Lou, which kind of work have you been developing at IBAMA?
Between the works I've been developing since many years, at IBAMA there is a project called"Orchids from Brazil". the Orquidário Nacional do IBAMA has been created here in Brasilia and has the purpose to serve as infra-structure for the researches.
The orchids collection grow according to the development of a certain project. For example, I did a study about Cattleya labiata, so there is a good collection of this species, as well as Cattleya warneri, Laelia purpurata, Cyrtopodium because of the works I have done. As I said, the nursery is big and the collection grows in proportion of those projects.
On the other hand, after a long fight, I came to the conclusion that the best preservation work I could do, would be under publication form. This is a way of giving to next generations, by the books, samples of what there was or there will still be in Brazil, in terms of orchids. This project also includes a program of environment education with posters.
How the distribution and the divulgation of those educational posters have been done?
Besides the distribution made by IBAMA which sends them to the local administration in the states, I also distribute them directly. The local administrations send the posters to schools but it is not very well done yet. I distribute them in the shows and sent, by mail, to people who have influence in the associations of orchid lovers and ask them to distribute. Unfortunately, some times, people who love cutting figures get those posters, it is a another problem but we can not keep everything under control.
Besides those works, this project also diversifies it self in others sectors. For example, ECT always calls me in order to suggest ideas to do stamps or develop works with orchids.
This project also helps many foreign researchers who study our species and their works are published with illustrations and information I sent to them. I never deny to sent my photos abroad because the researchers are very serious and always mention the author. Often, I receive from Germany, Switzerland, France, United States, England, solicitations for slides concerning this or that Brazilian species and I send them by my own, it is my contribution.
For example, now, I am collaborating with Dr. Carl Withner, in his work about Encyclia. Besides, of course, my written works which are published here and abroad.
Where do you publish your works? Which are the magazines you cooperate with?
I always publish my works in Brazil, German and United States. For not taking any risk and avoid telling that there was no register abroad, I publish them in two German Magazines, "Die Orchids" and "Schlechteriana". In the United States, in "Orchid Digest" or in "Orchids", from American Orchid Society - AOS. In Brazil, I publish in "Caob Magazine" and sometimes, in "Orquidário Magazine" (from OrquidaRio, a local association). Briefly, I always try to send my work to every corner on the earth so I am protected, every one see where it occurs. I always contribute to those magazines and also in Venezuela to "Orquideophilo magasin", from The Sociedad Venezolana de Ciências Naturales - Comité de Orquideologia.
Do you find some difficulties to carry out your projects?
I have been having some troubles with my way of working. I have been producing a lot, getting some dislike, mainly in Brazil as I have been publishing a lot. I publish a lot because I have satisfactory even excellent conditions to work
Working at IBAMA, I have some facilities, some resources and finally, I have time at my disposal. In the other hand, I resume my works in only one phrase: I feel my self emotionally dependent upon the orchids. I have no holy day, carnival, Saturday nor Sunday. I always come to IBAMA when I am not traveling. All my work depends on me: photos, fertilizer, pot, reproduction through capsule. I don't do the reproduction itself but I sent the capsules to any corner of the world and nowadays I cooperate with Chácara Bela Vista (in Assis, state of São Paulo) for the reproduction by seeds of Cyrtopodium. Everything someone ask me, I sent by mail. I don't want nothing in exchange, it is just my collaboration for preserving those species. The commercial growers can even sell the plants but I do not want anything, I just send them the capsules.
Do you succeed, in some way or other, in doing at IBAMA exactly you intend to you. How is it possible?
In a certain way, it's sometimes inexplicable, I got a status, an independent position that I do my job now independently of the IBAMA..
Everything I do, even the works published abroad, I attached it to IBAMA because this is my home, because I love it. I have always been working here since it was IBDF.
Concerning my job, I love IBAMA where I am attached but I fight against many difficulties. I am always come into collision with my president and my director, I collide with every one who tries to make my projects, my activities, not viable. They tell they do not like my job, my way of working because I work on my own. I do not care, I am very independent but in Brazil is the only way to producing something. If I put myself in situation of accepting the "status quo", in the situation of an authentic public functionary, I would be living in that apathy, remaining in a state of rest, waiting for death, without producing nothing at all. My way of living is another one. I am extremely dynamic, I can not afford inertia, apathy, standing with arms across. I would never come to the Institute for taking coffee, reading the newspaper, wait for bus for going back home and take my salary at the end of the month. It would cause my an infarct.
I should point out the importance of what IBAMA provides for me, the travels and daily expenses to go to far-away, remote habitats. Those contacts in practically untouched areas corroborate to complete my researches, to the development of my works and to make many discoveries. If I want to go to Pantanal, stay a week, I go. There are many problems but, as I am already well know, things finish to happen in my favor. This is very important. Publication and personal expenses are my responsibility. For example, I have Nikon cameras with special objectives, given by my father, for helping in my work and when I travel abroad and getting some money for the lectures, I immediately buy equipment to help in my researches.
Besides the educational project through posters, what else has been done? Which projects are going on and which are the results you really get? Brief, which is IBAMA "modus operandis" ?
Concerning the point of view of the preservation, only the orchids placed inside the IBAMA protected areas formed are safety (even thus between inverted commas). Out of those parks and forest reserves, it is practically impossible to protect them. This is a subject about what I have been fighting a lot.
The orchids societies should be conscientious of the necessity of an educational environment program to their associates. The activities has always been turning to indiscriminate collect. People are used to go to wood to collect beyond their needs. When I asked some people about this, they told me they want to make changes with other regions of the country.
So the harvest is always predatory and they are still based on this old premise which makes us laugh. They allege taking the orchids before the tree are cut down. Just imagine, based on this proposition, every time someone arrives at one place, he will take everything, very quickly because tomorrow the wood could not be there. I think this is not the right way. The associations do not develop any program of environment education.
Arrest made by an IBAMA's staff, leaded by Lou Menezes.
Illegal trade of orchids and rocks taken in preserved areas.
Besides, we take repressive measures. Two weeks ago, under my command, a group of IBAMA inspectors confiscated some trucks carrying stones and orchids from a preserved areas. We succeeded in confiscated as you can see on the photos. In fact, nowadays, I fight for publication although I suffer for not having the power to do more. There are the preserved areas but there are invasions, theft, corruption of IBAMA functionaries. The foresters, sometimes, get drink-money to collect plants for the orchids lovers, in the country-side. The orchid lovers tell this. They say that IBAMA does not do anything and that they know who offered drink-money to foresters placed in remote forest-reserves and, in exchanging this, they gave the plants. So, this is a very complex problem.
IBAMA needs more people for rendering more effective the control. We have parks and forest reserves where only one person is taking care of million and million of hectares. There are others with nobody, the area is just delimited. There are some researches who are, in fact, collectors for commercial reasons. All those things are happening. Some years ago, I have done a seizure in an orchid show in the State of Espírito Santo which provoked a terrible gossip. I was attacked by the press of this state. There are some people who live under the renown of researchers, they succeed in getting a unreal status of researchers but they are, in fact, businessmen and enjoy, at the press, of a reputation of being great researchers.
IBAMA has all those activities but all those things are extremely difficult.
I think the reproduction of the species in laboratory should be the great priority in order to make the harvest of natives plants definitively forbidden. This would be the consciousness in the high level which is very hard to get within the next years. The orchid lover should be conscious that he should buy plants only reproduced in laboratory however he has an odd concept that the plant reproduced in laboratory is not any more the same as that found in the nature. He wants the last one, not those reproduced in laboratory.
There are some orchids lovers that has an parallel economical activity as collectors for commercial growers.
Another point of view of the depredation concerns the mode of cultivating certain plants. Since 4 or 5 years ago, set up in Brazil the mania of cultivating Catasetineas. This is a disaster. There are some orchids growers which are getting ridding of their plants in order to get only Catasetum because nowadays, this is the passion. Result of all this, Mato Grosso and areas surrounding Brasilia, like Anapolis, are been submitted to such a devastation about what I do not have the idea of the extent. They collect, collect and still collect Catasetum.
We received a denouncement about two people who are building enormous nurseries in São José do Rio Preto and are receiving trucks full of Catasetum coming from Mato Grosso do Sul. Until now, we could not do anything but we will.
Some of growers-leaders of Catasetum call themselves as preservers. To me, they have a ecologically correct speech, they say they are protecting, reproducing but it is not true. They have been cleaning the whole areas. Recently, Dr. Cleber Lacerda, who is with Francisco Miranda, a great expert in Catasetum, told me that nowadays he regretted to have brought some people to the habitats that he was the only person to know because those people went there again and cleaned the areas since the Amazon to Minas Gerais and Central Brazil. Those are areas of great distribution of Catasetum. Those manias are extremely harmful. There are some particularities involving this mode that I do not agree and should explain my point of view because I think things are not well conducted. As I said, the first priority should be the reproduction of native species and the cross of varieties of Catasetum.
Why spend time to cross Catasetum and Galeandra which is an aberrant, odd thing, which guide to no where? There is no coherence in this, American and Japanese growers are 100 years beyond us with those odd crosses. People should reproduce the species and send the capsules to each corner in the world. That should be the priority.
You really fight for what you believe.
Of course! And what I want more? The first thing is to live a long life but before dying, I want to see my way paved of publication about Brazilian orchids. This is my basic aim. Produce a lot, despite of my deficiencies since every one has his own limit but I have some cultural privilege of coming from a family of intellectual people, I have a good cultural base and I have time. Those facilities help me to walk faster in this area. I have studied Latin for 4 or 5 years in order to develop my diagnoses and I still submit them for appreciation to Father Gonzalez. Sometimes, he makes a joke saying that the disciple overcomes the master, just for affection because he is a erudite person. I wish I had his culture, Greek, Latin, he knows everything.
I live this motto, I live this situation, I am emotionally dependent upon the orchids.
And about Dicksonia preservation, the use of tree fern fiber, what is your position?
This a crucial problem because tree fern is excellent, it is a God's gift, it is almost irreplaceable and very little has been done.
The Dicksonia selowiana extraction remains an endless problem for IBAMA. It is forbidden but the illegal trade exists. Sometimes, I am shocked with the quantity of young plants coming from Paraná, São Paulo and, mainly, Santa Catarina. In my opinion, it is necessary to start a large extent reproduction although we have this difficult problem to be overcame because, more than the orchids, Dicksonia grows at a snail's gallop. And we live an immediate policy, the Brazilian people are immediate. But we should start. If our parents, our ancestors would start, we were at the point of seeing the results. It is necessary to develop a process of reproducing Dicksonia. Something has been done but it is minimal. I also think that it is primordial to develop alternative substrates, to do researches in this field as Augusto Burle, in Recife, has been doing with coxim.
After all, there is or there is not a project to reproduce Dicksonia? Nothing has been doing until now?
I am not well informed about it but some companies in Santa Catarina are doing this. They want to sell tree fern so they present projects but this is not my section, so I do not know it very well. But it is something very weak, without consistency, we stay in this financial, personal dependence, lack of engagement and dedication.
We are informed that IBAMA knows about the falsified hall-marks to exportation. What do you say about this?
It has always existed and IBAMA fights against all those things but falsification in all levels of the society is reality and here, unfortunately, it could not be an exception. Falsification of wood extraction guides in Amazon, we see it every day in the newspapers.
What IBAMA need to fight more efficiently? Budget? Staff? Honest, qualified people?
All those things. There is lack of human material, let say in this way. To do a more efficient control, IBAMA needs what? To increase the staff of inspectors but it is not possible because the new contracts and public concourse are restrain due to Government program. Then, we would need serious people involved with preservation problems. I always say that IBAMA need naturalists who live the environment cause with love, dedication. Enough with bureaucratic functionaries who execute the law and their obligations in a cold way, as real robots.
If I am fond of orchids, if I have this dedication to them, there are some other people who are like me regarding to other subjects and the progress is made by small things, it is not uniform. We have here, a young man, in pisciculture section, who is very interested. In wood section, we have another great expert in mahogany, in forest projects, Antonio Bezerra who also is Forest Engineer. IBAMA has a excellent technical staff but many of those people are not in a correct, adequate place and there is also deficiency of personal, low salaries and so on. This is the big problem: the staff is not in an adequate place.
Mainly in this environment cause, adequate people should be in adequate places. The positions should not be occupied by politicians who loosen the elections. This is the crucial problem.
Just now, we are living a tragedy here. We do no know what IBAMA will become. An agency or something else? Nothing is defined because the Government reforms. Although the public functionaries are against the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, I am in favor. This attitude is contested but I have a great affinity, I think we never have such a serious president, so well intentioned. In every reforms, in every country, to get amelioration in life quality and richness, as every one knows, the projects, the programs, the reforms sacrifice part of the population. As I said, Brazilian people want immediate results, they do not want wait. Since 3 years ago, we have a stable money but the Cassandras are always saying that in one or two months, our money will get down. There are those politicians and entrepreneurs who are expecting and hoping for this, so they can get more money. I am totally in favor of the governmental reforms. The deficiencies of the Public Service are calamitous, only who loves his job develops a work. I believe that only 30 or 40% of the public functionaries really develop a conscious and serious job. The rest is allegory.
How do you succeed in publishing your work in Brazil?
Due to the distinctness I put, people think that my works are supported by IBAMA but it is not true. All my books and publications are paid by private companies and institutions. My book "Laelia purpurata" had the whole project paid by Ceval (private society).
Which are the conditions of orchids cultivation here in Brasilia?
Here, we enjoy a privilege. We are at 1.000m altitude and we can cultivate almost everything, until the plants from lowlands grow well here. It is interesting, isn't it?
What is the reason? Is it the drop of temperature at night, so important for the blooming?
Exactly! This difference is very important - warm days, cool nights. See the rupicola Laelias in Minas Gerais, during the day they almost burn and at night they have the humidity, the mist and the drop of the temperature. During the day, we can feel the hotness get out of the stones. The night are cold.
Orchids cultivation works well in Brasilia and we have only one problems, the greenhouses can not be open. They should be closed to retain the humidity and should have automatic watering. In our greenhouse, we optioned for putting a kind of plastic tissue calls sombrite. So, everything grows well although we have some difficulties with plants coming from Amazon which are hard to be cultivate . It is due to the need of high level of humidity, not to the temperature because Amazon is cool at night. The first time, I went there, I near dye with cold in an open boat, in Trombetas river. I did not bring a coat and during 5 hours I trembled.
Here the cold is dry with an environment humidity of about 10%, almost like a desert.
So here is very well for Dendrobium species, isn't it?
They grow very well, wonderful because of June, July coldness. I like those which produce flowers in clusters.
Can you tell a little about yourself, how did you get interested in orchids, what is your educational formation?
I start getting interest in orchids since my teenagers when I was about 14, 15 years old. Some people, not all people, are fascinated for orchids and I am part of those people who are fascinated for them. I started with some plants and a strongly curiosity in my journeys into the woods.
When I started the College, where I finally got degree on Forest Engineer, Ecology and Botany, I was called to work at IBDF. I was not looking for a job but this kind of things happens. When I was finishing Ecology course and I had already got my degree in Forest Engineer, a friend of mine called me to work in Parks Departments, at the old IBDF, nowadays IBAMA. When I got there, I was totally confused with all those papers, I was a little puzzled without knowing to work with processes and so on. Finally, I discovered that I could conciliate my job and my hobby of cultivate orchids and doing researches. Shyly I started to do my works and, since the first, I did not have problems to be accepted abroad and it was published by Orchid Digest. Little by little, I have been developing my works, plunging into the species, keep in intensive contact with other researches. With the publications I became known. Then I published my first book "Cattleya labiata" .Since that, things are very well known. I started my job taking the direction to foreign publications, perhaps that was my good luck.
All those things are a miracle which has been occurring in my life because happy is that person who can work in what he or she loves. This work done with so much dedication is the result of this situation. I work with what I love.
I travel often and I familiarized with Brazilian flora, I know there is many thing to be done, a lot of thing to be studied, registered and that is what I propose myself to do: keep on with the work I have been doing.
Sometimes, people at IBAMA, ask me: And after, when you'll be dead? What will go on?
I try to make a joke about this and as I know that, unfortunately in Brazil, nothing has a continuity, I used to say: After Lou, the deluge. This is the melancholic reality. If I notice that I am about to pass away or when I get old, be sure, I will give my collection to big centers abroad because here there is no credibility for nothing. We don't know how will tomorrow be, but concerning researches there is not too many serious people involved. Even with IBAMA, I don't know what will happen tomorrow. We live in a period of changes and many people think that the researches should not exist inside IBAMA. For them, IBAMA would be a way, not an aim. I think it is a nonsense. I could go to a research center but the important is not where I am, the important is what I have been getting, producing, creating and I get more and more facilities because since you become know, the doors open easier. This a long date process and I need more time to get things much easier. We need time to reach what we want.
Interview done at IBAMA - DIREN/DIREF
Directory of Natural Resources/Department of Forest Resources.