Clovis Borges is a veterinarian and zoologist from Paraná who is demonstrating how Brazil can address its extensive environmental problems with new awareness and technical proficiency.
The New Idea
Brazil's mounting environmental problems have become so obvious that both the Brazilian public and world population--and now many of the major institutions (the World Bank and at least some businesses and government agencies in Brazil)--have become concerned. A number of these actors are beginning to realize that they must at least understand the environmental implications of their actions. Some are beginning to act to avert or mitigate the damage.As a result, there is now a demand for sound, credible technical environmental support in business and government as well as among citizens' groups. Clovis believes that the government's many agencies are incapable of responding adequately or promptly.At the same time that the country's institutions are beginning to recognize this critical need, year after year Brazil is losing many of the biologists and other environmental professionals that it trains. Outside of government, there are almost no jobs for them. They graduate, cannot find work, and drift into other callings.Clovis created the non-profit Wildlife Research and Environmental Education Society (SPVS) to solve both problems. His organization has a small core staff and forty active associates ready to help as needed; all are young environmental scientists and technicians. SPVS plans to build an economic base by helping institutions solve their environmental problems on contract. Any future profits are to be reinvested in major environmental research/action and education initiatives that the group's members feel are most important.Clovis hopes SPVS will help major institutions learn how to deal with what is now an unfamiliar dimension of decision-making. At the same time, these institutions will be setting a standard of professional performance that will help them build skilled internal capacity. Clovis and his colleagues are starting to help institutions develop conservation and resource management plans and put new or restored ecosystems in place. They also give technical assistance to zoos, animal reserves, and parks. SPVS pursues its own objectives as well. The organization prepares environmental education materials ranging from postcards to teaching materials for use in schools. Its members give environmental lectures and seminars. It documents and publicizes the damage to flora and fauna caused by ill-planned development of all sorts. It hopes to survey and monitor the condition of Parana's plants and wildlife and to help reintroduce endangered species into the areas from where they have disappeared. If he can make this first SPVS group a success, Clovis hopes to expand it throughout Brazil, either through a series of chapters and/or as others copy his model. He already has 450 would-be associates ready to work across Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The burning of the Amazon has become a global scandal. The damage that has been done to other parts of this enormous country are less widely known but no less real. Parana state is a good example: At the beginning of this century it was 80 percent forests. Now it is only 5 percent forest, and in another decade that number will be halved to only 2.5 percent. The region's ecosystem has been thrown off balance, the climate modified, much valuable soil lost, and a great deal of the native flora and fauna have disappeared. Even the parks and reserves are threatened.Public ignorance, poverty aggravated by both the debt crisis and the collapse of prices for many agricultural products on the world market, a lingering frontier mentality, and a government run by short-term ministers prone to give long-term concerns like conservation short shrift have all aggravated the problem. These factors have combined to create a situation that cries out for (1) understanding and education and (2) practical alternative ways the country can go about managing the natural resource base on which it must depend.Clovis argues that continued exclusive reliance on the government guarantees failure. Independent citizen groups with the highest level of technical competency must define the issue and demonstrate how society should_oand can quite practically_orespond.
Increasingly concerned themselves and confronted with rising public concern, a large company named Petrobras decided to turn an old, devastated mining area into a zoological garden. Clovis began working with them, gently and patiently winning their confidence and unfolding a sounder, more sustainable alternative.Clovis and his colleagues surveyed what wildlife lived in analogous, healthy areas. They analyzed how the area might be restored to its natural cover through a series of in-between steps, starting with the introduction of the most resistant strains. By creating a nursery for native species and breeding indigenous animals once their natural fodder was established, they demonstrated how to speed such restoration work.Clovis and his associates are also working with the local population to help them understand the emerging ecosystem and how to live with and use it responsibly. They have increased the density of the herb matte, widely used as a popular tea in the region, to increase the population's sense of the forest-to-be's value. Clovis has had to work at least as hard to educate and move the Petrobras officials along. His approach, unique in the region, is a lot harder to understand and appreciate initially than a zoo or monoculture. As these officials learn, reinforced by the favorable press coverage Clovis encourages, Clovis hopes they will (1) adopt the approach in other areas and (2) discover the value of environmental professionals effectively deployed.If Clovis and the SPVS can multiply such examples, they will be well on the way to achieving the environmental and educational impact they seek. Eventually such work should give SPVS the financial independence it needs to carry out its other programs.Clovis's plans for this second half of his agenda include several potentially significant public education initiatives. He would like SPVS to start a teacher-training program to help public school educators introduce and make good use of environmental education in their curriculum. As the media has grown sensitive and open to the issue, he plans to work with journalists systematically.
Clovis was born in Curitiba, Parana, in 1959, the son of a commercial printer. He grew up loving nature and animals. As an undergraduate, he studied veterinary medicine and then went on to do advanced work in zoology. He earned both degrees from the Federal University of Parana. Following his personal and professional interests, he has done extensive research on the wildlife of Parana, cataloguing the flora and fauna of several state and national parks and documenting endangered species in the region.Clovis worked for a while for the Natural History Museum of the city of Curitiba. However, he became disillusioned with how the government bureaucracy handled environmental issues and left to create a more effective alternative.