Summary of a meeting with Dr. Hamilton Casara, President, The Brazilian Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources Institute (IBAMA).

IBAMA is responsible for the monitoring, preservation, enforcement and control of the sustainable use of natural resources in Brazil. Monitoring and control of resources are carried out by a variety of tools including aircraft and remote sensing such as satellite imagery from various sources including NOAA and LANDSAT. This monitoring data is electronically integrated with the results of metrological, vegetation, basic cartographic and hot spot data analysis which combine to produce an integrated alert system that is available on the Internet.

IBAMA also promotes research and conservation through several subordinate centers, which are focused on specific groups of species. Although the missions differ slightly depending on the needs of each individual group, they all seek to conduct research that will support implementation of conservation measures designed to protect and maintain healthy populations of that particular group, integrated into the larger picture of maintaining biodiversity and overall ecological integrity within their various environments. The centers are specifically tasked to deal with marine mammals, birds, predatory species, marine turtles, reptiles and amphibians, and primates.

In direct opposition to the crucial research being carried out by these centers lies the illicit trade of animal species. According to Dr. Hamilton Casara, this burgeoning trade is responsible for the loss of over 12 million specimens per year, and is currently the chief threat to the reduction of population of indigenous species. Brazil has become the largest source for animal smugglers supporting this multi-billion dollar industry with an unrivaled diversity of exotic, rare and endangered species. A single Blue Macaw can bring 70,000 US dollars and the Golden Lion Tamrin, much publicized in the US by the cooperative conservation efforts of the National Zoo and the University of Maryland, commands a price of $ 20,000.

In addition to the illegal trafficking of animals, illegal logging and deforestation remain as major problems for the region. Recently the trade in illegal mahogany has come into the spotlight and in late 2001, Brazil completely suspended the mahogany trade after Greenpeace documented tremendous amounts of illegal logging and deforestation. Mahogany is a lucrative export - just a single tree can produce $130,000 of furniture - and Brazil has been the primary supplier for US mahogany imports. As IBAMA is also responsible for promoting sustainable use of such resources it had allowed mahogany extraction in controlled areas. However, an excess of mahogany was being illegally extracted by organized groups, which frequently used forged licenses to elude authorities and deceive industrial buyers.

Recently in order to strengthen IBAMA's enforcement capabilities and specifically to counter illegal mahogany extraction, a department was created within the Brazilian Federal Police tasked specifically with combating environmental crimes. Additionally, in upcoming meetings, Dr. Casara noted that he would request the cooperation of US authorities to curb the demand for illegally extracted mahogany and force customers only to accept shipments certified to have been legally extracted.

Casara also referred to the serious gap between conservation policy and actual implementation. Although much has been accomplished and a solid framework does exist for protection of natural resources in Brazil, serious work remains to be accomplished. Frequently resources for environmental protection tend to be overshadowed by more compelling social demands. Although IBAMA is focused and dedicated to it's agenda it is clear that environmental policy still suffers from a funding and staff shortage. As Dr. Casara said, "…we do the best with what we have."

by Alex Parlini