Rainforest Trust Launched International Conservation House

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On Thursday, October 29th, Rainforest Trust hosted the grand opening of International Conservation House, a campus where like-minded organizations work together to protect some of the world’s most endangered wildlife. International Conservation House has helped to establish Warrenton, Virginia, as a key player in global conservation efforts.

Last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony educated the public about the many organizations comprising International Conservation House and was attended by more than 100 guests. The event allowed attendees to tour the historical house and meet with resident conservationists.

Owned by the descendants of Dr. Murdock Head, International Conservation House is a 19th century manor surrounded by 90 stunning acres of forests, meadows and lakes. Located on Airlie’s northern property, the grounds once welcomed numerous global leaders and policymakers who frequently convened to discuss environmental concerns and social issues from all over the world.

The property has a rich history of supporting environmental organizations. In 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson met with students there to discuss the concept of Earth Day, which is now a worldwide event celebrated every April 22 to support environmental stewardship. The property was also home to a Trumpeter Swan research program and other environmental studies. Unfortunately, after Dr. Head’s death in 1994, the property became quiet for many years.

Momentum to reopen the facility began when Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust, was searching for a base to launch a conservation campus for like-minded nonprofits. On the cusp of deciding to leave Fauquier county for a great opportunity near Princeton University in New Jersey, Dr. Salaman came across Fauquier’s hidden gem – the local Airlie property that he and his team at Rainforest Trust would develop into International Conservation House.

“Thanks to the generosity and encouragement of the Head family, Rainforest Trust was able to stay and grow in Fauquier County alongside other great organizations,” said Dr. Salaman. “We are pleased to reopen the doors of International Conservation House to firmly establish Fauquier County as a hub for global conservation organizations and to rekindle Dr. Head’s passion for global environmental issues.”

Rainforest Trust officially moved into the manor house in early 2015, renaming the property International Conservation House and inviting seven like-minded organizations to join, including Amphibian Survival Alliance, Africa ASAP, Education for Nature-Vietnam, Conservation Allies, BlueLine Conservation and Permian Global.

“Having all of these organizations under one roof is helping to build partnerships in a way that might not otherwise be possible,” Dr. Salaman said. “We have created a place where ideas are ignited amongst people who share common values and organizations that share common goals.”

From tropical habitat preservation in Latin America to anti-poaching efforts in Africa and environmental education programs in Asia, the seven conservation organizations at International Conservation House are striving to provide a better future for the planet.

About Rainforest Trust
Rainforest Trust is a U.S. nonprofit conservation organization based in Warrenton, Virginia, focused on purchasing and protecting tropical habitat for endangered species in partnership with local communities and in-country conservation organizations. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has saved 8 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats and has 184 projects in 32 countries.

Spooky Species! Scary Stories from the Rainforest

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From the banks of the Amazon to the mountains of Madagascar, spooky stories about wildlife abound, and in celebration of Halloween, here are several tantalizing tales of the otherworldly side of the feathered, scaled, and furred.

The Indri Lemur: Sun Worshipper

You are wandering through the forests of Madagascar, the songbirds are silent, and you feel alone below the towering trees. Suddenly, there is a ghostly flash as something darts through the canopy, followed by a haunting song with long wailing notes that sounds eerily similar to calls made by humpback whales. You have just experienced the otherworldly presence of the Indri Lemur, an elusive primate and one of Madagascar’s rarest and largest lemur species.

According to Malagasy tradition, lemurs contain the souls of their human ancestors, and many origin myths feature the Indri. In one myth, two brothers live in a forest at the beginning of time until one decides to cultivate the land. The sibling he leaves behind becomes the Indri Lemur, who sings in mourning for his lost brother.

With its vocalizations and upright stature, the Indri is human-like in many ways, perhaps none more distinctive than its “sun worship.” At sunrise, the Indri will sit still and face eastward with legs crossed, hands lowered, palms extended, and eyes half-closed. Although locals attribute this to an inordinate fondness for the sun, biologists are at a loss to explain the habit.

Threatened by habitat loss and hunting, Indri Lemurs are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Rainforest Trust protects the Indri and its mysteries with the Mangabe reserve in Madagascar’s coastal rainforest.

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The Amazon River Dolphin: Mystical Charmer

A handsome stranger has come to a fiesta hosted by villagers in the Amazon. Throughout the night, he sings with an enchanting voice and, despite the heat, never once removes his cap.

One of the girls dances with him, only to find that his suit is wet. Immediately, she is reminded of the encantado, a shape-shifting river dolphin, who, according to local belief, abducts girls and spirits them off to encante, a paradise under the Amazon River.

Suspicious, she removes his hat when he is distracted, only to find a blowhole on top of his head! The foiled encantado summons a storm and vanishes into the river, never to be seen again.

Young women, however, are not the only ones with cause to fear the encantado. Fishermen also keep their distance, believing that the strange creature possesses the power to drive them mad. Even more, there is a general fear that approaching the river at dusk can be a dangerous activity as this is when the encantado is most alert.

Despite the fear they once inspired, encantados also have reason to avoid humans. Loss of prey due to overfishing, combined with gill-net drownings, are driving down River Dolphin populations throughout the Amazon Basin.
Despite their dwindling numbers, belief in the encantado is still common, and Rainforest Trust protects the Amazon River Dolphin in Colombia’s El Jaguar reserve, safeguarding their secrets for generations to come.

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Golden Poison Dart Frog: Lethal Weapon

Poison has been utilized by cultures worldwide for millennia, and no creature embodies this lethal substance as much as the IUCN Endangered Golden Poison Dart Frog. Possibly the most deadly animal in the world, it is endemic to rainforests along Colombia’s Pacific Coast. The frog’s skin is a vivid lemon yellow color (meant to warn potential predators) and is densely coated with an alkaloid toxin, whose poison inhibits victims’ nerves, causing heart failure. There is a long tradition of native peoples coating darts with the frog’s poison for hunting, and the poison on the darts can last as long as two years.

Despite its natural defenses, the frog is in a fragile state of existence, with a declining population and a small natural range that is threatened by development and gold mining. Rainforest Trust helped create the Rana Terribilis Nature Reserve to safeguard this species and protect one of nature’s deadliest creations into perpetuity.

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Andean Condor: Soul Shephard

With a wingspan of over ten feet, the IUCN Threatened Andean Condor flies ominously over the Andes and features prominently in Incan mythology. Associated with the sun deity due to its elevated position, it was believed to be the ruler of the upper world and represented power and health throughout many Native American cultures in South America. The Condor also served as an avian Grim Reaper, shepherding Incan souls to the Milky Way on its wings after death. As one of the world’s longest-lived birds, it is very much a sentinel of the Andes and can soar through the skies for over seventy years. In folktales, the Andean Condor is known to abduct would-be brides to its high-altitude nest. It is best to watch out for a stranger in a black poncho, as he may be a condor in disguise!

The national symbol of many Latin American countries, the Andean Condor is in decline, with a small population under threat from hunting and development. Rainforest Trust helped protect the Andean Condor by supporting the creation of the 6,100-acre Antisanilla Biological Reserve in the Ecuadorian Andes, which protects the majority of the country’s condor population.

Wildlife Wednesday: Africa’s Marabou Stork

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Picture a stork: snow white, elegant, sailing through the sky carrying a bundle of newborns. Now meet its shady cousin, the Marabou Stork, commonly known as the undertaker bird in Africa due to its dark plumage and its love of carrion. With scabby spots on its face, disheveled feathers, and feces-covered feet, this stork is the last bird you want delivering your baby.

In African folklore, this sickly looking stork was created by God out of leftover bird bits when He ran out of animal parts, leading to its ungainly appearance. The birds are monstrously huge, standing five feet tall, with a wingspan that, at ten feet, rivals that of the Andean Condor. Although it typically maintains a deathly silence, the stork makes occasional grunts with its bib-like throat sac. Its head is bald, and it is a hotbed of disease, hosting a range of worm-like parasites. In the bird world, it would win no beauty contests.

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The Marabou Stork’s diet is incredibly varied and incredibly unappetizing, ranging from crocodile young to trash to baby flamingos. It loves nothing more than hanging around landfills, harassing people for scraps, and has even been documented eating metal. In short, its palate is about as discriminating as a goat’s. The storks are aggressive feeders, driving rival vultures out of their way, and even use wildfires to their advantage, treating fleeing animals as their own personal barbecue.

However ugly the stork may be, its downy feathers have for centuries been given a second life in the fashion industry. The down is frequently employed in the trimming of clothing and hats. Historically spelled ‘marabout,’ the feathers decorated starlets during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Marilyn Monroe wearing marabout shoes in The Seven Year Itch. The tail-feathers are even used in lingerie. As ungainly as the Marabou Stork is, to the fashion world, it is a star.

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More than most creatures in the wild kingdom, the Marabou Stork is a natural fit for Halloween. Both its feathers have been used in Halloween costumes throughout the centuries and it is naturally dressed as an undertaker – it has spooky habits and looks just like the kind of monster you’d expect to dance in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Perhaps you’ll dress as a Marabou Stork for Halloween! Just don’t expect to be welcomed by parents expecting a newborn.

Florida Youth Group Protects 750 Acres for Africa’s Forest Elephants

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Inspired by a recent trip to an elephant sanctuary in Florida, Fort Lauderdale’s youth club Wild Over Wildlife (WOW) recently held a “Trunk or Treat” Halloween party to raise awareness and protection for Liberia’s forest elephants. With only 3% of West Africa’s forests protected, Rainforest Trust’s efforts to create the new Gola Forest National Park in Liberia is a crucial step in protecting elephants, chimpanzees, and a variety of rare primates that call West Africa’s vanishing rainforests home.

Through the club, students are able to learn about wildlife in their native Florida and around the world through visits to the zoo, field trips and outreach events. In the past, WOW has helped conservation efforts by creating calendars featuring young nature photographers. They have also held an annual “Howl-O-Ween” ball, benefitting Rainforest Trust projects in need of support.

This year’s Trunk or Treat celebration featured a variety of animals for club members to interact with including parrots, sugar gliders and skinks. The event raised $250 to protect 750 acres of rainforest habitat for Gola’s forest elephants. The inspiring efforts of youth groups like Wild Over Wildlife showcase what Rainforest Ambassadors can do when they are passionate about saving wildlife.

Learn more about Wild Over Wildlife and Rainforest Ambassadors.

Wildlife Wednesday: Africa’s Black Mamba

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If the Grim Reaper lost his limbs and grew scales, he might look something like the Black Mamba. With their coffin-shaped heads, rapid attacks, and lethal venom, nothing quite spells death like this African snake. Named not for their skin color but for the inky black interior of their mouths, wild Black Mambas can pose a truly terrifying sight.

But we are just as monstrous in their eyes, and Black Mambas would rather flee than fight. Despite their shy nature, Black Mambas do bite when threatened and are notorious for having killed thousands of unwary victims before the invention of an antivenom. In rural areas, Black Mamba bites can still be fatal, as access to medical treatment is scarce and antivenom is even scarcer.

Their poison is a potent mix of neuro- and cardiotoxins that can kill fifteen full-grown men, and they are the fastest land snake in the world, capable of racing forward with their heads over three feet off the ground, ready to strike at any moment.

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Despite their deadly attributes, Black Mamba’s do attract a certain class of admirers and thrill-seekers who raise them as pets for a rush. This has created a small pet market for the species. Some owners farm the snake for their venom’s medicinal qualities, while others name their unconventional pets ‘Satan’ and post angry reports online of the snake’s attempts to bite them. (Who would have guessed?)

Humans have a love-hate relationship with the elusive snake, simultaneously attracted to their strength but wary of their bite. Black Mambas feature as potent figures in African folklore, and legends tell of them outrunning horses and killing people within minutes. Not surprisingly, human development is driving Black Mambas out of their habitat, and this is a growing problem as Africa’s population continues to expand. Among other species, Rainforest Trust will soon be protecting this species with the creation of Lomami National Park in Central Africa.

At the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and with an animal as deadly as the mamba, it may be best to admire them from afar.

South African Reserve Offers Fresh Hope for Survival of Rare Tortoises

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October 15, 2015

Rainforest Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving threatened lands and endangered species, announced today that it has collaborated with conservation partners the Turtle Conservancy and South African Turtle Conservation Trust (SATCT) to create a new protected area conserving habitat for one of the world’s rarest reptiles, the Geometric Tortoise.

The new protected area, known as the Geometric Tortoise Preserve, was created on August 31 when SATCT purchased 212 acres of threatened shrubland habitat. Located in the Upper Breede Valley ecoregion of western South Africa, the new preserve will provide habitat for an estimated 100-200 geometric tortoises—a tiny tortoise no bigger than the palm of a human hand. Turtle Conservancy experts believe this community represents one of the last and largest viable populations of geometric tortoise in the world.

“Considering the plight of the geometric tortoise, there was an obvious need to act swiftly to purchase and protect the last remnants of its natural habitat,” said Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman. “Thanks to our collaboration with the Turtle Conservancy and SATCT, nearly a fifth of all geometric tortoises are now protected, and there is good reason to believe that the new reserve will help set the stage for a comeback.”

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With 95 percent of its original habitat destroyed by agricultural encroachment, the rare tortoise’s total wild population numbers less than 1,000 individuals. Because of growing threats to its tiny population and ultimate survival, the IUCN has designated the species as Endangered, a status which will likely soon be upgraded to Critically Endangered. Besides agricultural expansion, Geometric Tortoise populations are threatened by the construction of roads that increase traffic-related mortalities and fragment remaining habitat. Making matters worse, overgrazing and the introduction of invasive species have altered the landscape and changed fire patterns. Fires now occur with greater frequency, destroying more habitat and killing tortoises.

Although the Geometric Tortoise has long been admired for its domed carapace and stunning yellow-and-black radiating pattern, awareness and alarm about the species’ fate has, until recently, been limited to a small number of conservationists.

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“There have been intermittent plans and some reserves created over the past 50 years, but only recently has international and local governmental attention risen to a new level of concern,” said Dr. James Juvik, Director of South Africa Programs at the Turtle Conservancy.

To help Geometric Tortoises bounce back and ensure the quality of its habitat, SATCT will remove invasive species and restore native plants within the preserve. The organization will also construct a fence around the preserve to prevent intrusions by animal predators and human poachers.

In addition to protecting Geometric Tortoises, the preserve will also provide much-needed habitat for other imperiled species, including the Angulate and Parrot-beaked Tortoises, as well as numerous plant species, including at least five that are endangered.

In a continuing effort to improve protection of the Geometric Tortoise, Rainforest Trust plans to partner with the Turtle Conservancy and SATCT again to expand the reserve by 856 acres through the purchase of a large adjacent property. Visit Rainforest Trust’s project page to learn more about the project.

This project was made possible thanks to the generous donation of an anonymous contributor.
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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 preserved eight million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats and has 184 projects in 32 countries.

The Turtle Conservancy (TC) is a small and highly focused nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting the most threatened turtles and tortoises and their habitats worldwide. Co-founded in 2005 by Eric Goode, the TC recently established one of the only nature reserves in the world for the protection of a critically endangered tortoise, and is engaged in critical conservation programs around the world. The TC also operates one of the most successful turtle and tortoise captive-breeding programs in the world.

Rainforest Trust’s Orangutan Protection Efforts Recognized

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Rainforest Trust’s long-term efforts to protect endangered orangutans have been formally recognized. The Orang Utan Republik Foundation, a conservation group dedicated to saving Indonesian orangutans, honored Rainforest Trust with its annual Pongo Environmental Award on September 23.

Dr. Paul Salaman, Rainforest Trust’s CEO, traveled to Los Angeles to attend the Orang Utan Republik Foundation’s award ceremony and accept the award. Other awardees included legendary primate conservationist Jane Goodall for her lifelong Great Ape protection efforts and GoPro’s Creative Director Bradford Schmidt for his use of video to highlight the plight of orangutans.

Lacking sufficient protection, orangutans are under threat from rampant deforestation as large swaths of their rainforest habitat are cleared for palm oil and rubber plantations. Over the past decade, orangutan populations in Indonesia have been reduced by a third. Only 40,000 individuals now remain in the wild.

“It is an honor to receive the Orang Utan Republik Foundation’s recognition and strong support of our efforts,” said Dr. Bert Harris, Rainforest Trust’s chief biodiversity officer. “The expansion of palm oil plantations makes protecting orangutan habitat increasingly difficult, but these species — which are so similar to humans — are in desperate need of outside intervention and their protection is one of our highest priorities.”

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Rainforest Trust’s work in support of orangutans includes two land protection projects in Malaysian Borneo that will conserve over 282,000 acres of critical rainforest habitat for Bornean Orangutans. The organization recently helped protect another 110,000 acres of rainforest on the island of Sumatra for the Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutan.

“Rainforest Trust has been doing the vital work of securing large tracts of rainforest habitat and improving conditions for orangutans and other animals globally,” said Orang Utan Republik Foundation president Dr. Gary Shapiro. “We were touched and moved by the accomplishments of Rainforest Trust and our choice reflected our respect for the organization.”

Originally founded in 2004 as the Orang Utan Republik Education Initiative, The Orang Utan Republik Foundation is devoted to conserving orangutans in Indonesia through conservation education, outreach initiatives, and collaborative programs. Since its founding, the organization has made significant advancements on multiple fronts by means of coalition building, providing research opportunities, and supporting the work of similarly-minded orangutan organizations.

Rainforest Trust is currently working in Sumatra to protect some of its last unprotected orangutan populations by purchasing 90,000 acres. Once this purchase and others in Malaysia have been finished, Rainforest Trust will have protected nearly half a million acres of critical orangutan habitat.

Wildlife Wednesday: Madagascar’s Aye-Aye

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Much can be said about Madagascar’s Aye-Aye lemur. It fills a unique ecological role; it has character; or, it’s simply a gentle creature whose worst sin is having bad hair. The one thing no one says, however, is that it’s good-looking. It is, put frankly, charismatically ugly.

The Aye-Aye is a gangly stalker of the night. Its most prominent features are its beady eyes and skeletal fingers. Perhaps due to its less-than-friendly appearance, the Aye-Aye is feared as an evil omen. Folktales tell of these creatures slipping through thatch roofs and piercing the hearts of defenseless sleepers with their long needle-like fingers. Impelled by these terror-invoking stories, rural farmers in Madagascar kill Aye-Ayes on sight.

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Local conservationists are combatting the Aye Aye’s malicious reputation by educating locals about how these lemurs benefit the environment. In fact, by removing harmful pests from trees they fulfill a role similar to that of woodpeckers and help promote forest health.

At night, Aye-Ayes forage for nectar, seeds, and insects, using echolocation to detect insect larvae by repeatedly tapping trees to find their tasty grub’s location. After locating a meal, they gnaw holes in the wood and fish out the insects with their spindly fingers.

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Aye-Ayes spend their lives in trees and hide during the day in carefully placed nests. They are primarily solitary, and, like all lemurs, live in female-dominated societies. Competition for mates is high, so high that desperate males will literally pry copulating rivals off females to exchange places.

They may not have the looks of the ring-tailed lemur, but the Aye-Aye certainly is unforgettable. True, it may have the kind of face only a mother could love, but with the right perspective, and a respect for nature in all its forms, even the Aye-Aye could be considered a pleasing player on nature’s stage.

Student Rainforest Ambassador: Q+A with Kailani Clarke

In 2013 the United Nations declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl as a means of raising awareness about young women and gender empowerment around the world. To highlight the issue, we spoke recently with Kailani Clarke, a high school student at the Gunston School of Maryland, who is a passionate birder, blogger and rainforest defender.

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You recently traveled to the Peruvian Amazon as part of a school program. What drew you to the rainforest?

I grew up with my parents on a boat they owned in Guatemala. Since then, I’ve always had a desire to see more of Latin America and the Amazon in particular. Everything about the rainforest is so amazing. The amount of wildlife there – existing in so many different forms – is incredible. I had to see it.

Did your expectations of the rainforest prepare you for what you encountered?

The Amazon River was wide and muddy, similar to what I imagined. Of course, I expected giant bugs, and we did see many of those. The sounds, though, were different than what I assumed they would be. The rainforest was filled with a heavy silence.

Tell us about some of the trip’s highlights?

The biggest thing was connecting with such a vast ecosystem on a really emotional level. Being around such a diversity of life was a powerful experience. All of this resonated with me when we did a canopy walk in a remote area and I was able to look out over an endless canopy of rainforest.

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Do you know what you would like to study in college or have any career plans or ideas yet?

I want to do a double major in Environmental Science and Anthropology. That way I could combine science and aspects of writing. I’m only in high school, so I’m not sure just yet what my career will be.

You are an aspiring writer and blogger. Tell us more about that.

A teacher encouraged me to apply for a job with an environmental education group, Ecoteach which needed a student blogger. In the rainforest, there was just too much to be able to record and write about in the moment. But I love looking back on the experience, so blogging has been great.

There is so much to describe and share through blogging, it has opened up my horizon a bit. Telling a story and sharing the rainforest with others is an important way to inspire rainforest protection.

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Why should other young people care about rainforests?

Whenever I meet someone who asks me why I should care about rainforests, I ask them, “Do you like to breathe?” Rainforests literally give us life. The creatures living there are found nowhere else and need to be protected.

Do you plan on traveling back to the Amazon?

Yes. While visiting the Amazon, I felt connected and embedded to the place. The rainforest opened up a whole other world, it changed me.

Learn more about Rainforest Ambassadors.

Instagram: Photographer Robin Moore Takes Over!

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We are excited to announce our newest Instagram Takeover! Photographer, conservationist, amphibian expert, and author Robin Moore will be managing Rainforest Trust’s Instagram account for the next three days. Robin is using the takeover as an opportunity to highlight amphibian diversity in Guatemala’s Sierra de los Cuchumatanes.

Earlier today, Rainforest Trust announced the purchase of a 2,000-acre ranch in the Cuchumatanes Mountains by local partner FUNDAECO. The ranch – which was spared from imminent destruction – will be converted into a new amphibian reserve providing refuge for threatened wildlife in Guatemala’s cloud forest.

Robin, who visited the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes in July of 2014, will be sharing favorite photos from the visit on Rainforest Trust’s Instagram feed until Friday.
Robin’s photographic work has been featured in National Geographic, Telegraph Magazine, Conservation Magazine, American Photo, Outdoor Photographer, Wanderlust, and TIME for Kids among many others. He is the author of In Search of Lost Frogs and the subject of a recent documentary, The Frog Photographer.

“I’ve had a sneak peak at some of Robin’s photos from Guatemala and our Instagram followers are in for a real treat,” said Cat Kutz, Rainforest Trust’s Conservation Outreach Manager. “The species in this area are really striking and Robin, as usual, did an incredible job of capturing their otherworldly character.”

Rainforest Trust uses Instagram as a way to connect followers with engaging images of the places and wildlife we work to protect.

If you would like to see Robin’s photos, follow us @RainforestTrust and @RobinDMoore on Instagram!