Brazil 2018-2019

Photo credit: Carlos Ed Goulart

Photo credit: Carlos Ed Goulart


Surveys and Conservation Guidance
for Brazilian Merganser

The Bird Conservation Fund is working with the “Mergus da Chapada Project” and WWF-Brazil to raise $20,000 to support field surveys led by Gislaine Disconzi (Waterbird Conservation Specialist, IUCN SSC Duck Specialist Group) to count the potentially largest population remnant of the Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) in the Cerrado of Central Brazil. These populations are immediately threatened by 17 planned hydropower plants. The project will test an innovative survey methodology using small rafts to quickly descend all the rivers where potential Brazilian Merganser territories are threatened by hydropower projects, and also support technical training for local staff on this survey methodology, the preparation of conservation action plans, and the development of outreach material to publicize and protect the sites.

  • Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) – Critically Endangered is the main target bird species, but the survey will also include other locally rare species, such as:

  • Fasciated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma fasciatum) – Least Concern


The Brazilian Merganser, a secretive species of wild duck inhabiting clear rivers of Central South America, is one of the most threatened birds in the Neotropics and one of the ten most threatened waterfowl in the world. Only between 175 to 225 individuals may survive in wild (WPE, 2012). One of the highest priorities for its protection is the need for more comprehensive surveys of existing populations and the need to search for and protect new populations. Surveys for Brazilian Mergansers are also flagged as high priority by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Action Plan. Although historically occurring in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, confirmed populations now only exist in the a few pristine segments of the Central Brazilian Cerrado.

Serra da Canastra National Park (South, Minas Gerais state): In 2002, a nest was found with seven eggs, in a rock crevice. The first documented record of a M. octosetaceus nest is from 1954, by Partrigde, who found one in a tree hole beside the Arroyo Urugua-í, in Missiones, Argentina (Lamas & Santos. Cotinga 22 (2004): 38-41). After 4 years searching intensely for new individuals, exploring rivers, transects and sampling 49 different localities, the current records for Serra da Canastra National Park of Terra Brasilis Institute Mergus project are now 80 individuals. They found another nest nearby at Casca D’Antas waterfalls, the main attraction of Serra da Canastra National Park. (Terra da Gente, Ano 2 Número 22, Fevereiro de 2006 – Current population estimates range between 80-120 individuals (ICMBIO, 2017).

Jalapão State Park, Tocantins (North): In 2002 during a bird survey of the Jalapão region, the Merganser was recorded in five occasions along the Rio Novo and, the Cachoeira da Velha. (Braz, Abreu, Lopes, Leite, França, Vasconcelos & Balbino. Cotinga 20 (2003): 68-71). Current population is estimated at 24 individuals (ICMBIO, 2017).

Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park region, including Rio Paranã (Central, northeast Goiás): Yamashita & Pineshi in 1999 recorded birds at three municipalities. In July of 2003, IBAMA recorded a pair of mergansers at Rio das Pedras, tributary of Rio Paranã, east of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park (pers. Communication). In 2004, the non-governmental FUNATURA working with the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) of the Campo Alegre RPPN (National Private Heritage Reserve), Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park surrounded area, found a pair of mergansers ( In 2005, Paulo Zuquim Antas, FUNATURA consultant found a nest with three eggs in a rock crevice (pers. communication, 2005). Current population for South region of Chapada is estimated between 30-50 individual (Disconzi, 2012).

Almost 97 individuals in a new population were discovered between 2008-2018, mostly of Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park surround areas (please see map attached). This is potentially the largest remaining population in the world, and represents a considerable and largely unknown range extension. Additional more extensive, surveys of rivers in the region are needed to better assess the size of this new population and to define the species distribution within Central Brazil.

This survey aims at describing the central population of Brazilian Merganser, least known, most recently discovered and potentially most threatened and largest mergansers ( In 2005, Paulo Zuquim Antas, FUNATURA consultant found a nest with three eggs in a rock crevice (pers. communication, 2005). Current population for South region of Chapada is estimated between 30-50 individual (Disconzi, 2012).

This survey aims at describing the central population of Brazilian Merganser, least known, most recently discovered and potentially most threatened and largest mergansers ( In 2005, Paulo Zuquim Antas, FUNATURA consultant found a nest with three eggs in a rock crevice (pers. communication, 2005). Current population for South region of Chapada is estimated between 30-50 individual (Disconzi, 2012).

Project Objectives

1. To determine the number of Brazilian Mergansers present in four key areas of Grand Tocantins Basin, under short term threat from hydropower (please see map below):

2. To provide an assessment of the threats to the species within the above areas.

3. To provide recommendations to IBAMA (the federal agency responsible for the management of National Parks) for the conservation of this species within the above areas.

Recents records:  Merganser photographic records; UHE: Hydropower projects; Área: distribution (ha.)

Recents records: Merganser photographic records; UHE: Hydropower projects; Área: distribution (ha.)

From 2008, 50 Merganser photographic records were gathered, through online and direct outreach of local population and tourists. The analysis of these records allow to asses a potential population of at least 50 individuals. In total 17 hydropower dam projects are projected, most within this Merganser records´ distribution area. The Mergansers nests in cavities on small cliffs and canyons on the riversides, which are threatened by rising waters from the proposed dams. Other threats are deforestation of upstream vegetation and riversides, provoking sediment pollution of the rivers, agrochemical pollution and direct predation, by hunters, dogs and natural predation.


Project activities

Field Surveys

The principal component of the project will be exploratory field surveys by descending the river segments threatened by hydrodams with kayaks and inflated boats, in two periods: January to June on the Southern half of the area, and from July to December in the Northern (less known) half of the area. In total, more than 15 rivers and tributaries will be surveyed.

Each research team will be under supervision of a professional rafting instructor and tourism guide, equipped with and following all required security equipment and procedures. Each river segment will be surveyed within 2 to 4 days, totalizing around 70 miles each and overnights in preselected resting spots and easy access of land-based backup teams.

Previous survey approaches demanded systematic accesses to the river from land, which depended on availability of roads and goodwill of landowners. This new survey approach was tested last month on Tocantinzinho river, with a descent of around 50 miles of river in just two days with a team of 6 people. In total, 10 mergansers were spotted, and a nest. This to be compared with only 3 previous direct records along a whole year following the previous land-based survey approach.

Technical Reports

Results from these field surveys will be compiled into a technical report that will guide the development of long-term conservation plans. These plans will be shared with partners to support formal protection efforts.

Local Awareness and Capacity Development

The project team will develop a systematic survey routine for each river in the range, allowing to reduce risks and efforts, and expand systematic survey of the Merganser population along the whole known range and possibly expanding the exploration to un-surveyed similar rivers in the region.

Additional training and knowledge exchange needs will be developed through consultation with partners from the other two regions of occurrence. Additional benefits of the project include collaborative learning, awareness and training for local member of the team and local partners, such as land owners and rafting tourism companies.

Costs and duration

Total costs $ 20,000 for one year. Lower value would mean to reduce and prioritize part of the Merganser range for survey. Main costs are due to specialized material and full dedication of skilled rafting monitors to insure safe and efficient river surveys. Costs may reduce in the following years as through learning and experience, the efficiency of rivers ´survey may increase.


Main Project Outputs

1. Much more precise assessment of the total population of the Central population of Brazilian merganser and of its habitats preferences and conditions.

2. Precise assessment of the risks associated to each of the 17 planned hydropower dams in the region to the merganser, and conservation and risks mitigation action plans

3. Greater awareness of the authorities, local population and tourism industry on the merganser value and threats, as well as necessary protective behavior.

Couros river - Area of greater number of Brazilian Merganser registers in the region.

Couros river - Area of greater number of Brazilian Merganser registers in the region.


Top: Brazilian Merganser family (mother with six juveniles) at Couros River (set 2012).
Bottom: Couros river six juveniles of Brazilian Merganser (set. 2012).


Project Staff Biographies

Gislaine Disconzi, biologist has 25 years of professional experience, and at least 10 years in coordination of international cooperation projects, especially in the Ministry of the Environment and in the American Embassy in Brasilia. She specializes in the conservation of neotropical waterbirds and waterbirds endangered species. She works in the area of biodiversity conservation, exclusively in the region of Chapada dos Veadeiros, since 2008, through the National Coordination of the Neotropical Waterbirds Census - CNAA/Brazil and coordinating the Mergus Protection Actions Project, led by Funatura (2008). In 2012, Gislaine got her Master's degree in Sustainable Development at the Sustainable Development Center (CDS/ Brasilia University) entitled "The Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) and the Cahapada dos Veadeiros waters.”

Currently, she is a PhD student in the Environmental Sciences Postgraduate Program, at University of Brasilia, Planaltina Faculty, where she develops her research in Chapada dos Veadeiros, with actions to avoid the extinction of Brazilian Merganser in the region. She has been conducting research activities and monitoring of the Brazilian Merganser habitats for at least 10 years and has coordinated the Project on Species Protection between the years 2009-2010.

Gislaine has extensive technical production with 16 work presentations, 27 technical papers, 01 complete article published in journals, 19 technical papers and 01 book chapter. She was a board member of the Conservation Waterbird Council of the Americas for the three years (2011-2013). She recently participated in on Facilitation for Conservation of Species Facilitation Workshop given by the Conservation Planning Specialist Group (IUCN/ SS/CPSG), given by Jamie Copsey, Director of Training of the Conservation Planning Species Group.

Maria Beatriz Maury de Carvalho has PhD in Sustainable Development from the Sustainable Development Center of the University of Brasília. She is also the the Scientific Executive Editor of Sustainability in Debate magazine. She was the coordinator of the Lato Sensu Specialization course in Ecopsychology and Deep Ecology, which will begin start 2019 in Brasília. She was the Deputy Secretary of Education Advisor of the Federal District and Director of Environmental Education and Technology Dissemination at the Brasília Environmental Institute. She worked as environmental consultant at the Ministry of the Environment and was a researcher at the Environment, Inclusion and Sustainability Lab of the University of Brasília. Currently, she is a retired teacher at the Education Department of the Federal District, having extensive professional experience with emphasis on education and environmental management, in the preparation of didactic materials, acting in solid waste management, biodiversity and education. It develops research, methodologies and indicators of multi, inter and transdisciplinarity, particularly in higher education with the use of methodologies, such as Social Network Analysis.

Maria has 28 years of experience in projects related to the environment, society and education with 4 complete articles published in journals, 19 technical papers, 4 books or chapters of books and several technical and cultural publications.

Fernando Henrique Previdente has more than 10 years of professional experience in ecotourism activities and at least 5 years of fieldwork with the Brazilian Merganser. He is a local ecotourism guide specializing in birdwatching, especially in Chapada dos Veadeiros, working since 2006 when he held the first training course in local ecotourism guidance. He served for 5 years as a member and treasurer of the Chapada dos Veadeiros Ecotourism Guides Directorate (SERVITUR). He is qualified as a Regional Tourism Guide by SENAC (2010). He holds a degree in Biological Sciences, from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCAR/SP).

In 2010, he conducted the technical work of capturing, marking and monitoring with radio-telemetry of the Brazilian Merganser in rivers of Chapada dos Veadeiros, providing technical and logistical support for the species protection activities project. At that time, Fernando participated in unrecorded records and tagging activities carried out within the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park and around areas in the main Chapada´ rivers. During that period, radio tagging was carried out with the backpack technique, a technique used for the first time to monitor the Brazilian Merganser territoriality, all over the world, in particular at the Preto river, within the PNCV, and in the Couros river.

From this experiment, Fernando Previdente has been advising the activities proposed by the Mergus project of the Chapada dos Veadeiros, on a voluntary basis, monitoring the habitats used by the Brazilian Merganser in the region.

Fernando has followed the Brazilian Merganser habitats in several private reserves, which composes the protected areas mosaic of the Veadeiros Pouso Alto Kalunga corridor, covering several rivers, such as: Almas, São Félix, Santa Rita (within the Quilombola Kalunga Territory) and the RPPN Serra do Tombador, as well as the rivers of the southern part of the Chapada, especially, the rivers: Couros, São Miguel, Preto and Tocantinzinho.

Fernando Previdente has great knowledge of the hydrography, geology, fauna and flora of Chapada dos Veadeiros, since he has been acting as an instructor in local ecotourism training courses in Alto Paraiso and Quilombola Kalunga Territory in Cavalcante in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Guilherme Predebom has vast experience in adventure ectourism, providing service for Drena Ecotourism company, in canyonning activities, vertical techniques (Rapel, Tyrolese, canyoning, canopy touring and kayak). He was 5 years as a local guide in the Pirenópolis city at the Goiás Pyrenees region. Participated in the discussion and creation of the texts of the first versions of the Brazilian norms for adventure tourism, specifically the standard of vertical techniques, canyoning and “cachoeirísmo” (waterfalls tecniques) and the transversal standard security management system. He was the owner of the Cerrado Aventure Company, occupying the position of Operational Director, the company was one of the pioneers in the process of implementing the Safety management System (SGS), and affiliated to ABETA (Brazilian Association of Sports and Adventure Tourism) and founder member of the ABETA Goiás Commission.

Guilherme provided logistical support (canoeing/rafting) to IBAMA during the preliminary study of fauna and flora of the small hydroelectric power stations of the Tocantizinho River, with the main objective of photographing the Brazilian Merganser (with several sightings).

Coordinator and leader of the topographic expeditions that mapped the Tocantinzinho river, Brancas, Piçaras, Corrente, Cachoeirinha rivers by Rialma electric power stations. The expedition lasted about 27 days taking the participants to the physical end due to the difficulties of rainy season and the characteristics of the very rugged relief of the region of the currencies between

Guilherme will be responsible to the Safety Management System of the Mergus Project (until 2019), guiding and advising the research group in the embarked descend rivers at Chpapada dos Veadeiros with safety equipment in boats and kayaks, giving technical and safety support in the wild at the field activities of the Mergus project, especially those developed in the river searching more individuals territories.

Paulo Henrique Gonçalves de Souza holds a degree in Environmental Management from Universidade Católica de Brasília (UCB / DF), obtaining the degree in December 2012. He has extensive experience in routine administrative management, information management, controller and financial management of the third sector (ngos). In the position of Financial Administrative Manager of the Pró-Natureza Foundation (Funatura) he plays an important role in the Mosaic Project Sertão Veredas-Peruaçu, Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems - CEPF, Agreement No. 100465 (Conservation International - CI / FUNATURA), since July 2017.

Its function is: (i) to support and monitor the acquisition of goods and services, following the rules of the Donor Agreement signed with CI / CEPF; (ii) support the preparation of letters-invitations, request for expressions of interest and notices, among others; (iii) carry out budgets and research with potential competitors to subsidize acquisitions; (iv) make telephone contacts to confirm the receipt of the messages to obtain budgets and to verify the submission of budget proposals; (v) perform organization, logistics, reservations and other services; (vi) manage and control expenditures by component and category; (vii) editing and preparation of spreadsheets and financial schedules (Excel format); (viii) prepare the SAA (request for administrative action) and refer to project coordination and treasury for payments; (ix) file and control all documentation related to the Project; (x) number the documents of the bidding processes and organization in folders, also numbered, specific to each bidding event; and (xi) prepare quarterly financial reports and entries in the Conservation Grants Portal (accountability in the Project's computerized system).

He has at least 10 years of professional experience in management and finance, and for two years (2007-2009) he served as administrative and financial assistant of the Project for the Protection of the Brazilian Merganser (Mergus Octosetaceus) in Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goiás - Phase I Contract No. 0737-20071 (US$ 10,000), accomplish activities in the management and control of expenses, accountability, budget research, procurement of goods and services, organization, logistics, reservations of any nature and other services, writing of letters and invitations, editing and preparation of financial reports , as well as archiving and organizing documentation.

From 2009 to 2011, he was the administrative and financial assistant of the Project for the Protection of Brazilian Merganser (Mergus Octosetaceus) in Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goiás - Phase II. Contract No. 0832_20091 (US$ 20,000), exercising the same activities of management and control of expenses, accountability, budget research, acquisition of goods and services, organization, logistics, reservations of any nature and other services, elaboration of letters, editing and elaboration of spreadsheets and financial reports, archiving and organization of documentation.

Silmara Villas Boas and Guilherme Barrozo, both are Biology students at the Brasilia University (UNB) and will serve as Conservation Interns for the Mergus Project, working the technical staff group to develop the project in the field and in the IAT headquarter.

Instituto Amada Terra de Inclusão Social (IAT)
will administer the financial resources

Instituto Amada Terra (IAT) has been involved in environmental education activities in the Chapada dos Veadeiros for many years, specially participating in environmental awareness events. The IAT carried out several environmental activities, such as the Brazilian Environment Day Event and Environmental Week conducting: (i) environmental photo contest; (ii) knowledge center for municipal education network; (iii) performing plays and art workshops; (iv) lectures and workshops; (iv) video and musical shows every year.

In order to carry out the Mergus project, IAT has the partner of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park (PNCV); the Bird Monitoring Center (CEMAVE); the Mais Cerrado Foundation (FMC); University of Brasília (UnB); Federal University of Minas Gerais, and Fluminense Federal University.

The IAT has been involved in the discussions of the Chapada dos Veadeiros aquatic ecosystems protection with the objective of waters protecting from the hydropower projects implantation projects that will impact the Brazilian Merganser habitats.