Olympic Golfcourse Rio de Janeiro, 4 years after Olympia

Golfers play with an “audience” of alligators, boa constrictors, capybaras, and owls.

In Rio de Janeiro, golf is played in the midst of wildlife

In Rio de Janeiro, already it’s possible to play golf at one of the best golf courses in the world, enjoying the sport in the company of alligators. And capybaras.  With a little luck, you will also see a boa constrictor of about six feet. And all this under the watchful eyes of the many birds. Southern lapwings, called “Quero-quero” in Brazil because of sound they make, woodpeckers, and owls accompany golfers at most holes. Opening in November of 2015, the Olympic golf course in the neighborhood Tijuca was built for the Olympic Games of Rio 2016 despite lots of protests and lawsuits.

Positive environmental changes

“I heard lots of complaints,” said the golf course president Carlos Favoreto, remembering protestors that camped out for three months next to the course. “The Public Prosecutor’s Office continues their appeals, but an expert has been here three times at their bidding, and in all of them he has determined that the place is better now.”

The main controversy involves the fact that the golf course, which occupies a space greater than one million square meters, is in an environmentally protected area. The fact is, before golf entered the scene, the location was used as an illegal trash dump. Additionally, the animals were an easy target for the occasional hunters who came by.

Alligators beside the fairway at the Olympic Golfcourse in Rio de Janeiro

Wildlife in harmony with nature

According to the plans of golf architect Jil Hanse, a decades-old fig tree was to be felled. But those responsible for the golf course have given this imposing tree a place of honor. “We decided to leave the tree there and redirect the route,” says Favoreto. To restore the area, thousands of native trees and shrubs were planted. The grass was imported from Texas, which is in the United States. Drought tolerant, it uses up to 40% less water. According to those responsible for the course, the area today has over 167% more vegetation compared to the time prior to the Olympics.

With the growth of plants, little by little the wild animals began to return to their natural habitats. There are now 290 species cataloged, compared to 118 at the beginning of the restoration. Currently, it is possible to encounter dozens of alligators and capybaras. A boa constrictor and a sloth have been spotted quietly meandering near a green. Owls and their offspring sometimes leave their dens, near some of the holes or in the bunkers. Furthermore, countless butterflies color the late afternoon – including the rare Fluminense Swallowtail butterfly.

A owl is looking to the golf players at the Olympic Golfcourse Rio de Janeiro

None of the wildlife requires special treatment. “The wild animals of the Rio Olympic Golf Course are not fed by keepers or by golfers, as we carry out environmental education work on-site,” explains biologist Luciana Andrade, who is responsible for monitoring the fauna and flora of the course. “The area is in such an environmental equilibrium that it provides these animals with food and shelter.”

A few days ago, a bush dog was seen in the area, adding to the list of creatures that could one day bite unsuspecting golfers who are unfamiliar with potentially dangerous animals. Luciana however, assures that there is no risk to the players. In the event of an incident, a multidisciplinary team will be ready to assist anyone who needs help.

Translated by Hunter Schenewark from the newspaper ESTADO DE SAO PAULO / 15.07.2020

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