Flight of the Condor

4.bp.blogspot.com _Br1rQvAweME TMH73zr0QBI AAAAAAAAAJs 7VxlbklaRu8 s1600 Andean Condor
Andean condor in flight
“Liberation site, maintain your distance”
Felipe  movements among volcanoes
Keeping track of Felipe

Shortly after sunrise on June 25th, Felipe Farinango, a farmer in the tiny highland community of Campo Alegre, Ecuador, was about begin his day as usual, milking the cows, when he noticed his small herd milling about nervously. Catching a glimpse of something moving awkwardly through the grass he walked over to investigate. Hobbling between the cows and soaked from the previous evening’s rain, he found a sickly-looking Andean condor, sporadically flapping its long wings in a desperate attempt to fly. Calling a friend, Xavier Cerón, for assistance, the two captured the bird and called the police to report their finding.

Taken to a veterinarian clinic in Quito, doctors found that the condor, a male juvenile, weighed almost 24 pounds (healthy condors weigh 33 pounds at this age), was malnourished, and suffered from various lesions and fractures. After taking x-rays, they also discovered several shotgun pellets lodged internally that were removed.

Whether the pellets accounted entirely for the condor’s calamity is not known, but condor experts believe that it had descended to Farinango’s farm in search of food, not yet having learned to fly.

The sad discovery of the condor, soon affectionately dubbed Felipe, and his recovery were covered in detail by Ecuador’s national press, capturing the imagination of the public. “Felipe is the most popular Andean condor in Ecuador and has already become an ambassador for raising awareness about condor conservation,” said Hernan Vargas, Director of The Peregrine Fund, which supported the bird’s recovery.

Awareness of the species’ plight is crucial in Ecuador where the condor, despite being the national bird and proud symbol of the country’s Andean history, is almost extinct. In fact, only 50 of the enormous birds – whose 10-foot wing span is far beyond the jumping reach of most people – are thought to remain in Ecuador, many of them located within the Antisanilla property that Rainforest Trust is working to purchase.

Moved by Felipe’s delicate condition, not so different from the general state of condors in Ecuador, many were inspired to help. Collaborating in these efforts was our Ecuadorian partner, Fundación Jocotoco, which began planning for Felipe’s release back into the wild after a month of recuperation in the Ilitio Rescue Center.

Francisco Sornoza, Conservation Director for Jocotoco, was determined that Felipe’s misfortune would prove beneficial for Ecuador’s condors, and working with The Peregrine Fund and the Andean Condor Working Group, he initiated plans to fit the bird with a satellite transmitter that would allow researchers to track its movements. “This transmitter will be the starting point for watching his movements, and doing so will provide us with improved information to help protect the species,” said Sornoza.

With so much attention on Felipe, his reintroduction on July 23 became a national event, well-attended by the press and government officials, including Ecuador’s Environmental Minister, Lorena Tapia. “Ecuadorians were excited about the liberation, it was a big story, the first of its kind in Ecuador,” said Sornoza.

Indeed, upon his release into the rugged mountains of Antisanilla, Felipe became the first condor to be outfitted with a satellite transmitter in Ecuador. After taking to the skies, researchers found Felipe had flown nearly 100 miles in the first week alone. Lingering doubts about his acceptance by Antisanilla’s established condor population were dispelled when Felipe was caught by camera trap, along with five other condors, feeding on a carcass two weeks after his reintroduction.

“This type of experience is important not only for the conservation of the condor, but for Ecuadorian conservation in general,” noted Roció Merino, Director of Fundación Jocotoco. “The public’s participation was very important for the survival of Felipe, and we hope that these kinds of actions create a wider consciousness and respect among people for wildlife,” she added.
You can watch video of Felipe’s reintroduction by clicking here.

“Wild Over Wildlife” Club Celebrates Halloween for the Rainforest


A youth club in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is passionate about exotic animals and saving the rainforest. The club, named Wild Over Wildlife or WOW! for short, held a Howl-o-ween Ball to raise money. These dedicated young people raised $520 to save 8 acres of rainforest in Colombia! These acres are home to the endangered Cotton-top Tamarin and Colombian Spider Monkey, species that desperately need help.

The Howl-o-ween Ball was a scary good time, as children dressed in Halloween costumes donated money toward their cause and had a chance to pet and hold beautiful birds.

Landon and Derek Petrisko began the club several years ago out of a concern for exotic animals. The club is supervised by Landon and Derek’s mom, Dana Fahey, a zoologist herself. WOW!’s goal is to educate the youth of Ft. Lauderdale about the need to save rainforests. The club also raises awareness about exotic pets. WOW! has worked with wildlife professionals to find homes for homeless or surrendered exotic pets, like a kinkajou and a sun conure.

WOW! chose Rainforest Trust to receive the money raised by these devoted youth because of its 4-star rating on Charity Navigator.

“While our funds are not that much, they did come from elementary-aged children’s piggy banks, so I do feel a huge sense of responsibility to be sure the money is not misused,” said Dana Fahey about the decision to select Rainforest Trust.

Watch for future updates on WOW! activities as they have plans for holiday events to continue their mission to save rainforest forever!

Secrets of the Camera Trap

  Spectacled bear, a species thought to have vanished from Colombia’s Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve
Pampas cat camera trap photo taken at Blue-throated Macaw Resereve
jaguar camera trapCaught by a camera trap: a jaguar in the Amazon Basin

By the mid-20th century, the natural landscape surrounding Colombia’s Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve had been razed by waves of gold miners followed by cattle ranchers that left the region’s once abundant forests in a fragmented state. Along with other species requiring large undisturbed areas for survival, the Spectacled bear – the only bear species found in South America – fled the area. Unobserved for decades, local inhabitants and conservationists assumed that the bears, which live in elevated tree nests, were no longer part of the local ecosystem.

All doubts about the bear’s presence, however, were unexpectedly dispelled earlier this year when a park guard, José Aycardo Echaverría, snapped several shots of a Spectacled bear traveling through the reserve using camera trap photography. Since the presence of Spectacled bears is typically equated with good ecosystem health, the photos acted as something of a natural report card with high marks for the conservation efforts of Rainforest Trust and its Colombian partner ProAves, which administers the reserve.

Not only does camera trap photography aid conservationists in confirming the presence of elusive species (Colombian tapirs and Pampas cats have been found in Rainforest Trust reserves this way), but it also serves as a tool to track populations of endangered animals, draw distribution maps, monitor animal behavior, and estimate wildlife populations. Camera trap photography’s broader appeal, its ability to connect people with wildlife in new, unprecedented ways, lies in the candid glimpses it offers of nocturnal and reclusive species that easily thwart traditional photographic efforts.

With over a million camera trap photos now recorded, and camera trap images saturating the internet, the near-total obscurity that once cloaked the lives of many animals during pre-camera trap days seem a long way off.

In fact, it is a long way off. The first camera trap photos date back to the late 1880’s when George Shiras III, a young lawyer, whose father, George Shiras Jr., had served as a Supreme Court Justice, began experimenting with nighttime photography. Shiras pioneered the camera trap technique by attaching a trip wire to a magnesium flash gun mounted near his camera; and although he eventually went on to serve as a Pennsylvanian Congressman, his photographic achievements outlasted his political triumphs. Among other things, he holds credit for taking the first published camera trap photo – an iconic image of terrified deer fleeing into the night – which was featured in National Geographic in 1906.

Although camera trap photography continued to be practiced over the next 100 years, advancement in the field stalled until 2006, when George Steinmetz, another National Geographic photographer, was tasked with the unenviable job of capturing of Arizona’s mountain lions on film. Despite his inability to photograph the elusive animals in person, Steinmetz persevered and devised an ingenious way to get the needed photo. By connecting an entry level digital camera to a movement-triggered infrared beam at a key watering hole, Steinmetz captured the photos of a young, cautious-looking mountain lion, and in the process, launched camera trap photography into the digital age.

The advantages of camera trap photography have revolutionized the way conservationists and scientists study wildlife in the field. The ease and price of camera traps make them less costly and time consuming than traditional trapping and catch-and-release methods used to study animals. Camera traps are also minimally intrusive, causing little or no impacts to wildlife. In addition, the still images they produce can be reviewed by teams of scientists, reducing the chance of individual subjective errors.

Recognizing the enormous rewards that camera traps can contribute towards successful conservation, Rainforest Trust has provided its Colombian Partner, ProAves, with over 30 camera trap sets, which have been installed in reserves throughout the county.

To see how José Aycardo Echaverría set up the camera traps he used to confirm the Spectacled bear’s presence in the Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve, check out our video below.

Historic Macaw Spotting in Ecuador’s Canandé Reserve

Green Macaw flock of over 36 spottedCanandé’s Great Green Macaws
Great Green Macaws, one of the largest parrots
Location of Canandé Reserve in Ecuador

Forest guards Alcides Zambrano and Jacinto de la Cruz immediately noticed something different when they woke July 22. The nearly constant rain that inundates Ecuador’s Chocó Region, and its noisy patter on their tin roof, was absent. Pleasantly energized by the change in weather, the two set off on a patrol of the Rio Canandé Reserve, where they are employed by Rainforest Trust partner Fundación Jocotoco.

The patrol, which started routinely, took an unforgettable turn when they spotted a large flock of green birds flying nearby at 10 am. Although they recognized the birds – they were Great Green Macaws – the two were astounded by the size of the flock. It was unlike anything they had seen at the reserve. In total, they counted 36 macaws, making it not only the largest flock recorded in Ecuador in modern times, but possibly the largest seen throughout the bird’s entire range.

“The flock spotted by our park guards is an historic record of this species in Ecuador,” confirmed Francisco Sornoza, Director of Conservation for Fundación Jocotoco.

The size of the flock, and the shock it gave scientists and conservationists, can best be measured by the fact that, until now, only 30-40 Great Green Macaws were thought to exist in all of Ecuador. In one brief sighting, Jacinto and Alcides doubled the number of Great Green Macaws known to exist in the country, and filled Jocotoco’s conservation team with encouragement and hope.

A large portion of that hope centers on the Canandé Reserve. With much of the species’ habitat in Ecuador destroyed or being destroyed – estimates range up to 90 percent – the Canandé Reserve provides a critical sanctuary for the Great Green Macaw. Thanks in large part to Rainforest Trust donations, the reserve, which provides sanctuary for many endemic Chocó species, grew by 4,285 acres from 2000 to 2008. It currently totals 4,942 acres.

“Jocotoco’s reserves are created with the goal of permanently protecting Ecuador’s threatened bird species,” noted Rainforest Trust President, Dr. Robert Ridgely, a foremost authority on Ecuador’s birds. “This new discovery clearly highlights the importance of the Canandé Reserve to the Great Green Macaw’s continued existence in Ecuador.”

Great Green Macaws, which can measure up to three feet in length, are some of the largest parrots in the world. They are also regarded as one of the most brilliantly colored parrots in the Western Hemisphere, and display a striking combination of lime-green, scarlet, and turquoise plumage.

As Great Green Macaw habitat has disappeared, so have the birds. Once locally common from eastern Honduras to western Ecuador, populations of Great Green Macaw have crashed in recent decades. As a result, it is now an endangered species, with current population estimates of mature individuals totaling less than 2,500. In Ecuador, large swaths of the bird’s habitat, the biologically-rich Chocó Rainforest, have been cleared by oil palm plantations, timber harvests, and other development projects.

Driven on by this spectacular success, Fundación Jocotoco is currently investigating options to purchase several tracts of excellent Great Green Macaw habitat, threatened by potential development, that lie adjacent to the reserve.

“We’ve been supporting the Canandé Reserve since 2000, and there’s no better evidence that our efforts are working than the recent Great Green Macaw sighting. We’re excited to continue working with Fundación Jocotoco in the future to expand the Canandé Reserve, and build upon this achievement,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust.

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To see more photos of Great Green Macaws and other Rainforest Trust project, click here to visit our flickr page.