Ecuadorian Reserve Established to Protect Rare Orchid Species

Warrenton, VA (December 23, 2014) –  Rainforest Trust and its Ecuadorian conservation partner Fundación EcoMinga have announced the creation of a new reserve in Ecuador’s Chocó rainforest that will protect rare, newly-discovered orchids and other endemic wildlife species.

Thanks to the support of Rainforest Trust and the University of Basel Botanical Garden, Fundación EcoMinga has purchased two properties that form the 513-acre Dracula Orchid Reserve. The reserve will protect 5 species of the Dracula orchids.

Named for the sinister face-like appearance of their flowers, Dracula orchids are highly endemic; 90 percent of all species are found at three or fewer localities.

The Chocó rainforest, which lies along the Pacific coast of Ecuador and Colombia, holds the world’s highest amount of orchid diversity, especially of the genus Dracula. Together, Colombia and Ecuador contain about 25 percent of the world’s orchid species.

for web The Dracula Orchid
© Andreas Kay
dracula-landscape Ecuador’s Chocó Rainforest
© Andreas Kay
umbrellabirdLong-wattled Umbrellabird   

“The Chocó region of Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, but it’s also one of the most threatened. Thanks to strategic land acquisitions, the new Dracula Orchid Reserve will provide a much needed refuge for many endangered and endemic species,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust.

Nearly a third of orchid species found in Ecuador and Colombia are threatened with extinction due to deforestation. It is believed that 14 Dracula species have already gone extinct for this reason. Orchid species also face threats from commercial collectors that supply Ecuadorian and international markets.

“I’ve never seen so much orchid diversity in such a small area. Each ridge has its own mix of species, many of them just recently discovered. A new road built here threatens this unique area with destruction by colonization, but this reserve will save an important part of it for posterity” said Lou Jost, Director of Fundación EcoMinga.

In addition to orchids, the reserve will also protect habitat for many endemic bird species, including the Long-wattled Umbrellabird.

EcoMinga has already begun the process of negotiating the purchase of additional properties that will expand the Dracula Orchid Reserve and protect new species in both the Dracula and Lepanthes genera which have recently been discovered.

Rainforest Trust would like to extend thanks to all donors and partners that helped raise funds for the Dracula Orchid Reserve, especially Luanne Lemmer and Eric Veach, the University of Basel Botanical Garden and the Quito Orchid Society.

Rainforest Trust is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving rainforest and endangered species in partnership with local conservation leaders and indigenous communities. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has saved nearly 8 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats and has 85 projects across 22 countries.

Fundación EcoMinga is an Ecuadorian nonprofit conservation organization that establishes strategic, science-based reserves to protect unique ecosystems containing important clusters of locally-endemic plants and animals. Its focus is on Andean cloud forests, the bioregion with the greatest amount of endemism. The organization has protected almost 12,000 acres of habitat in eight reserves.

New Purchase Protects Critically Endangered Hummingbird

esmereldaswoodstarforweb Esmeraldas Woodstar 
ayampe-landscape Río Ayampe Reserve 
© Jocotoco
grey-backed-hawk  Grey-Backed Hawk
© Francisco Sornoza

December 18, 2014

Collaborating with Ecuadorian partner Jocotoco, Rainforest Trust has supported the purchase of 65 acres to expand the Río Ayampe Reserve.

Located along Ecuador’s Pacific coast, the Río Ayampe Reserve protects critical habitat for the Esmeraldas Woodstar, one of the world’s rarest and smallest hummingbirds. Total populations of the critically endangered bird, which measures only 2.5” in length, are thought to number between 500 and 1,000.

“I’m thrilled that the endangered Esmeraldas Woodstar – always one of my favorite Ecuador endemics – just got a little safer! Found at only a few localities, this tiny hummingbird is protected only at Fundación Jocotoco’s gradually expanding Río Ayampe Reserve,” said Dr. Robert S. Ridgely, President of Rainforest Trust.

Fundacion Jocotoco established the Río Ayampe Reserve in 2012 with the support of Rainforest Trust and other conservation organizations. The new purchase brings its total size to 161 acres.

“Although Jocotoco has been expanding the reserve when and where possible, this latest 60-acre addition being especially important as it’s so close to the river, where the Woodstar nests,” added Ridgely.

The Esmeraldas Woodstar inhabits semi-deciduous and evergreen rainforest along Ecuador’s Pacific coast from sea level to 2,500 feet in elevation. Ninety-five percent of the lowland forest in western Ecuador, however, has been destroyed and converted into cropland and pastures.

In addition, the areas immediately adjacent to the Río Ayampe Reserve continue to suffer from a combination of threats that include over-grazing by goats and cattle, uncontrolled fires, and the construction of new homes and tourist facilities.

To proactively meet these threats and ensure the survival of the Esmeraldas Woodstar, Jocotoco has developed a collaborative relationship with nearby villages. As a result, local residents have proved firm supporters of the reserve’s creation and subsequent expansions.

Jocotoco plans to enlarge the Ayampe Reserve to 700 acres. Once complete, the reserve will stretch for ten kilometers, from the mouth of the Ayampe River to Machalilla National Park.

Other endangered bird species in the area that benefit from the reserve include the Grey-backed Hawk, the Ochre-bellied Dove, the Blackish-headed Spinetail, and the Slaty Becard. The region is also known for its high diversity of rare and endemic plants, and is one of the most important areas for endemic butterflies in Ecuador.

Purchase Conserves Habitat for Atlantic Rainforest Wildlife

14319029908_9f835958ed_z The REGUA reserve now protects over 20,000 acres 
15764433691_7f390a4b1f_z 455 bird species are found in the reserve 
Paula B. Chaves - CopyWoolly Spider Monkeys   
© Paula B. Chaves

December 11, 2014

Rainforest Trust has collaborated with Brazilian partner REGUA to successfully purchase 593 acres, expanding the size of the Atlantic Rainforest reserve to over 20,000 acres.

The new properties will provide much needed protection for rare and endangered wildlife species that have lost much of their habitat due to logging and farmland expansion.

With 93 percent of the Atlantic Rainforest already destroyed, the once-massive forest is now one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. As a consequence, many species have suffered devastating declines during the last 50 years. Remaining animals rely increasingly on protected areas like REGUA to serve as last refuges.

“Since its establishment in 2001, REGUA has demonstrated a phenomenal commitment to saving the Atlantic Rainforest and its endangered species,” said Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manager for Rainforest Trust. “This purchase provides additional protection for the reserve’s many rare species and is an important step forward in REGUA’s mission to protect the Atlantic Rainforest.”

New scientific studies continue to increase the number of species found in the REGUA reserve. At present, the reserve is known to contain 455 bird species, 103 orchid species, 42 reptile species, and 47 amphibian species. The reserve is also home to 80 mammal species, including Ocelots, Pumas and Woolly Spider Monkeys.

In addition to protecting intact portions of the Atlantic Forest, REGUA also restores land damaged by over-grazing and poor use. To do so, REGUA has established a successful reforestation program. The organization has now planted over 280,000 trees.

The reserve, which is located in the Guapiaçu Valley, only 40 miles from Rio de Janeiro, is facing increased threats from land developers. As the valley has become an attractive retreat for the city’s wealthy inhabitants, the construction of vacation homes has begun to pose serious challenges to the valley’s ecological integrity.

The seven properties acquired with Rainforest Trust’s support were identified last year as part of a detailed land study. The study, which mapped forest cover and property lines throughout the entire 186-square-mile Guapiaçu Valley, identified important objectives in REGUA’s future conservation plan.

At present, REGUA is negotiating the purchase of an additional 14 properties, containing nearly 1,000 acres, that will continue to expand the reserve.


Expanded Protection for Brazilian Rainforest

_LCM5966 370 bird species have been identified in Serra Bonita. 
© Luis Claudio Marigo
_LCM8641-(1) Yellow-Breasted Capuchins are found in the reserve. 
© Luis Claudio Marigo
_LCM2937The reserve now protects more than 6,700 acres of rainforest.  
© Luis Claudio Marigo

December 4, 2014

Rainforest Trust supported its Brazilian conservation partner Instituto Uiraçu in the purchase of six properties that have expanded the Serra Bonita Reserve by 986 acres. The acquisition of these properties enlarges the reserve to more than 6,700 acres.

Located in the Brazilian state of Bahia, the reserve protects one of the last intact remnants of the Atlantic Rainforest, an ecosystem rivaling the Amazon Basin in biodiversity. Some of the region’s most endangered species are protected within the Serra Bonita Reserve, which is the second largest private reserve in the Atlantic Forest Biodiversity Corridor.

“At Serra Bonita we’ve counted 370 species of birds, 120 species of orchids, and over 70 species of frogs, some of them new to science,” said Dr. Vitor Becker, Director of Research at Instituto Uiraçu.

Despite its spectacular biodiversity, the Atlantic Rainforest is now considered one of the world’s most threatened biomes. During the last 50 years, 93% of its rainforest has been cleared. The consequences of such destruction have been devastating for many species. Primates like the Yellow-breasted Capuchin have experienced population declines in the range of 80% since 1965.

“As the Atlantic Rainforest continues to disappear, the importance of the Serra Bonita Reserve has steadily grown,” said Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manger for Rainforest Trust. “This important expansion will prove beneficial for all of the reserve’s species, especially for Pumas and other large mammals that have large home ranges and need sizable tracts of habitat to survive.”

The reserve protects habitat for five endangered primates, including the Yellow-breasted Capuchin and the Northern Brown Howler Monkey. The entire Northern Brown Howler population now totals less than 250 mature individuals and, without adequate protection, the species will likely face extinction.

The area is also extraordinarily rich in avian diversity and is home to 59 bird species found only in the Atlantic Rainforest, nine of which are threatened. In recognition of this fact, BirdLife has designated the Serra Bonita Reserve as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

These purchases were made possible by the generous support of Luanne Lemmer and Eric Veach, The Orchid Conservation Alliance, Edith McBean, Leslie Santos and Brett Byers, as well as and The Rainforest Site.

Marchers Demand Protection for Guatemalan Rainforest

resizeFUNDAECO2 Marchers demand that the Sierra Santa Cruz be protected. 
resizeDave-Johnson-bannerEndangered Black Howlers are found in the Sierra Santa Cruz.
© Dave Johnson
resizeFUNDAECO1Members of 11 communities participated in the march.  

December 3, 2014

On November 22, local residents and representatives of community organizations in Guatemala’s Sierra Santa Cruz Mountain Range staged a 25-mile march to bring attention to threats facing the area and demand its legal protection. Over 200 people, representing 11 communities, participated in the march.

Located near Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast, the Sierra Santa Cruz Mountain Range is situated in one of Central America’s most biodiverse areas. However, the range is increasingly threatened by expanding cattle ranches and oil palm plantations.

Marchers view the protection of the Sierra Santa Cruz as a critically important issue with wide ranging impacts on their daily lives. The range, which is the last forested mountain range in the Guatemalan state of Izabal, holds critical watersheds that provide water for surrounding villages. Local communities also recognize the degree to which the intact forest positively impacts their livelihoods and see its protection as key to maintaining and improving their quality of life.

To help protect the Sierra Santa Cruz, Rainforest Trust is working with Guatemalan partner FUNDAECO to create a 142,646-acre reserve. The reserve will conserve habitat for Jaguars, Baird’s Tapir and other endangered wildlife species fighting for survival.

“This important effort among local communities, organizations, and conservationists will help avoid the rapid degradation of their resources and livelihoods,” said Marco Cerezo, Director of FUNDAECO (Foundation for Eco Development and Conservation). “It will also support the fight against poverty and the protection of forests and biodiversity in Guatemala, a region that is a vital link in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor”

Although comprising only a fraction of Guatemala, the biologically rich mountains and coastal plains surrounding its Caribbean coast contain nearly half the country’s total species. Creating a protected area in the Sierra Santa Cruz will fill an important conservation gap in the Guatemala’s Caribbean Rainforest Corridor, which is a crucial link in the larger Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

“Local communities have demonstrated a phenomenal commitment and desire to protect the Sierra Santa Cruz,” said Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manager for Rainforest Trust. “We are excited to play a role in helping these communities protect the wildlife and resources that are so valuable to them.”

A declaration by Guatemala’s National Congress to designate the Sierra Santa Cruz as a National Protected Area will ensure key protection and management activities within the reserve, including protection and surveillance of core areas; participatory landscape planning for the sustainable development of communities; and outreach activities like environmental education and sustainable agro forestry in participating communities.

Organizers are planning a second march in the future.

To learn more and help protect the Sierra Santa Cruz, visit our project page.

Rainforest Trust Launches Ark Initiative

ark-article-1 With partner ProAves, Rainforest Trust has helped purchase 80,000 acres of habitat in Colombia.  ©ProAves
 ark-article-4  In Peru, Rainforest Trust has helped protect millions of acres of rainforest © Rainforest Trust
ark-article-2   In the last 25 years, Rainforest Trust has protected nearly 8 million acres for wildlife. © Jeff Zack

November 25, 2014

Rainforest Trust has launched a major new initiative to expand its successful model of protected area establishment.

The Rainforest Ark Initiative will provide partnership and funding opportunities to conservation organizations across the tropics that are committed to establishing or expanding protected areas for endangered species. It will target projects in developing countries where protected areas suffer most from insufficient funding.

“Rainforest Trust shares a common mission and sense of urgency with conservation organizations around the world,” said Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manager for Rainforest Trust. “The Ark Initiative is our way of building new and lasting partnerships with these organizations that will collectively improve our ability to meet fast-growing challenges to threatened wildlife.”

Applicants for the initiative must be well-established not-for-profit entities or non-governmental organizations representing local stakeholders.

“In the last 40 years the world has lost half of its wildlife,” said Hodgdon. “Adequately protecting what remains is not the job of a single government or organization. Constructive partnerships are indispensable if we are going to successfully expand wildlife conservation efforts.”

To date, Rainforest Trust has protected nearly eight million acres of critical habitat. The goal of the Ark Initiative is to protect an additional 12 million acres, for a total of 20 million acres, by the year 2020.

To join the Rainforest Ark Initiative, candidate organizations can submit a project proposal for either a land purchase or protected area designation. The project must save habitat for IUCN endangered or critically endangered species. There are no funding request limits; applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.

Please visit the ARK Initiative page to learn more or to apply.

Protecting Paradise

P1390444 - Copy Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest © REGUA
Messias Gomes for web  Messias Gomes © REGUA
Rhildo da Rosa Oliveira for web Rhildo da Rosa Oliveira © REGUA

November 21, 2014

Rainforest Trust’s Brazilian partner REGUA protects Brazil’s threatened Atlantic Rainforest, an area even more biodiverse than the Amazon Basin, in its 17,000-acre reserve. The reserve employs a dedicated staff of nine guards who contribute their extensive forest knowledge and skills to protect endangered wildlife. Their hard work and sacrifices have helped make REGUA an exemplary nature reserve .

Many of their guards have family ties to the Atlantic Rainforest that go back generations. These connections provide inspiration to guards in their goal of protecting REGUA’s forests.

Messias Gomes and Rhildo da Rosa Oliveira, two of REGUA’s most respected forest guards, describe their most memorable moments on the job and the events that influenced their decision to become guards.

Messias Gomes
“I was born in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest on a large farm that was originally owned by my grandfather who had a grinding mill to make cassava flour. He rented the higher parts of the property to sharecroppers that grew bananas. These sharecroppers, however, destroyed much of the forest in their desire to take advantage of the high price of bananas.

“After my grandfather died, all of my uncles sold the land they inherited. Only my father continued to work the land and follow his father’s footsteps. Then when my father died, most of my siblings sold the land bequeathed to them leaving only my brother and myself on the small parcels that remained of our family’s land.

“I farmed the area like my grandfather and father until 2009, when I heard that REGUA was hiring park guards and decided to become one.

“Being a park guard gives me a chance to protect the forest I knew as a child. It is my deepest desire that REGUA will eventually be able to buy much of my grandfather’s old farm and restore and reforest it. The forest I remember was spectacular.

“I know the work we are doing to protect wildlife at REGUA is effective. Sometime ago, while hiking in the reserve, I encountered a band of Woolly Spider Monkeys – the largest primate in the Atlantic Rainforest – and the sight took my breath away. My grandfather talked about seeing them many, many years ago, but I never thought I would have the chance. This species, like many others at REGUA, is making a comeback and I’m thrilled to be able to experience the forest in the same way my grandfather once did.”

Rhildo da Rosa Oliveira
“My grandparents were both sharecroppers on a large, busy farm called Santo Amaro. They grew bananas and eked out a pretty difficult life in the mountains. They were humble people and expected that their children and grandchildren would continue doing the same work. But as banana prices dropped, my family had to move away to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“A love of nature and wildlife runs deep in my family and strongly influenced the decision I made to work with REGUA in 2001 as a forest guard. I was actually the first guard hired at the reserve. I now do many things for REGUA like anti-poaching patrols and research assistance. Primarily, though, I am responsible for maintaining and building the reserve’s trail network.

“I share an interest in nature and the environment with my oldest daughter, who assists researchers in REGUA with Red-Billed Curassow studies.

“One of my most memorable moments as a guard occurred when I was walking alone along a 4×4 path in the forest. I encountered a large female puma and expected my presence would drive her away. Then I heard the whine of a pup nearby and realized that I was in a tough spot. The mother began growling and pacing back and forth. I slowly backed down the trail, keeping a close watch on her as I went. Luckily, she decided to stay with her cub and I made it out without a scratch.”

Learn more about how you can help Rhildo and Messias protect the Atlantic Rainforest by visiting Rainforest Trust’s REGUA project page.

A Fresh Start for Forest Guards at REGUA

GGV_equipe2_09jan14_TatianaHortaREGUA’s Park Guards © REGUA
REGUA, Alan's trailRainforest at the REGUA reserve  © REGUA
Paula B. ChavesWildlife: Woolly Spider Monkeys © Paula Chaves

November 19, 2014

Few in Brazil’s REGUA reserve perform more important work than its nine forest guards.

When the reserve was established in 2001, it was clear that patrolling its forests for poachers would be crucial to guarantee the conservation of its biodiversity. Over the years this has proved true.

To find suitable forest guards, REGUA identified several local hunters willing to change their ways. Candidates were carefully selected for stamina, understanding, and tracking skills.

Surprisingly, the ex-hunters chosen by REGUA took up their responsibilities with much gusto.Preventing hunting has been the principle, continuous task of REGUA’s forest rangers. Hunting is very much a traditional activity in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest and the tracking skills REGUA’s guards developed as hunters are indispensable resources; they are now used to detect the presence of poachers.

To facilitate detection of hunters, a system of trails has been created at REGUA, which allows for regular patrols. The hard work done by forest guards, coupled with REGUA`s education and protection program, has significantly reduced poaching. At the same time wildlife has become much more abundant and critically endangered species like Woolly Spider Monkeys have been sighted.

In addition to conducting patrols, forest guards use the reserve’s trail network to guide researchers and visitors on trips to observe the rainforest and its wildlife.

The opportunity to talk with visiting students, researchers, and tourists about wildlife has caused a profound change in forest guard attitudes and has deepened their commitment to protecting REGUA’s forest by helping them see how important their role is to make the reserve succeed.

REGUA’s forest guard program is not only a way of generating employment but it also is helping to change local customs that have historically led to dramatic damage of the Atlantic Rainforest.For example, REGUA guards, some of whom readily admit that they contributed to rainforest destruction, have begun to participate in reforestation efforts. As a result of the restoration program, however, they are able to tell their children that they were involved in establishing forests and compensated for past mistakes.

Besides the hard physical work of planting trees, guards also collect the seeds of rare native trees during forest patrols. The results of their reforestation efforts are impressive and have helped guards feel even more involved in the future of the reserve and proud of the heritage they are creating.

By David Peek and Nicholas J. Locke

Forest Guards: Fighting for Endangered Wildlife

toma de datos, diaria Recording monitoring data for bird studies © ProAves
instalacion de camaras trampa (1)  Forest guards use camera traps to identify rare and reclusive wildlife © ProAves
guardabosques hernando patiño - CopyRainforest Trust supports 30 forest guards © ProAves

November 17, 2014

In the last 40 years, the earth has lost half of its wildlife. Defending what remains is the job of the world’s forest guards.

Among other things, forest guards play an instrumental role in patrolling borders, observing wildlife, deterring poachers, and educating local communities.

“It’s hard to imagine a more difficult – or rewarding – job than being a forest guard. Guards work long hours in difficult, often wet conditions, sometimes away from their families for a month at a time, and on modest salaries,” said Christine Hodgdon, International Conservation Manager for Rainforest Trust. “We wouldn’t enjoy the wildlife we have today were it not for forest guards – they are the gatekeepers to our reserves.”

Protected areas in many developing nations, however, lack necessary funds to hire guards. Even reserves lucky enough to have guards are many times understaffed. The World Institute for Conservation & Environment (WICE) estimates that only a quarter of forest guards needed to adequately protect reserves are currently employed.

Rainforest Trust supports the work of over 30 forest guards in 25 reserves across Latin America, many in Colombia and Ecuador. Guards typically earn monthly salaries of $500, including health care and pension.

“Supporting the work of forest guards is not only the most effective way to protect wildlife, it’s also one of the most economical ways of doing so,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “To ensure that the reserves we establish are not just ‘paper parks,’ but that they really protect wildlife, we make sure our reserves are properly staffed with forest guards. While the investment is rather minor, the payoff is enormous.”

As challenges to protected areas grow and evolve, so does the need for more well equipped guards. To meet these needs, Rainforest Trust has announced the creation of a new Sustainability Fund that will provide ongoing support to in-country partners and forest guards. The fund acts as an endowment for long-term conservation needs, such as supplying forest guards with salaries, training, education, equipment, and housing.

“Many protected areas have forest guard staffs that are underfunded and ill prepared to face obstacles in the field,” said Salaman. “The Sustainability Fund will ensure that the guardians in our reserves are well-trained and well-equipped, ready to meet serious challenges on a daily basis.”

Forest guard positions offer gainful employment to men and women, many times from rural communities, suffering from a lack of economic opportunities. This is particularly valuable in areas where many jobs are linked to the unsustainable extraction of environmental resources such as poaching, logging, and mining. The Sustainability Fund will help ensure that constructive employment opportunities exist in communities surrounding protected areas Rainforest Trust has helped establish.

“Forest guards dedicate their lives to protecting the animals that enrich our lives,” said Hodgdon. “Many guards have rejected better paying employment opportunities, usually ones that involve the exploitation of natural resources, to successfully pursue their dreams of environmental protection. Their efforts are an inspiration for everyone that cares about our planet’s biodiversity. ”

Rainforest Trust Joins New York Declaration on Forests

Climate-Summit_English_RGB-1024x582Climate Summit 2014
14963604814_3ef5c9b73f_oThreatened wildlife: Hyacinth Macaw © Jeff Zack
landscapenydecProtected Ecuadorian cloud forest © Jocotoco

November 10, 2014

Rainforest Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization focused on protecting threatened tropical lands and saving endangered species, has joined the New York Declaration on Forests as an endorser.

The New York Declaration on Forests was announced in September at the United Nations Climate Summit, and is endorsed by many governments, corporations, charities and indigenous groups.

The Declaration’s stated goal is to halve deforestation by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. Another goal of the Declaration is the restoration of hundreds of millions of acres of degraded forest and landscapes.

As an endorser, Rainforest Trust will work to protect millions of acres of threatened tropical rainforest and the endangered wildlife it supports.

Rainforest Trust’s goal by the year 2020 is to protect over 20 million acres of tropical rainforest habitat.

“We applaud the New York Declaration on Forests,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “Achievement of the goals of the Declaration would be of tremendous benefit in protecting wildlife habitat and addressing climate change. Of course, Rainforest Trust would prefer to see the targets of the Declaration exceeded so as to end tropical rainforest destruction and degradation more quickly.”

Rainforest Trust is focused on saving rainforest and endangered species in partnership with local conservation leaders and indigenous communities. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has saved nearly 8 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats and has 85 projects across 22 countries.