Rainforest Trust Welcomes New Latin America Conservation Officer

Dr. Kathi Borgmann, Rainforest Trust’s new Latin America Conservation Officer, discusses bird conservation and her experience working with some of Rainforest Trust’s most established partners in Latin America.

Tell us about yourself in a few sentences.

I grew up in Wisconsin, but have lived in practically every US state doing conservation work. I did my Masters at Ohio State University studying the effects of non-native plants on birds. Later, I went on to do my PhD at the University of Arizona. My research looked at how seasonal changes in the environment affect nesting success of songbirds in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

How did you first become interested in birds and conservation?

I started out studying botany and cultural anthropology, but it was not until I took my first ornithology class as an undergrad that I fell in love with birds. I got my first field job studying birds right after I finished my Bachelors degree and have been into birds ever since.

My very first job was in New Mexico’s Chihuahua Desert where I spent my days looking for bird nests and measuring vegetation. I learned a ton about desert birds and fell in love with avian field ecology. Some other field highlights have included working in Yosemite National Park and being a part of a long-term fruit dispersal project in South Carolina.

Later, I journeyed to Latin America on an ambitious multi-year bird expedition. It wasn’t until that trip that I really got into tropical conservation, learning about the birds and meeting the players involved in their conservation.

Do you have a favorite bird species?

I love Antpittas. They are just super cool, super secretive and there is not a lot known about them. While traveling through Latin America, I was recording for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and was able to get recordings of the Perija Rufous Antpitta. Few recordings exist of that species, so it was really rewarding for me to able to record new vocalizations.

Generally, I love all the secretive, mysterious birds. It’s fascinating that there are still species out there we know so little about, especially in the tropics. I love the sense of discovery – it’s exciting.

I understand you’ve worked with some of our established partners in Latin America, such as ProAves and Fundación Jocotoco – can you tell us a little about that experience?

I think it’s amazing what ProAves and Fundación Jocotoco are doing. To have such passionate, dedicated people in-country is inspiring. For example, Francisco from ProAves is so dedicated to what he does. It’s really great to see that people in-country have that dedication.

Little by little we can work towards changing peoples’ minds about conservation. I remember in Ecuador I went up to a remote mountain reserve to look for a rare Cotinga species that Bob Ridgely had discovered. Up there, we ran into community members who were clearing the water duct that heads into the village below. I spent a few moments talking with them about what I was doing in the mountains. As I started talking about birds and the importance of the area, they grew more interested and started asking about how they could work towards bringing ecotourism at their site to provide income while protecting the land. It was one of those moments where I realized as a traveling birder that I could meet local people and get them excited about birding and conservation. It was an inspiring moment to see that passion, and have a chance to share.

As Rainforest Trust’s new Latin America Conservation Program Officer, what are some things you’d like to accomplish?

It’s really exciting for me to be involved in land conservation. To protect birds and other species, you first have to protect the land from being deforested. Being able to protect and preserve all these amazing places and save species on the brink before its too late is important. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and Rainforest Trust is the place to do it.

Header photo: Kathi climbing an observation tower in Colombia. Photo by Josh Beck.

New National Park Declared in Cambodia

Thanks to support from Rainforest Trust donors, a 223,287-acre national park in Cambodia has been permanently established. Prey Preah Roka National Park represents the last intact representation of an ecosystem that once dominated most of Indochina.

Located in Cambodia’s Northern Plains, the new Prey Preah Roka National Park contains a mosaic of forest, wetlands and grasslands that provide important habitat for endangered species like Asian Elephants, Fishing Cats and the Indochinese Silvered Leaf Monkey. It is also home to some of the planet’s most endangered large water birds, including the Giant Ibis.

On May 9th, 2016, the Royal Government of Cambodia issued a sub-decree declaring the creation of the new national park. Nearly 10 times the size of Paris, Prey Preah Roka National Park is one of five new protected areas in Cambodia signed into law by Prime Minister Hun Sen this month. One of the other areas declared thanks to Rainforest Trust supporters was Southern Cardamom National Park, a 1,014,100-acre protected area conserving one of Southeast Asia’s last great rainforests and one of the last un-fragmented Asian Elephant corridors on the planet.

The Prey Preah Roka National Park now connects two previously established protected areas, providing an enormous, contiguous wildlife corridor totaling 1,698,012 acres.

With support from Rainforest Trust, local partner Wildlife Conservation Society-Cambodia worked with Cambodia’s government to formally establish the new park. Its protection comes after years of logging, hunting and agricultural expansion in the region that threatened to destroy the Northern Plain’s unique plant and animal communities.

Located in the heart of the Indo-Burmese Peninsula, Prey Preah Roka National Park lies within a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot boasting 28 IUCN threatened species. Based on confirmed records in the adjacent protected areas and habitats in the wildlife sanctuary, an additional 19 threatened species are considered likely to be present within this enormous protected area complex.

Prey Preah Roka National Park is now a permanent refuge for endangered wildlife including Asian Elephants, whose populations have declined 50 percent over the last three generations. The habitat protection afforded by this declaration will provide strong support for the critical remaining population.

Other threatened species found in the national park include Pileated Gibbons, Eld’s Deer, Dholes and two Critically Endangered tree species. Additionally, Prey Preah Roka contains no less than five Critically Endangered bird species.

In the past absence of legal protected status, this area was long threatened by private interests with massive forest destruction by large-scale industrial plantations, mining and livestock grazing. These threats have been averted thanks to Rainforest Trust and its committed supporters.

Following this long-awaited declaration, protection of this unique biodiversity will be undertaken by Cambodia’s Ministry of the Environment whose management plan includes three new patrol sub-stations staffed by teams consisting of rangers and military police to ensure proactive, on-the-ground protection.

“The designation of Prey Preah Roka National Park is an enormous step forward for wildlife and habitat protection in Cambodia,” said Rick Passaro, Rainforest Trust’s Asia Conservation Officer. “The historic events of these past few weeks in Cambodia should be hailed as conservation victories for the entire Southeast Asian region.”

The Prey Preah Roka National Park was declared thanks to our local partner, WCS-Cambodia, and the generous support of Luanne Lemmer, Eric Veach, an anonymous contributor and many other friends of Rainforest Trust.

Header photo: Sarus Cranes flock to Prey Preah Roka’s wetlands and open areas. Photo by Martin Hale.

Rediscovery of the Blue-eyed Ground-dove in Brazil

For the last few months a Rainforest Trust supported group of researchers, SAVE Brazil and Butantan Bird Observatory, have been working in secret to scientifically report the rediscovery of the Blue-eyed Ground-dove and to simultaneously develop a conservation plan that secures the critically endangered bird’s long-term survival.

Last documented in 1941, the Blue-eyed Ground-dove was believed extinct. With cobalt-blue eyes and dark blue spots on its wings dimpled over reddish-chestnut plumage, it’s surprising this beautiful bird went unnoticed for decades. But now the species has been found at locations in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

The rediscovery of the species is one of the most astonishing stories in Neotropical ornithology. However rapid rates of habitat loss in the region mean that many more species could be heading to extinction unless drastic action is taken. So far, researchers can only confirm sightings of 12 individuals, so securing the bird’s habitat will be the key to conserving the species.

Ornithologist Rafael Bessa from Instituto Butantan first spotted the Blue-eyed Ground-dove in July 2015. Collaborating with SAVE Brazil, they formed a research group to study the species in secret. Mindful of the need to properly establish a conservation plan before announcing the rediscovery, the researchers partnered with Rainforest Trust for support.

The researchers are undertaking studies on the biology of the species, especially on behavior, breeding biology and feeding. With the support of Rainforest Trust they are also venturing to places with geographic and environmental features similar to the site of the original rediscovery, aiming to find additional populations. Employing satellite imagery as well as a technique called Ecological Niche Modelling, they are working to predict areas potentially suitable to the species.

Studies suggest that the Blue-eyed Ground-dove has a specific habitat that could be as critically endangered as the bird itself. Found in Brazil’s Cerrado, this wooded savanna ecosystem is one of the most threatened and over-exploited regions of Brazil, second only to the Atlantic Rainforest in vegetation loss and deforestation.

In addition to being the last refuge for the Blue-eyed Ground-dove, hundreds of other bird species, thousands of endemic plants and large mammals like jaguar, maned wolf and giant anteaters all call the Cerrado home.

Discoveries like this highlight the importance of protecting the Cerrado for the Blue-eyed Ground-dove and many other species so that they may rebound, and once again thrive. Rainforest Trust is pleased to announce this astounding rediscovery and support Brazilian partners in their efforts to create a conservation plan for the species and establish a reserve in the future.

Header photo: The Blue-eyed Ground-dove is one of the most exciting avian rediscoveries in decades. Photo by Rafael Bessa.

Strategic New National Park Created in Cambodia

Thanks to Rainforest Trust supporters, one of Southeast Asia’s last great rainforests is now permanently protected with the declaration of the 1,014,100-acre Southern Cardamom National Park located in the heart of the Indo-Burmese Peninsula.

Importantly, the new park is the final critical centerpiece that connects six major national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to form a massive contiguous mega-protected area spanning a total of 4,491,115 acres – nearly the size of New Jersey – providing a permanent sanctuary for Cambodia’s endangered wildlife.

On May 9, 2016, the Royal Government of Cambodia issued a sub-decree declaring the creation of the new Southern Cardamom National Park. Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the new protected area is hailed as one of the last un-fragmented Asian Elephant corridors on the planet.

Rainforest Trust in collaboration with Cambodian partner Wildlife Alliance worked with Cambodia’s government to formally establish the new national park. Its creation comes after intense and prolonged pressure to open the Cardamom Mountains to logging and the development of industrial plantations.

The Southern Cardamoms are a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot boasting 28 IUCN Red-Listed wildlife species and over 2,000 plant species. Though the area hosts a fantastic wealth of flora and fauna, much of its wildlife is endangered. In total, 27 species found in the Cardamom Range are imperiled with extinction, including Asian Elephants and Pileated Gibbons.

In the absence of legal protected status, the area has long been threatened by private interests and was slated an astounding 36 times to be converted into large-scale industrial plantations and used for mining and livestock grazing. However for over 14 years, Wildlife Alliance has successfully defended the Southern Cardamoms by focusing on their economic value to the nation through relentless advocacy and campaigning. The mountain range supplies water to 16 hydro-power dams that are estimated to provide 20 percent of the country’s electricity, and it is the number one rain-catchment area in the nation.

Embracing a three-pronged conservation approach, our local partner battled to avoid deforestation and loss of species. First, systematic ranger patrols were employed to stop forest clearing and wildlife poaching. Next, profitable alternative livelihoods were developed with local communities so they no longer needed to depend on harvesting the forest and its wildlife. And finally, through our partner’s persistent advocacy, the Cardamoms were promoted as an economic priority for the nation.

Our partner’s strategy has paid off. Since 2004, 36 economic land concessions were prevented or cancelled, 5,000 residents benefitted from alternative income, and the Southern Cardamoms have been recognized by international tour guides as Cambodia’s second tourism destination following the temples of Angkor.

After this long-awaited national park declaration, the next step for the Southern Cardamoms is to be nominated as a World Biosphere Reserve – a promotion that UNESCO and Wildlife Alliance have been working toward for the last two and a half years and hope to see through in the years to come.

“The declaration of Southern Cardamom National Park adds another exceptional piece to an enormous protected landscape puzzle that is vital to the people, wildlife and environment of Cambodia,” said Rick Passaro, Asia Conservation Officer for Rainforest Trust. “This is a massive conservation victory for Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia.”

Header photo: Endangered Pileated Gibbons are one of many species protected in the new national park. Photo by Wildlife Alliance.

El Jaguar Reserve Cameras Highlight Wild Amazonia

Scientists with Rainforest Trust Colombian partner ProAves, recently shared the results from a camera trap study in the new El Jaguar Reserve showcasing many elusive and endangered Amazonian species.

Last year, Rainforest Trust supported long-standing Colombian partner, Fundación ProAves, in the strategic purchase of multiple properties, expanding El Jaguar Reserve by 5,421 acres. The new expansion enlarged the protected area to a total of 10,326 acres of Amazon rainforest that were at grave risk of deforestation for oil palm plantations.

With protection in place, scientists are now seeking to learn more about the rich assortment of wildlife living in El Jaguar Reserve. Among the reserve’s many mammal species, its Jaguars rank as some of the most threatened due to hunting and habitat fragmentation. Furthermore, little is known about their isolated population and the area generally lacks biodiversity studies.

In response, ProAves launched a camera trap survey encompassing 12 camera trap stations to evaluate mammals and the natural corridors they utilize within El Jaguar Reserve. The results of the study will assist with the planning and conservation management of the mammals in the Orinoco and Amazon forests. Some of the camera trap highlights were compiled in this video, showcasing wild Amazonia at its best.

Over a 335-day sampling period, the study identified 20 species of mammals and 8 species of birds.  The most observed species included: Puma, Jaguar, Ocelot, Common Squirrel Monkey, Tufted Capuchin, Lowland Tapir, Giant Anteater, Tayra, South American Coati, White-lipped Peccary, Spotted Paca, Black Agouti and Giant Armadillo.

Learn more about Rainforest Trust’s conservation efforts with ProAves to establish El Jaguar Reserve.

 

 

Amphibian Conference Hosted by Rainforest Trust

Rainforest Trust is hosting the Amphibian Survival Alliance’s Global Council meeting on May 12/13, 2016 – an assembly of organizations concerned with international amphibian declines.

During the two-day conference, regional policies, site-based solutions and other strategies will be discussed for saving important habitat for amphibians.

In 2004, a global assessment found amphibians to be the most threatened group of vertebrates currently assessed by the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss was identified as the major threat to species declines. In response, Rainforest Trust and other Alliance partners are at the forefront of efforts to protect the most important sites for Endangered and Critically Endangered amphibians.

In addition to habitat loss, amphibians are also facing an array of other threats, including the chytrid fungus that is leading to declines, and even extinction, of some 200 species of amphibians.

Through work with the ASA, Rainforest Trust is part of a global movement addressing the complexities of species decline and has already helped create a number of protected areas in key regions to help safe guard these incredible animals.

Donor Spotlight: Running for the Rainforest

Running for the Rainforest

To highlight our incredible donors, we spoke with Kristen Middleton, a passionate runner and Rainforest Trust supporter whose efforts have raised over $4,000 for conservation.

Kristen, why do you support Rainforest Trust?

I support Rainforest Trust because it is a top-rated organization that is doing excellent work around the globe to conserve precious rainforest. I was a personal donor before I decided to embark on a greater mission of reaching out to my friends and family to raise money for the organization. I realized that there are a lot of people in my network who want to do something to combat climate change, but aren’t sure how to help. When I reached out to friends and family, explaining that by conserving rainforest we are storing carbon and minimizing the effects of climate change, they were happy to contribute! A lot of people who donated to Rainforest Trust through my fundraiser felt like they were part of a community and part of a greater, positive mission. They realized that every little bit makes a difference, and they could make a difference in the world, simply by donating to Rainforest Trust.

What would be your advice to someone interested in supporting rainforest conservation?

I would encourage someone to donate personally if they have the means to do so, but beyond that, to run a race or take an action to benefit Rainforest Trust, which would provide a basis for reaching out to their own family and friends to raise more money. That is what I did. There are many ways to create that “platform” for raising money: mine happened to be running a half-marathon, but you can choose just about anything! You can raise money in honor of a person, in honor of a wedding, birthday, or anniversary, or as a group (for example if you are in a church group or on a sports team). There are so many creative ways to use the power of friendship and family to increase a donation ten-fold or more! It is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to have fundraised over $4,000 for Rainforest Trust so far this year. My goal is to raise a total of $10,000 as I continue running races in honor of Rainforest Trust.

On a personal level, I feel grateful to be in a position to run races, and it is empowering for me to know I am helping conserve rainforest land.

In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit of saving rainforests and tropical habitats?

The main reason I’m conserving rainforest is to help mitigate the effects of climate change. I recognize the urgency with which we need to store carbon in rainforests, and the rapid pace at which unprotected rainforests are being clear-cut. I am happy to help conserve land and wildlife that will ensure our planet survives for future generations. It is so important that people take action now, not later. It’s important for everyone to understand that they can make a difference no matter how big or small. Some of my donors gave only $10, others gave hundreds of dollars. But everything added up! And of course, on average it only takes less than $10 to save one acre of land.

What makes Rainforest Trust stand out to you as a conservation organization to support?

The fact that it is top rated by Charity Navigator, has saved millions of acres of land so far, and because I have had very professional and positive interactions with staff members, thanking me for donating and supporting the organization.

How would you describe yourself in 1-2 sentences?

I’m passionate about conserving land so that our planet is healthy and livable for future generations. I love working with schools, children, and spending time in nature. Finally, I couldn’t have done this without the support and encouragement of my wonderful husband, John, so I wanted to thank him, too! He cheers me on every day!

Header photo: Kristen Middleton has raised over $4,000 to support Rainforest Trust by running a series of half marathons in support of rainforest conservation. Photo by Kristen Middleton.

Earth Day Success for Sumatra

Celebrating Earth Day is an important tradition at Rainforest Trust. Our offices at International Conservation House in Virginia are the same historic location where U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson met with students in 1970 to discuss the concept of establishing Earth Day, which is now recognized every year on April 22nd to promote environmental protection.

This Earth Day, Rainforest Trust announced a new conservation project in Sumatra that will create a protected area the size of New York City, saving crucial rainforest habitat for the island’s critically endangered species – including the Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Orangutan, Sumatran Elephant, and Helmeted Hornbill. In celebration of Earth Day, our supporters helped us raise over $1.7 million to protect 178,958 acres for these imperiled species!

In addition to protecting a massive block of rainforest for critically endangered species in Sumatra for Earth Day, Rainforest Trust’s corporate partner Endangered Species Chocolate donated funds to help us save 961 acres in Côte d’Ivoire with the My Chocolate Acre campaign throughout the month of April. For every social media post using #MyChocolateAcre, Endangered Species Chocolate saved one acre of forest in Cote d’Ivoire – habitat that contains some of the highest biodiversity levels in West Africa and one of the locations where Endangered Species Chocolate sources their sustainable cacao.

Header photo: Sumatran elephant in the wild. Photo by Vincent Poulisen.

Notes from the Field: Kenya

Dr. Ali Abdullahi, the Director of Hirola Conservation Programme, discusses conservation efforts in northeastern Kenya to protect the Hirola – the most critically endangered antelope in the world.

Ali, how did you first become involved in conservation?

Both of my parents were nomads, and where they moved around, there were no schools. However, there was an uncle of mine who was in the military and built a school in the neighboring region. He requested the parents to voluntarily send a single child per household to the school. Although my father was opposed to the idea, my mom agreed and sent me to school when I was 7 or 8 years old. That was literally the first time I was in a permanent structure and interacted with individuals outside my family members. The new school attracted nearly 300 kids from the neighboring communities. It was no longer nomadic but a sedentary and diverse culture.

I completed my primary education after eight years, but half the kids dropped out. A few of us went on to high school. During this time, I had the opportunity to go on a school trip and visited the Masai Mara. I witnessed the great wildebeest migration, and was impressed by the rangers who looked after the park. I decided right then that I wanted to be a wildlife ranger.

Tell us more about the Hirola and why this area is so important for the species. What other species are found there?

When I finished my degree, there had already been several past attempts to save Hirola from extinction. Some of these involved moving Hirola from elsewhere and relocating them to areas outside their natural range. These efforts were led by people based overseas or in Nairobi and were restricted to opportunistic field visits and intuition-driven strategies that often encountered obstacles. Most conservationists didn’t understand how remote this place is. They were shocked.

When the Kenya Wildlife Service realized they needed a local person, passionate about conservation to lead Hirola conservation, they chose me in the year 2005. That is how the Hirola first got my attention. Before that, I had been involved in a project working to establish a protected area in Garissa for migrant giraffes wounded from the war in Somalia. But then I realized the Hirola’s situation was more dire.

Since then I’ve been fully focusing on Hirola conservation. It was at this point in time that I envisioned multiple pathways necessary to save Hirola from extinction. I realized there was very limited knowledge about the species and many past conservation failures. At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin. For perspective, Black Rhino and African Painted Dogs —two globally endangered, high profile African mammals—each are estimated to number around ten times the global population size of Hirola. Given the low numbers, my biggest confusion was how to help the species. Should we start protecting them, research them better, protect their habitat? I thought raising awareness of the species locally and internationally was easiest to do.  Once I started, I got support from all over to tackle the rest of the issues. The message was clear: do something to save this species and we will help you.

The landscape the Hirola lives in is also full of many other species. Animals like giraffes, Lesser Kudu, Gerenuks, Dik-diks, Topi and Elands are all seen. There are also many large carnivores like leopards, cheetahs, lions, and hyenas. With such a diverse suite of large mammals, it should be declared a protected area. So I’m excited we’re finally working to make it into one.

What are some of the greatest threats to the species and ways you are working to overcome them?

Since Hirola numbers are so low, combatting predation is a short-term goal. The long-term goal is to restore habitat. This is because the historical Hirola range experienced massive tree encroachment over the last three decades resulting from elephant poaching, overgrazing and fire suppression. If we bring back elephants and stabilize cattle density, we suspect the system will come back to benefit the species producing a better mosaic of grassland and trees.

Poaching is a threat. Local communities don’t hunt for bush meat, but migrants from elsewhere do come into the area to poach. Sometimes we’ve had incidents of young village boys just spearing Hirola to test their skills, and people don’t know because they are unware of the status of the Hirola. Since the remaining Hirola are so few, the survival of a single individual matters.

How do the local clans and community elders view your conservation efforts? Is this community-based?

Most local people don’t know what conservation is. It is a new idea; something that evolved from somewhere else and often wrongly associated with outsiders. We’re trying to sell it, but it’s hard for local people to get onboard unless they see a tangible and sustainable benefit. Seeing is believing.

When one family benefits, it can change attitudes. Once you employ one individual, it’s like you’ve supported the whole family. Employing families and neighbors makes it real and community supported. The people here want to see progress and change, but it must be tangible. When I sit down and tell them this could be a potential tourist site one day, they can’t imagine it. It takes time.

I understand that some of the local Somali clans have a unique relationship to the Hirola and view them as almost mystical. Can you tell us a little more about that?

They think that the presence of Hirola in the land is an indicator of ecosystem health. When they see them, they think the livestock will do well and that there will be many births and abundant food. In this way, the Hirola is a good omen for the land. People also say it is a very shy, polite species – not worth killing it and taboo. It is believed they are good for the land and good for people.

The local Somali clans are also proud of the Hirola as their own. They protested the government from taking the Hirola to Tsavo National Park and won in the courts. The community said it should be protected here or nowhere. By taking this species and introducing it to Tsavo, it denies benefits to the community here.

You just completed your PhD at the University of Wyoming. What is next for you? How do you envision your Hirola conservation efforts 10 years from now?
My entire effort is just dedicated to conserving Hirola and restoring its habitat. I’ve already devoted a lot of effort to do it. The next step is to increase numbers and habitat for Hirola, and to effectively integrate the communities into the conservation effort to save the species. Next I’ll be going back to Kenya, and working with an experienced partner from the University of Utah on rangeland restoration. The researcher’s expertise is in restoration and wildlife-habitat interactions in the American West and in Africa. I want to incorporate lessons from that work into our Hirola range restoration efforts in Kenya.

In ten years, I want to see the Hirola population increase to at least 3,000 to 4,000 individuals, and see several hectares of land preserved for the species. If I see that happen, I could hand the reigns over to the next generation of conservationists. Conservation is hard work, but I know exactly what I need to do.

What makes you excited about this partnership with Rainforest Trust?

This is probably the biggest support I’ve received in the last 10 years. Rainforest Trust’s support has lifted the profile of what I’m doing. Already several organizations are saying congratulations on getting Rainforest Trust support. It is helping make a difference and giving greater hope and expectation that we can save the species. Additionally, strengthening a locally driven conservation program provides a new win-win situation for locals and the Hirola.

Rainforest Trust support is also helping bring in more skilled people and collaboration from outside to help local scientists like me. In addition, I have no doubt that this partnership will provide networking opportunities for us where we could learn from other projects.  I’m excited for a new protected area. It all makes my face brighten up.

Header photo: For over a decade, Ali Abdullahi, Director of the Hirola Conservation Programme, has been fighting to protect the Hirola – the world’s most endangered antelope. Photo by Hirola Conservation Programme.