Of our many achievements in our 30 years of history, I am very proud to have helped form our team. Some of the members who founded the organization were young interns working on the conservation project for the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus), Claudio Padua’s doctoral subject in Morro do Diabo State Park (PEMD), extreme west of the state of São Paulo, known as Pontal do Paranapanema. They were attracted by the chance to go out into the field and put into practice what they theoretically learned in the classroom. With them, we founded IPÊ in 1992, a remarkable year for nature conservation in Brazil and in the world, especially on account of Rio-92, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Conservation was on the rise at that time! We wanted to save the world!
Claudio’s doctorate showed the ecology of the black lion tamarin and its plasticity, or how this small primate behaved and lived in the different habitats found in PEMD, the largest remnant of native forest of the species. The tamarin had been considered extinct for over 60 years and was among the 10 most endangered species on the IUCN list at the time. The study, planned to last a year, ended up taking three and a half years, precious time for us to understand the complexity of conservation. We discovered that the range of needs is much greater than the study of a species, even though we know that this is a fundamental step to protect any element of nature.
Other fields were added, such as habitat protection combined with income generation, especially for the less fortunate. Since the region is the second poorest in the state of São Paulo, the IPÊ team began to seek sustainable alternatives to improve the lives of local families, combining income with environmental conservation. We then started offering workshops on how to start and maintain seedling nurseries for reforestation, how to plant Agroforestry Systems (AFS) and produce handicrafts inspired by regional species.
We then took a bigger step, planning the landscape as a whole, outlining the priority areas that deserve increased attention in the forest restoration program. One of the results is what we call the Map of Dreams for Pontal, composed of images that indicate where forest corridors, small forests or protection strips around the remaining native forests must be planted.
We also look for influencing public policies that benefit nature and people, whenever possible. This has been possible through the results of our surveys, on the basis of which we make decisions. Examples include the creation of a new protected area, the Mico-Leão Preto Ecological Station, and the inclusion of environmental issues in the drafting of regional socio-environmental laws.
The integrated actions became our Conservation Model, heavily inspired by Conservation Biology, a theme that originated one of the institute’s most relevant fronts, conservation education. The desire to share knowledge was born along with the creation of IPÊ, in Piracicaba (SP). We wanted to have an academic arm from the beginning, but after some failed attempts, we ended up founding our own school in 1996, Brazilian Center for Conservation Biology, which evolved into School of Environmental Conservation and Sustainability – ESCAS.
A few years later, ESCAS-IPÊ obtained approval from Capes to offer the first Professional Master’s Degree in the environmental area in the country, in 2008, being also the first socio-environmental NGO to obtain this accreditation. We fulfilled all the necessary requirements, such as the number of PhDs and publications. We have also developed a postgraduate course in Social and Environmental Business and we still offer short courses in numerous topics, such as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance).
Becoming more experienced and ready to coordinate their own projects, some of the co-founders of IPÊ took new initiatives, forming interdisciplinary teams and researching other species such as jaguar, black-faced lion tamarin (studies we have conducted for 15 years), manatee, and tapir, which led us to biomes such as the Pantanal and the Cerrado. IPÊ has also been working for decades with the issue of protection of springs and springs that make up the Cantareira System (SP), on which millions of people and countless industries depend. Comprehensive studies of adequate reforestation and changes to agricultural practices have been applied with regional success. In the Amazon, IPÊ has been present for many years in Lower Rio Negro and even own a school boat that allows sailing through riverside communities and promoting initiatives such as community-based tourism and the production chain of sustainable goods. In other Amazon regions, IPÊ works with conservation units, several public agencies and civil society, promoting integrated conservation solutions.
In 2003, we created a Sustainable Business Unit, for integration with the private sector, in addition to taking care of community products. Our business partnerships have been fundamental, as they allow us to establish ourselves as an institution, investing in management and transparency, from the rendering of accounts to the communication of our projects, thus granting professionalism to our work.
None of this would be possible without an engaged team that shares common ideals. These feelings multiply and end up going beyond our internal team.
Our ESCAS-IPÊ students also promote socio-environmental transformations. They are IPÊ seeds spread over several places in Brazil and the world. This legacy makes a difference. Education with the noble purpose of protecting life brings collective benefits that become even stronger when we use science as a starting point for action. It is a great investment for a more promising future. Our advisors and partners also join forces in the achievements: there are 6 million trees planted in the Atlantic Forest, more than 7 thousand students have studied at ESCAS-IPÊ, more than 200 families benefited and 12 thousand people positively impacted every year by our actions.
IPÊ’s causes move people and attract them to the institution’s projects. Defending life, whether plant, animal or people, contributes to the balance of elements that guarantee the natural dynamics of everything that inhabits the Earth. This principle provides opportunities for people who might not otherwise have had them, to lead more dignified lives, and at the same time contribute to some aspect of local nature conservation.
Biodiversity conservation with sustainability and social improvements has been an arduous path that needs continuity and persistence. Demands increase over time, as pressures are intense and increasing. But the strength seems to come from within each one who gets involved and feels the pulse of the charm of protecting the socio-environmental riches that we have inherited on this planet. Perhaps this is the secret of IPÊ’s history: working for a cause greater than ourselves as individuals. It is the cry for the wholeness of life in its fullest manifestation. The strength that drives us is the will to be better and better to contribute to what we believe to be valuable.
President of IPÊ