Energisa Juntos

The rebirth of the tuiuiús: the symbol bird of the Pantanal returns home

Artificial nest, built with Energisa technology, makes tuiuiús reoccupy protected area

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Mato Grosso do Sul

At a point on the BR-262 highway on the way to the city of Corumbá, in Mato Grosso do Sul, a tall and imposing ipê tree was home to a nest of tuiuiús. The symbol bird of the Pantanal, with its black face, red chin and white wingspan of almost 3 meters, impresses with its flight and the construction of its nests in the treetops. In 2020, a huge series of fires destroyed 4.5 million hectares in the Pantanal region, destroying the vegetation and displacing the Pantanal fauna. The unprecedented tragedy hit one of the tuiuiús' most famous homes hard.

Because it was so famous, the nest and the ipê tree were tourist attractions in the region, listed as historical heritage sites in the municipality. The destruction of this entire area by fire has left the tuiuiús without a nest and the local residents distraught. Fires can be caused by natural phenomena as well as human activity, but in 2020 the numbers were the highest ever recorded. At the time, municipalities, the state and the country were unprepared to deal with fires in the way they needed to. In the midst of this crisis, a fire prevention committee was set up, coordinated by the Mato Grosso do Sul state government and with Energisa's participation. Energisa has spared no effort to prevent fires from happening, actively participating in this process of prevention and recovery of the affected areas. And the actions have been paying off. 

One of these actions had the help of Rodolfo Pinheiro, construction and maintenance manager at Energisa Mato Grosso do Sul, and brought the Pantanal's symbol bird back to a familiar landscape. Born in Corumbá, Rodolfo saw the famous tuiuiús nest when he was still a child. He remembers when his family, going on vacation or returning, would stop by the side of the highway to admire and photograph the birds flying and landing on the high nest. When the ipê tree that served as a home for the tuiuiús burned down, there was general sadness. Rodolfo couldn't have imagined that he would be part of the team that would bring the birds back.

The old touiui nest in the ipê treeThe old touiui nest in the ipê tree

The idea came from researcher Walfrido Tomás, from Embrapa Pantanal, and researcher Neiva Guedes, from the Blue Macaw Institute: to create an artificial nest, in the same way as is done in Europe with storks, which are birds from the same family as tuiuiús. The contact with Rodolfo and Energisa came about because of the technology for building high towers and metal structures, which could place the nest at the right height for the birds to readapt.

- When the fire happened, we were very upset, it was very sad. For me personally, and for the people who know. When they came to talk to me, I thought, "this is crazy", because I was the manager of the construction and maintenance department and it fell into my hands (along with my team, obviously) a business that related to my childhood, which I took pictures of and admired. Having the chance to help with the restoration was fantastic, and I was very lucky," said Rodolfo.

Energisa's technology was key to making the idea viable. In addition to the tall tower, Rodolfo's team used Walfrido's drawings to build an octagonal metal structure in the shape of a bowl, which would serve as a support for the birds and their nest. As some Energisa poles in the Pantanal are already occupied by bird nests, the team knew that the material was safe to house the touiuiús. Despite being close to the highway, the site was difficult to access due to a ravine. Without the aid of a truck, tractor or excavator, the Energisa team did all the drilling and fixing of the pole by hand. Always under the supervision of Embrapa, the pole was placed on the site and at a height close to that of the original nest. 

- When the idea came up, I took the project to the Pantanal Environment Foundation in the municipality of Corumbá. Everything went very quickly and Energisa embraced the project at that difficult time of the fires. We accompanied the installation so that the nest would be in the same place and at the same height as the original. Touiuiús are faithful to their nest sites, which are strategic for them because they have access to food and resources for subsistence - says Walfrido.

The installation of the nest was completed in 2020, and made the news in the Jornal Nacional. But then came the anxiety: would any tuiuiú return? Would they choose that strange metal structure to build their nest again next to the highway, in that area already listed as a historical heritage site? Energisa technicians soon photographed the return of the touiui. The symbol bird of the Pantanal was back in its place, adopting the artificial nest with a panoramic view of the largest floodplain on the planet. A huge thrill for everyone involved in the project.

- It's a very gratifying moment! We managed to build the nest that used to be there in the piúva and was burnt down in last year's fires. Here it is, mission accomplished! The pair of touiuiús accepted the artificial nest - celebrates Emerson Leite, Energisa MS's networks and lines technician.

In addition to the return of the birds, another huge achievement was confirmed on October 8, 2023. For the first time, tuiuiú chicks were born in an artificial nest. Sighted by Birdwatch biologists in the Pantanal, the event makes the project a complete success and shows how the union of environmental policies, good ideas, investment and technology can bring life back to areas affected by fire or human action.

 - It was very important to see the return of the tuiuiús and their reproduction in the artificial nest. The species occurs from the south of the USA to the north of Argentina and this is a pioneering project that sends a great message about the environmental impact of misguided human actions. And it also serves as a monument, both to remind us of our mistakes and to show the resilience of nature and how joint and correct human actions can have a positive impact - reflects Walfrido.

First record of newborn touiui chicksFirst record of newborn touiui chicks

The construction of the nest also involved the whole of society and the local community. A Facebook group was created in which tourists and locals posted photos to help monitor the birds' adjustment to the nest. 

- We involve society through what we call citizen science, when the community provides researchers with photos and reports about a particular event. The original nest never failed to reproduce new touiuiús. A year before the fire, five new birds had hatched. Because of the drought in 2021 and 2022, the tuiuiús didn't breed. So to see in 2023 that the artificial nest is capable of sheltering and providing space for the birds to reproduce is something wonderful - Walfrido is thrilled. 

The nest is symbolic of what the bird represents for the Pantanal, but Energisa's environmental concerns and actions don't stop there. During the fires, Energisa donated PPE (personal protective equipment) and fuel to the fire brigades, as well as food for the animals displaced by the fire that were rescued from vulnerable situations. Energisa is also taking part in the Abrace o Pantanal (Embrace the Pantanal) project, which trains artificial intelligence to identify fire outbreaks and protect the Pantanal in Mato Grosso. Finally, the investment in agroforestry, in partnership with the Instituto Homem Pantaneiro, in the Serra do Amolar, helps to recover native species for replanting in areas affected by fires.

- Blue macaws nest in tree cavities, touiuiús in the canopy. We have a lot of experience with artificial macaw nests. Seeing this artificial touiui nest rebuilt in the same place as the historic nest is, apart from all the other benefits, an important educational action, so that we always remember the importance of preserving species and the environment - says Neiva Guedes.   

This set of actions makes the return of the tuiuiús' nest to its place of origin even more important and impactful. With the researchers' idea, Energisa's support and a trained technical team, persistence and nature's regenerative energy have found the paths to a happy flight back home.

Check out TV Morena's report below, with beautiful images of the tuiuiús' nest: 

Photos: Walfrido Tomas

Environment, Pantanal

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