the picture is not rosy. Ecologists and ornithologists have observed losses of diversity in both fauna and flora in this seemingly pristine area, and in some cases they are dramatic.

These trends should raise concern in all of us, not merely conservation professionals. “Biodiversity is, in fact, a kind of living library for the life sciences, since each species represents a set of solutions to a very specific set of biological problems” says Lovejoy. And unfortunately, we are losing books from the library at alarming rates, most often without even knowing we had them!

The “global annihilation” article demonstrates, based on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species™, that not only are we losing vertebrate species at exceedingly high rates on a global scale, but we are also decreasing numbers and ranges drastically even within species that are not at risk of extinction. And for now, we are still uncertain as to what the impact of this massive loss may be, though we do know that disturbances can have far-reaching consequences (e.g. in the pharmaceutical field).

Having worked at the interface of science and policy for many years, a stay at Camp 41 proved to be a remarkable joining of the dots. The walks in the forest, the discussions with scientists, and the evening chats about policy (always with a caïpirinha in hand!), provided me with a first-hand understanding as to the loss of precious natural capital humans are generating. It is important that decision-makers, especially from the environment, climate, and development spheres, come see for themselves: it is truly an eye-opener… If only everyone could get a chance to experience such a unique connection with nature, we could probably “make the planet great again” in no time…

In the meantime, those of us who have had the opportunity to see first-hand what is at stake need to find ways – albeit modestly – to do our part and convince others to reverse the course we’re on. In the camp’s guest book, I concluded my thank you note by wishing that “Camp 41’s seeds be dispersed far and wide by the large apes who visit it”. This entry is my meager contribution to the dispersion effort…

For more information:

“Biological Annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signalled by vertebrate population losses and declines” – Ceballos et al. – PNAS – 10 July 2017:

The Sixth Extinction – an Unnatural History (Elizabeth Kolbert – Henry Holt & Company ed.):

The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments project:

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