Young Rainforest Defender Helps Save Endangered Species

Robert Massicott, age 12, raises $1,200 to protect endangered species
Cotton-top Tamarin

Originally introduced to rainforest ecosystems as part of a geography course, 12-year-old Robert Massicott was captivated by what he saw. “The vibrant colors, the exotic animals – especially the snakes – really interested me. My favorite part of the world became the rainforests,” Massicott explained.

But for Massicott, just studying the rainforest wasn’t enough. After learning of the threats facing these areas he wanted to take action. Required to complete a community service project for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, Massicott decided to use the opportunity as a way to protect endangered species. His project, which raised money through donations and the sale of rainforest bracelets, was an overwhelming success and resulted in a $1,200 donation for Rainforest Trust to protect imperiled rainforests in Colombia.

When he began the project, Massicott knew he wanted to protect rainforest but wasn’t sure how. He began investigating his options on the internet, and eventually came across the Rainforest Trust web site. “I saw the Rainforest Trust site, read about what they did for the rainforest and thought it looked like a great organization,” Massicott said.

As Massicott browsed the Rainforest Trust site, he found himself attracted to two projects in particular. “I picked the tamarin project because they are primates, an animal I really wanted to protect. The other project I liked, the Golden poison dart frog, was obvious because I’ve always had a fondness for frogs.”

To raise money, Massicott ordered bracelets online that read “Help Save the Rainforest.” After designing and hanging posters about his project at Lincoln Middle School, which he attends in Meriden, Connecticut, Massicott sold several hundred to students and teachers.

“The bracelets were a good idea since they were a reminder to those who wear them to be mindful of the environment,” said Massicott. “The students at school were supportive of my project, and some people even asked how they could get involved. I ended up giving bracelets out to friends who sold them in their communities, too.”

Massicott also sent out letters asking for donations that explained the importance of rainforests and the animals within them. He wrote: “I am interested in supporting the Cotton-top tamarin project and the Golden poison dart frog project. Some interesting facts about these animals are: the Cotton-top tamarin has lost about 95% of its’ potential habitat; and the Golden poison dart frog is the most poisonous animal in the world.”

After four months of bracelet sales, Massicott’s project culminated with his Bar Mitzvah in April, which he used as an occasion to remind guests about why rainforests need to be protected. The speech was a final victory for Massicott and helped bring in additional donations for the project.

“Robert’s service project was impressive in terms of money raised and in the way that he explained to his friends and family why rainforests are worth preserving,” said Debbie Stadtler, who is Program Coordinator for Rainforest Trust and manages Rainforest Trust’s  Rainforest Ambassadors (formerly, Kids 4 Rainforest) Project. “This project illustrates why Rainforest Trust is so excited to work with youth to protect rainforests — their enthusiasm reaches the hearts of those around them and their dedication will hopefully turn into a lifelong commitment to saving rainforests and the species that call them home.”

“Robert’s $1,200 donation will make a real difference in Colombia and provide the Cotton-top tamarin and the Golden poison dart frog with the habitat they need to survive,” added Stadtler. “It’s a project he can be proud about for the rest of his life.”

Rainforest Trust CEO Sees Success in Amazonian Conservation Efforts

On May 30, our CEO, Paul Salaman, flew to Iquitos, Peru, for a week-long site visit of recent Rainforest Trust projects in the Amazon Basin. Once complete, these projects, done in coordination with our Peruvian partner CEDIA (Center for Indigenous People of the Amazon), will protect 616,263 acres of imperiled rainforests.

Traveling in the company of Brett Byers, an instrumental Rainforest Trust supporter, and Lelis Chavéz, CEO of CEDIA, Salaman began the trip from Iquitos with a low-level flight to the remote village of Angamos, located on the Brazilian border. From Angamos, the three travelled seven hours up the Galvéz River by boat into the heart of the Matsés National Reserve.

The 1,039,390-acre reserve, created in 2009 with support from the Matsés indigenous people, protects an astonishingly intact portion of the Amazon, complete with healthy jaguar and tapir populations. Previous Rainforest Trust projects provided the Matsés reserve with funding necessary to develop a management plan, construct strategic monitoring posts, and expand its boundaries by 150,000 acres.

While at the reserve, the conservation team spent several days visiting local communities to question Matsés community leaders about on-the-ground conditions and conservation plans. Local leaders hosted Salaman and thanked him for the support of Rainforest Trust, which all agree has been a tremendous success.

In addition, the team spent two nights at the newly finished Tambo Matsés Ecolodge, a community-led and managed project, which will open to the public later this year. Staying at the solar-powered lodge, along the upper Galvez River, gave the team a chance to explore some of the more isolated portions of the reserve. Rare bird, mammal, and plant species were found in abundance, including a jaguar spotted swimming across the river by the lodge.

Upon return to Angamos, the team boarded another plane to survey the reserve by air and locate areas of potential deforestation. Besides having an opportunity to appreciate the vast expanse of unbroken forests found in the Matsés National Reserve, they also got a look at nearby varrillale areas. Found atop sandy soils, these stunted forests and wetlands remain to be protected despite their fragility and high biodiversity levels.

“We had a rare chance to see the vastness of the Amazon from the air, flying over rainforest we helped protect and a vast unprotected wilderness of four million acres in desperate need of saving”, noted Salaman. “Fortunately, no deforestation or colonization was seen in or around the reserve, but roads and colonization are certainly a possibility and could one day threaten the area.”

Next, from the bustling city of Iquitos, the group traveled by car to the smaller port city of Nauta and there boarded one of CEDIA’s boats for a trip up the Rio Tigre to visit rural communities that have benefitted from Rainforest Trust’ latest fundraising project.

Unannounced to these indigenous communities, large portions of their communal lands were expropriated and titled by the Peruvian Government as Forests of Permanent Production in 2003. This process deprived local people of traditional ownership rights and allowed for private twenty-year logging concessions in their place.

With Rainforest Trust support, CEDIA took the unprecedented action of petitioning the Peruvian Government to overturn these decisions and, in a landmark ruling, the Peruvian government agreed by annulling extractive claims to these areas. With this step complete, communities along both the Tigre and Putumayo Rivers – which suffered from the same predicament – were able to legally petition the government for land titles.

The titling process for these communities is now in the final stages with titles scheduled to be presented in July and August. Once complete, 616,263 acres – much of which was earmarked for logging – will be saved from destruction and guarded by indigenous communities in a natural state.

“CEDIA is a truly outstanding conservation group and has a uniquely strong partnership with indigenous communities and government institutions. This ensures local support and government approval for rapidly establishing protected areas and indigenous reserves across the Amazon of Peru,” Salaman said.

To see more photos of Salaman’s trip visit our Flickr site.

An Environmental Boost for Education in Ecuador

working hard on their projects
final project!

The indigenous Kiwchua students attending Pachacutik Primary School in eastern Ecuador offered Carolina Arroyo an assortment of blank stares as she began her Powerpoint presentation on the importance of the Narupa Nature Reserve. Amidst the austere classroom’s silence, Arroyo, who is a reserve director for Fundación Jocotoco, began to wonder if the students, living in a remote village only five kilometers from the reserve, were even aware of its presence. The silence that followed her questions about the reserve’s importance confirmed her suspicions and the students soon admitted that what they were hearing was news.Quickly adapting to the circumstances, Arroyo continued her presentation and found that the students, clustered together on one side of the tin-roofed classroom, listened with growing interest as she displayed colorful photos of the migratory birds of found in the area. Although they recognized many, Arroyo was interested in emphasizing one in particular – the Cerulean warbler – whose fate is intricately intertwined with the success of the nearby reserve.

Along with several of her Jocotoco colleagues, Arroyo travelled to this remote corner of Ecuador two weeks ago as part of a Rainforest Trust funded project to protect critical Cerulean warbler wintering grounds in the subtropical foothills of the Andes. During the course of two days she addressed more than one hundred students in several local schools as part of the environmental education component of this project.

“Initially, the kids had no knowledge about the Narupa Reserve, but they showed a lot of interest in it, the birds that live there, and, above all, in visiting,” Arroyo said.

The education element of the “Conservation of Cerulean Warbler in Eastern Ecuador” project was designed to teach local community members and school children about the importance of the reserve as a source of biodiversity, environmental services, and a refuge for endangered migratory bird species.

After finding the children warming up to the subject during her first visit, Arroyo discovered more interest on a second trip made last week. During this recent visit she reiterated the importance of forests, described the benefits they present to humans, as well as the threats they face. At the end of lesson, the children were asked to draw bird species that they knew about or had seen near their homes. The results, Arroyo found, were encouraging as the children depicted an impressive variety of bird species.

She has another trip planned later this month to take students on a field trip to the reserve, which will be a first for most of the children.

“There is no doubt that education is a key component to any successful conservation project,” said Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman. “Our commitment to environmental education has always been strong, and in this case we were eager to help Jocotoco work with local school children. These kids will soon be making decisions that affect their environment, and it’s essential they have the knowledge to make the right choice.”

Although extremely important as a wintering grounds for the Cerulean Warbler and other migratory bird species, the subtropical and humid forests of eastern Ecuador are severely threatened by deforestation. The “Conservation of Cerulean Warbler in Eastern Ecuador” project was developed to improve the protection and management of the Narupa Reserve, one of the most important wintering sites for the Cerulean Warbler. Apart from environmental education, the project will result in the purchase of new lands to expand the Narupa Nature Reserve, the hiring of new parks guards, increased monitoring of cerulean warbler population in the reserve, and necessary infrastructure improvements for the reserve.

To see more photos of this project visit our Flickr site.



Spectacled Bear Spotted in Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve

Spectacled bear
Spectacled bear
Arrierito Antioqueno Nature Reserve in Colombia

Last week a camera trap placed deep in Colombia’s Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve snapped several nice photos of a Spectacled bear ambling through the reserve’s rainforest. These pictures mark the first sighting of this rare species in the reserve and are a good sign that Arrierito Antioqueño – which was doubled in size with Rainforest Trust support– is thriving.

The shy Spectacled bear makes its home in the dense Andean jungles of South America and has the distinction of being the only bear species found on the continent. Estimates suggest fewer than 3,000 of these bears remain in the wild today, and researchers attribute these low numbers to habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Spectacled bears, also known as Andean bears and Jucumaris, are most active at night and are primarily vegetarian, enjoying a diet of fruit, berries, cacti, and honey. The species’ unusual name stems from the bright rings that encircle their eyes, which inspire frequent comparisons to glasses.

The Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve is found within three overlapping eco-regions and is home to a number of endemic species, including twenty-two endangered amphibians and birds, which makes it a critical site for conservation.

In 2001, an expedition by our Colombian partner ProAves confirmed the existence of the endangered Chestnut-capped Piha, known locally as the Arriereto Antioqueño, among the fragmented forests of Colombia’s Antioquia Department. To protect this rare bird, found only in Colombia, ProAves created the 1,773-acre Arriereto Antioqueño Nature Reserve. With support from Rainforest Trust, the reserve was expanded in 2011 to cover over 5,300 acres.

At the time of the reserve’s creation, doubts existed as to the Spectacled bear’s numbers and even existence in the area. As these new camera trap photos indicate, however, the creation and expansion of the Arrierito Antioqueña Nature Reserve is helping the local Spectacled bear population to rebound. This is exciting news for the reserve as Spectacled bears are commonly considered a keystone species in the Andes with their numbers used to evaluate overall ecosystem health.