Women in Conservation: Q+A with Terese Hart

One of the Congo’s most passionate defenders discusses the triumphs and challenges of her conservation work in Central Africa.

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Terese Hart (featured above) has worked in, studied, and fought to protect Congolese rainforest for 30 years. Hart, who serves as National Administrator for Rainforest Trust’s conservation partner the Lukuru Foundation, is leading efforts to create a new national park that will protect 2.1 million acres of intact rainforest habitat in the Congo Basin.

How did you begin work in the Congo?

I came to the Ituri Forest in 1974 as a Peace Corps volunteer. Those two years I taught high school biology, lived in a Swahili-speaking family and collected dragonflies. Afterwards, I married a friend from college, John Hart, who was also living in the Congo. In 1980 we returned to the Congo together to do our PhD research, John studied rainforest antelope while I focused on the trees.

And this sparked your interest in conservation?

It was a process. The longer we worked in the Congo, the more interested we became in its forest. A big turning point came in 2001 during a conference for Central African conservationists, which put things in context for us. Compared to a tiny country like Gabon, which had designated about every area lacking humans for some sort of protection, the Congo had huge empty areas with no protection. One of the most mysterious of these areas was the Lomami Basin.

Is that how your interest in the Lomami Basin came about?

Yes. This area was a complete mystery. Nobody had ever done any inventory or exploration there. So that’s what we set out to do. The idea was to go up the Lomami River and do circuits on both sides to see what was there in terms of animals and human activity. We did that for about three years. During this time we discovered a new species of primate, discovered bonobos where no one knew there were bonobos, and confirmed the presence of okapis.

So what is Lomami like?

It is home to very diverse forests. Not only do we have new primate species, we also have the Congo Peacock, the Bonobo, and Okapi. In fact, Lomami has more endemics than any other protected area in the Congo at this time. It also has an important population of Elephants. And we are just beginning botanical work. We keep finding more reasons to protect this area.

Do you expect to continue finding new species?

Certainly. There will be new amphibian and reptile species. I doubt there will be new species of large mammals, but we continue to see strange things and there is a lot more genetic work to be done before we can say for sure about primates.

Is Lomami threatened by logging?

Logging is not an immediate threat. The Congo is home to a huge rainforest and many areas that are much closer to a means of transportation have not yet been logged. Poaching is our biggest problem. Hunters have already emptied the forests around the proposed park and continue to kill Bonobos. Inventories, however, have shown that primate numbers are higher in the proposed park than outside its borders. Local people realize that many of the hunters are from outside areas and oppose them.

So local people have been supportive of your conservation efforts?

Convincing local people about preservation values can be challenging, but we have enjoyed some really incredible collaborations that more than make up for the difficult parts. We work with some visionary local people. Like the chief of the Bangengeli, a local tribe. She is the hardest working person in the traditional administrations we have on our side.

Can you tell us about her?

She has worked with us since the beginning, denouncing bonobo hunters, actually arresting them herself, going out very far on a little motorcycle – and this is no small woman – to the farthest reaches of her chiefdom to talk to people, to convince them to conserve part of their land. She also provided us with insight to improve our conservation efforts.

What kind of insight did she give?

She basically said to us, “All the meetings and outreach you are doing is very good and people understand, but you will not have a national park this way. To have a national park, it has to be the people themselves who talk and the people can only talk when they consult the ancestors.” That seemed to us like a dead end, but she said, “No, you just need to have a Tambiko ceremony so that the elders and the chiefs can confer with the ancestors.”

How did that go?

We had two Tambiko ceremonies with the Bangengeli. The first didn’t succeed, but the second went really well. Once other ethnic groups heard about them, they wanted their own and we ended up having five ceremonies.

What were the ceremonies like?

There was a lot of dancing, everybody danced, even the old men. There was drumming, and lots of singing. We were allowed to watch but couldn’t take part. Although at one point we were spit upon – but it was a traditional spitting. All of them went on for more than a day, but the ancestors were represented slightly differently in each ceremony.

So they were successful?

The Tambikos ended up being the whole basis for the park. Subsequent to them, the park existed in the minds of local people.

Visit Rainforest Trust’s Lomami project page to support or learn more about this initiative

Imperiled Madagascan Amphibians Find Shelter in New Protected Area

Thanks to the support of Rainforest Trust, local conservationists have protected 20,090 acres of critical habitat for three Critically Endangered species.

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After a five-year effort, some of Madagascar’s rarest amphibian and reptile species have received protection within the newly created Ankaratra Massif Reserve. The Madagascan conservation organization Association Vondrona Ivon’ny Fampandrosoanavif (VIF) established the reserve with the support of its U.S. partners Rainforest Trust, Amphibian Survival Alliance and Global Wildlife Conservation.

Located 45 miles south of Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, the protected area encompasses a mixture of heathland, savanna and cloud forest environments. Its streams and forest are home to one reptile, the Marvelous Gecko, and two frogs, Williams’ Bright-eyed Frog and the Madagascar Frog, that are found nowhere else.

“This is an exciting time for amphibian conservation in Madagascar,” said James P. Lewis, director of operations for the Amphibian Survival Alliance. “The creation of the Ankaratra Massif Reserve shows that through broad collaborative approaches we can make a real difference to the survival of some the world’s most threatened and unique species.”

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Due to highly specialized habitat requirements, these species—known as micro-endemics—inhabit tiny ranges. For example, the Madagascar Frog is known to inhabit a single stream and the Marvelous Gecko is found within an area covering 16 square miles. Agricultural expansion, overgrazing, and uncontrolled fires, however, have led to dramatic habitat loss, pushing these species toward extinction.

“Ankaratra Massif is unique in all of Madagascar for its treasure trove of rare species and its deep cultural significance,” said Dr. Robin Moore, conservation officer for GWC. “It is a testament to the vision and the dedication of local communities who have worked alongside VIF, with support from the international community, to protect their forests – this is a wonderful collaborative victory for conservation in Madagascar.”

Localized threats in the Ankarata Massif reflect a larger, destructive pattern that has transformed much of Madagascar’s natural landscape. Between 1950 and 2000, the island lost more than 40 percent of its forest. For Madagascar’s 300 described frog species, 99.8 percent of which are endemic, this has meant ever increasing challenges. Twenty percent are now considered threatened and nine are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

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The situation worsened earlier this year with news that the deadly chytrid fungus (Bd), which has already devastated amphibian populations around the world, has been discovered in Madagascar. While the disease has yet to cause extinction in Madagascar, it has added fresh urgency to protection efforts.

“Madagascar is home to one of the world’s most important and diverse frog populations,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “As threats to these species grow it’s critical that we work together to create and implement effective solutions. Our project with VIF is an excellent example of the progress that can be made when international conservation groups partner effectively with local conservationists.”

VIF will manage the new reserve in cooperation with local communities. VIF has collaborated with community associations to establish forest guard units that will regularly patrol the reserve to stop illegal logging. These patrols, established two years ago, have already proved effective and are helping to decrease logging rates.

Local communities are also engaged in reforestation efforts intended to improve habitat within the protected area. The results of these efforts have been promising. Although amphibian populations have fluctuated since monitoring began in 2010, they have shown positive signs of growth.

This project was made possible thanks to the generous support of Eric Veach and Luanne Lemmer.

Early Bird

Rainforest Trust has been given early access to Twitter’s new video embed feature.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of a video? Twitter is betting a lot. To compete with YouTube and Facebook for online views, the social media giant is unveiling a new video feature that will allow subscribers to embed videos directly in tweets.

Impressed with Rainforest Trust’s online performance and its conservation mission, Twitter provided the nonprofit with early access to the embed feature.

Cat Kutz, Rainforest Trust’s Outreach Manager, sees this as a golden opportunity.

“You can only say so much with a 140-character tweet. Videos, on the other hand, are a fantastic way to increase awareness in an exciting package, and this is going to help connect us with a new, wider audience,” said Kutz.

Video has already proven an effective outreach tool on Rainforest Trust’s social media channels with views on Facebook already totaling over half a million this year.

New Protection for Sumatran Elephants

Purchase of 110,000-acre rainforest concession marks major conservation victory for Sumatran Elephants, Tigers, and Orangutans

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WARRENTON, VA – August 12, 2015 –Two large forestry concessions totaling 110,011 acres that will be used to protect one of the world’s most imperiled elephant populations have been announced today, World Elephant Day, by Rainforest Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving threatened lands and endangered species, and its Sumatran conservation partner Yayasan Konservasi Ekosistem Hutan Sumatera (KEHUS).

The concessions will provide critical protection for many endangered species in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem found on the Indonesia island of Sumatra. The area is home to over 59 species of mammals and 192 species of birds. Critically Endangered species include Sumatran Elephants, Sumatran Tigers and Sumatran Orangutans; Threatened species include Clouded Leopards and Sun Bears.

The flat, lowland habitat protected within the concessions is especially valuable for Sumatra’s remaining elephant population. Many of Sumatra’s existing protected areas are located in mountainous areas that require elephants to exert an unsustainable amount of energy foraging.

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“If elephants have to live in hills within a national park they will simply starve to death,” said Leif Cocks, President of KEHUS. “Unless we can save low-lying habitat, Sumatra’s elephants will certainly go extinct.”

In the last 25 years, Sumatran Elephants have lost more than two-thirds of their lowland forest. The loss of so much habitat, coupled with human-elephant conflicts, has cut the elephant population in half within the lifetime of a single generation.

As recently as the 1950s, the island nation of Indonesia was covered with dense rainforest. Now, just half of this tropical forest remains. Nowhere is this rapid deforestation more apparent in Indonesia than on the island of Sumatra. Every minute, a forested area the size of five football fields is cleared to make way for paper, rubber and palm oil plantations.

This purchase marks a major achievement in Rainforest Trust’s larger plans to protect over 200,000 acres – an area larger than 151,000 football fields – through the purchase of three 60-year Ecosystem Restoration Concessions. With the support of Rainforest Trust, KEHUS plans to convert these concessions into wildlife reserves.

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“Sumatra has reached a tipping point in the fight to save its wildlife. Without adequate protection, many of the planet’s most iconic species face an uncertain future,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “This new purchase is a major step in the right direction. It demonstrates that concrete land protection can still be achieved in Sumatra in an economical and effective way.”

Rainforest Trust is committed to raising over $1.3 million and saving the final 90,384 acres needed to complete this project. Nearly 50 percent of the total funding goals have been met, and individual acres can be protected for only $3.41 thanks to a matching donation. To help Rainforest Trust meet their goal of saving 200,000 acres in Sumatra, please visit: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/project/saving-sumatras-rarest-wildlife/

Other conservation groups supporting this project include The Orangutan Project, World Wildlife Fund -Indonesia, and the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

In addition, Rainforest Trust would like to thank the following organizations and donors for their generous support: GreaterGood.org and The Rainforest Site, The Spurlino Foundation, Wallace Genetic Foundation, The Cornell Douglas Foundation, Geoffrey Chen and Angela Huang, Leslie Danoff and Larry Robbins, Keith Bradley, Brian Levy, Marc Weinberger.

Visit Rainforest Trust’s Flickr page to see more photos of the wildlife recently protected in Sumatra.

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Rainforest Trust is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving rainforest and endangered species in partnership with local conservation leaders and communities. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has saved nearly 8 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats and has 178 projects across 30 countries.

Yayasan Konservasi Ekosistem Hutan Sumatera (KEHUS) is an Indonesian Foundation, founded by an international team that includes members of The Orangutan Project, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and Indonesian conservationists. The goal of KEHUS is to enact genuine and meaningful conservation work in Sumatra to protect viable populations of wildlife and their habitat.

Media contacts:
Marc Ford, Rainforest Trust
info@rainforesttrust.org
1-800-456-4930

Samantha Cartagena, RF|Binder
samantha.cartagena@rfbinder.com
212-994-7686