Brazil Struggles to Control Invasive Animals and Plants

BRASILIA, Brazil, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - Dozens of non-native animal species - from water buffalo and wild boars to giant African snails - have invaded Brazil's environment, causing trouble for native ecosystems. They are all being considered this week at Brazil's first symposium on invasive species here in Brasilia.

There is no reliable data on the problem of nonindigenous invasive species in the country, but the Ministry of Environment has begun a study of the situation and the symposium is a first step toward understanding the problem. The symposium began Wednesday and will run through Friday.

An invasive species can be an animal, plant or microorganism that is transported from its native environment, where it does not cause harm, to an alien environment, often with disastrous consequences.

Brazilian plant communities have been invaded by exotics too - by wattles and bamboo, by thistles and grasses from other continents, by the Australian pine, and by gingers and bananas.

wattle

Acacia longifolia (Andrews) Black wattle is an invasive plant in Brazil. (Photo courtesy Horus Institute)
Andre Jean Deberdt, of the Brazilian Environmental Protection Institute (Ibama) says that a study by Cornell University researchers estimated worldwide losses of US$1.4 trillion per year due to invasive species.

The losses would total US$137 billion in the United States and US$49 billion in Brazil.

The main nonindigenous invasive species which cause damage in Brazil are wild boars, which the IUCN-World Conservation Union considers one of the most damaging invasive species.

Wild boars entered Brazil a decade ago from Uruguay and now inhabit all of the southern region of the country, plus Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso do Sul.

"They destroy crops and attack domestic animals, besides being a source of diseases that can destroy native fauna. They are extremely adaptable, living in most climates. Wild boars have become a serious problem in Rio Grande do Sul," Deberdt said.

Other troublesome invasive animal species in Brazil are the golden mussel and African snails.

African snails were brought to Brazil in 1980 as an alternative to escargots, but gourmets did not like them, and they were irresponsibly released. Deberdt says they now infest the whole country.

snail

African snails are not good to eat, but now they are loose in the Brazilian environment. (Photo by Silvia Ziller courtesy Horus Institute)
In August, Ibama prohibited the raising of African snails and ordered animal breeders working with them to destroy them within 60 days.

Some African plants were introduced as long ago as the colonial period. Today African grasses are taking over native pastures, wiping them out by invading their space in Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná.

Other problem exotics range from the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue fever to carp, fish that were brought into Brazil from Asia for display in fish tanks. The colorful, fast breeding fish were released into Brazilian rivers, where they are altering the aquatic environment.

Under current Brazilian legislation, no new species can be introduced into the country without authorization from Ibama.

The Horus Institute and The Nature Conservancy are building a Brazilian national database for alien invasive species. The initiative is needed, the organizers say, due to the lack of information on the problems caused by biological invasions in Brazil.

Many people in technical areas linked to environmental issues, as well as other people sensitive to the needs of nature conservation, have been contributing information to the database.

Contribute to the Brazilian invasive species database by visiting the Horus Institute website at: http://www.institutohorus.org.br/trabalhosa_basedados_eng.htm