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Serra da Capivara National Park and Permanent Preservation Areas

Date of Submission: 16/09/1998
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Braziliian Institute of Environment and Renewalable Natural Resources (IBAMA)
Coordinates: Long. W. 42°10' - 42°, Lat. S. 08°26' - 08°54' : State of Piaul
Ref.: 1125
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Area: 129.139,9 hectares- Perimeter: 214,2 Km

Three Permanent Preservation Area's (APP's), contiguous to the Park, were created as Biological Reserves on 12th March 1990, of 35.000 ha. total area:

Area l: Serra Vermelba/Angelical   8.500 ha, perim. 60 Km;

Area Il: Serra do Cumbre/Chapada da Pedra Hume 18.500 ha, perim. 90 Km

Area lil: Serra da Capivara/Baixao das Andorinhas 8.000 ha, perim. 50 Km

Climate: hot semi-arid with 5 month dry winter.

. temp: 28° C year average.

· pluv: extremes: 250 to 1.200 mm total /year; average: 689 mm total/year.

Altitude: +/-200 - 630 m.

Geomorphology and hydrology:

Three geomorphologic units shape the area: 1. west of the area, arenite metamorphic high plateau's (Planalto), 500-630 m high, with homogeneous plane or slightly undulated tops. 2. In the centre, the Cuesta zone: highly irregular Siluro-Devonian arenite network of canyons, ravines, corridors and eroded formations and " ruins" . 3. eastward, a 60 to 80 Km erosion plain with isolated inselbergs of harder granites and calcareous islets.

The chapada's tops are covered by laterite well drained soils. Iron oxides hard concretion cover of 1-2 mm appear on the chapada's limits and Cuesta edges, where soils were washed out, forming sterile area's. In the ravines and at the canyons' ends, silex gravel and rocks, left by brutal water invasions, accumulate. In the plain and shallow valleys, clay and sands deposited. White alluvial sands appeor in the valleys when rivers dry out.

Main stream, Piaui, is affluent of the Parnaiba river. With one exception, there is no permanent river in the area. Piaul and affluents' dry beds suddenly transform in torrents in the rainy season. A small stream alone: Olho d'Agua da Cota, originating on the arenite chapada's, is permanent. Bare rock eroded reservoirs in the Cuesta, at cliff's bases under waterfalls and in cracks, store rain water in the dry season (caldeirao:"cooking pot"). Water is also stored within rare calcareous caves, granite depressions and in temporary lakes in the plain. Small dams on streams can store water for up to three years. Deep underground water is generally brackish or salty.

Vegetation (see Caatinga description)

As much as 14 phyto-sociologic units were described in the area and buffer zone.

Dense shrub Caatinga (canopy: 8 m) grows on chapada and Cuesta tops. On eroded chapada edges grow a specific dry-land Open shrub Caatinga.

Semi-deciduous gallery forests grow in Cuesta's ravines and down the cliffs, in places where organic soil accumulate. Floristic composition changes and forests become more open and tall (25 m) as canyons deepen. In dryer valleys grows a Forested castinga (Deciduous open low forest).

Down the valleys and in plains south of the Cuesta grow Forested and Shrub caatinga's, on silex gravel limiting herbaceous vegetation. Plain's Forested dense Caatinga grows on richer soils of the Cuesta base and deepest valleys of Piaul affluents. "High" canopy reaches 12 meters. Margins of the Piaui river are totally cultivated.

On the granite and magmatic inselbergs grow Open or Dense forested Caatinga's, and secondary formation of Open shrub Caatinga. On calcareous massifs grows a rare and degraded specific Open forested Caatinga.


Fauna of the region is poorly studied. Semi-deciduous forests are known to be important refuges in the dry season (Caatinga fauna is paradoxically poorly adapted to arid conditions). Original rodent (7 sp.) and armadillo (5 sp.) fauna seem to have been impacted by hunting (reduced deer and peccary populations). Primates are restricted to few remains of forested area's. Jaguar and pumas are under threat of local peasants, defending their cattle. 4 minor feline species were observed. 24 bat and 208 bird species were counted, many endemic of the semi-arid regions. Artificial and natural lakes are important bird migration refuges. 17 amphibians, 17 lizard and 17 snake species, many endemic of the Castinga were counted. One iguana (Tapinurus sp.), abundant in the Park, is a new species for science, actually in process of being described. Small caiman population in lakes and reservoirs of the buffer zone is the only known crocodilian population of the Caatinga. Several small fishes are observed in the only permanent stream and some permanent water reservoirs of the Cuesta. At least one may be a new species for science.

This shows that local fauna is extremely rich and of outstanding interest for science, although suffering from man's impacts. Serra da Capivara may be considered as Caatinga biome's maior fauna refuge.

Local population

Around 60 families live in the Park (1994), corresponding to around 300 people: mainly small farmers (land owners) and traditional settlers (posseiros). They are generally extremely poor. They raise some cattle and sheep, cultivate for their own consume, collect wild honey using fire and, in the dry season, hunt to complement their diet. Hunting in that season is easy near water points. Fire wood and timber for fences and houses are also collected.

Sporadic fires destroyed area's of the Park, lit by hunters, honey collectors or spreading from burning fields in the Park and buffer zone. Caatinga's trees are not adapted to fire (unlike Cerrado's) and die out rapidly, replaced by secondary shrubs.

Tourism is controlled. Groups of maximum 10 tourists with a licensed guide are allowed, to selected archaeological sites. Tourist number vary from +/- 320 to 1.200/year (1992-94).

Buffer zone

Three municipalities and 5 small villages, of total population 121.3447 surround the Park (density: 4,07 inhab./Km2). Land is mainly rural. Small minority of the population owns land, while a majority (+ than 65%) is poor7 illiterate, cultivate for big landowners or survive from small agriculture in public or no man's land (settlers), remote from the ranches and farms. Poor families custom to be large (5 - 14 people).

Land's productivity mainly depends on water. Small farmers and settlers plant cotton, corn, beans, and manioc, raise few pigs, chicken, sheep's and goats. In prolonged drought, occurring in average every 6 to7 years, many are forced to abandon their land and search for seasonal work in cities or plantations in other states. Big landowners have numerous cattle and extensive cashew plantations, employing underpaid women and children for harvest. Big properties have sufficient water supplies and technology to compensate drought impacts.

In order to reduce environmental impacts in the Park and buffer zone, due to improper land uses, the FUNDHAM NGO is implementing, within the APP's around the Park, programmes of health support, environmental education and sustainable job creation (local products marketing). Activities involve population living within the Park as well as from the buffer zone.

Archaeology history and culture

More than 360 archaeological sites, rock paintings and engravings were sensed in the region, that justified recognition of Serra da Capivara as Culturai Worid Heritage in 1991.

First rock paintings seem to date from 23.000 years (Holocene), but '4C dating indicate occupation since Plelstocene (+/- 60.000 years ago), questioning the actual theories on first men's colonisation of the Americas. Successive styles of paintings, engravings and remains (+/-12.000 and 6.000 years old) allow to retrace the evolution of successive hunters-collectors cultures and lifestyles. Holocene hunters killed actually extinct animals, like Giant Sloth's, Giant Armadillos, Brazilian Bears, Sword-Teeth Tigers, Mastodons, American Horses and Lamas. Climate was more humid and ecosystems were savannah's. 3.000 years ago, agriculturist-ceramist culture started. Early agriculturists used polished stones and cultivated corn, beans, pea-nuts and calabashes. Their villages were circular and they used to bury their deaths in ceramic urns. Climate was then semi-arid.

When Europeans arrived in 1662, at least 5 Indian tribes lived in the region. Last local Indians were decimated in the 18th century. First colons' activity was extensive cattle breeding in big properties, for meat supply of the sugar cane producing coast. Subsistence agriculture started on residual land from the 18th century.

Actual regional culture is rich in legends, traditional feasts and sustainable ways to survive from arid land's scarce resources.

Access and infrastructure

Access by road, 530 Km from Teresina (Pi) and 300 Km from Petrolina (Pe). The Park has no visitation facility, no fence, no surveillance posts, no accessible sleeping and administrative facilities for functionaries and researchers (1994). ParKs limits are indicated and access roads fenced off. On the archaeological sites, foot-bridges and stairs were installed to regulate access, limit impact and avoid vandalism. Permanent staff is reduced to 3. Private company was contracted by IBAMA for Park's watch and guard (1994).