The Understory: Newsworthy Pachyderms

The Understory is a podcast focused on current trending conservation topics hosted by Rainforest Trust’s Conservation Outreach team.

This episode, learn how the Guardian is putting elephants in the spotlight on a global scale and how you can help protect real habitat for elephants with Rainforest Trust.

Success for African Amphibian Conservation through the Creation of New Reserve

The Ngandja Natural Reserve has been recently established thanks to Rainforest Trust’s local partner, donors and other supporters, safeguarding over 700,000 acres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The newly established Ngandja Natural Reserve protects the northern part of Misotshi-Kabogo, an area within the DRC that is of critical importance for amphibian, bird and mammal conservation. A recent survey in the area led to the discovery of six vertebrate species new to science, including two new amphibian species. This Reserve, along with the Itombwe Massif located to the north of the Ngandja Natural Reserve, has been identified as an irreplaceable site for amphibian conservation. Together with the Itombwe Natural Reserve that Rainforest Trust also supported, these new Protected Areas now provide a safe haven for the region’s endangered wildlife and rich biodiversity.

Rainforest Trust supported the Albertine Rift Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society in a joint collaboration with other groups, working tirelessly to safeguard this section of critical amphibian habitat despite the boundary changes that have affected the reserve designation process.

In 2015, DRC government decentralization resulted in the creation of multiple new provinces, and the area originally proposed as Ngamikka National Park was suddenly contained within two provinces. Because of this division, local leaders and communities opted to establish the section of the proposed park in South Kivu Province as the M’Mbondo Reserve. The Governor of South Kivu recently designated this Protected Area, whose name has been changed to the Ngandja Natural Reserve to reflect the local culture and heritage of the region.

A major aspect of this Protected Area designation was community involvement. The Reserve was proposed through a consultation process that involved local stakeholders, government administrators and community representatives. Regular meetings were held with traditional chiefs to assess participatory mapping and boundary marking, as well as to provide information and maintain local support for the Reserve.

Since its designation, Rainforest Trust and its local partners have supported various conservation activities in the new Ngandja Natural Reserve to help improve the management capacity of local communities. Rangers that monitor the Reserve boundaries receive the training and equipment they need to ensure that wildlife is adequately protected.

For the southern section of the originally proposed Ngamikka National Park that has not yet received Protected Area status, the designation process is ongoing. Consultations are regularly held with local leaders, community representatives and provincial officials with the aim of having this area established as the Kabobo National Park as soon as possible.

Rainforest Trust supported the Albertine Rift Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society in a joint collaboration with World Wide Fund for Nature-DRC and AfriCapacity in the creation of the Ngandja Natural Reserve.

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped to make possible the creation of the Ngandja Natural Reserve, especially Bernie Han, Leslie Danoff and Larry Robbins, and Geo Chen and Angela Huang.

Header photo: Recording park boundaries. Photo courtesy of Andy Plumptre.

New National Park Offers Protection for Forest Elephants in Liberia

Thanks to Rainforest Trust’s local partner, donors and other supporters, the 219,609-acre Gola Forest National Park– only the second National Park in Liberia– was declared on September 22. This new Park protects part of the Guinean Forest of West Africa, which contains astonishing levels of endemic plant and animal life.

Rainforest Trust worked with local partner Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL) to help establish the Gola Forest National Park, which is part of an international conservation plan to create one of the largest Protected Area complexes in West Africa. By connecting with Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest National Park, the Liberian Gola Forest National Park is in effect establishing a crucial transboundary peace park protecting 395,226 acres.

“Rainforest Trust is proud to have played a key role in the creation of the Gola Forest National Park in Liberia, which not only protects many endangered species but establishes a bi-national peace park to strategically bring together Liberia and Sierra Leone — two countries greatly threatened by large numbers of oil palm, mining and logging initiatives in the region,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“This is why Rainforest Trust has made it a priority to strengthen Liberian forests, and why we are grateful that the Liberian government, our partner and local communities have worked diligently to create the Gola Forest National Park to protect natural resources.”

The Gola Forest National Park is located in the Guinean Forest of West Africa, an area internationally recognized as one of Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots. In total, 60 species assessed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are found in the area, including Forest Elephants. Facing threats from habitat loss and poaching, Forest Elephants have suffered catastrophic population declines in recent decades.

In addition to Forest Elephants, recent surveys in the Gola Forest National Park have identified 48 other large mammal species. Western Chimpanzees, Western Red Colobus Monkeys and Diana Monkeys are widespread throughout the area, as well as Endangered Pygmy Hippopotamus and three Duiker species (a type of forest antelope). The new Park has already been declared an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, with over 300 avian species recorded at the site.

With much of West Africa’s forests already lost to human development and less than 3 percent of remaining forests officially protected, wildlife in this biodiversity hotspot was previously under severe threat. Large blocks of rainforest, however, remain intact along Liberia’s western border with Sierra Leone, and are now protected through the declaration of the Gola Forest National Park.

Rainforest Trust’s partner SCNL is committed to working with local communities to achieve lasting conservation results in this new Park. Field staff visited communities to ensure that local people were educated and involved in the consent process needed for national park designation, and SCNL also developed sustainable finance and management plans for the long-term maintenance of Gola Forest National Park.

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped to make possible the creation of Gola Forest National Park, especially Luanne Lemmer, Eric Veach, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, European Commission, Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation as well as an anonymous donor.

Header photo: Forest Elephants. Photo by CIFOR.

Celebrating World Cassowary Day

World Cassowary Day, celebrated on September 24, highlights the importance of these threatened birds to rainforest ecosystems.

Combine two Papuan words—“kasu,” meaning horned, and “weri,” referring to head— and you get the name as well as description of one of the largest birds on earth. The shape and markings of the cassowary’s helmet-like casque are unique to each individual, and may serve as an acoustic amplifier for the birds’ low frequency calls. These flightless black birds with vibrant blue necks are related to ostriches and emus, and they are found in the rainforests of northeastern Australia, neighboring New Guinea and surrounding islands.

As territorial birds, cassowaries prefer their own personal space and will primarily stay within their home ranges throughout the year, unless it is mating season or there is a food shortage. Each cassowary foot has dagger-like claws that can grow up to five inches long—a warning to potential threats and resource competitors that they won’t shy away from a fight when provoked.

Cassowaries also use their claws to forage for fruit that has fallen to the forest floor. These birds mainly eat fruit, though they do consume small vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi and carrion as well. Once a cassowary consumes fruit, the seeds continue through its digestive track and are released back into the rainforest in natural fertilizer. Because the birds can travel significant distances before the seeds are expelled, cassowaries distribute them throughout their range—making them gardeners and architects of the rainforest.

Unfortunately, their ranges are being encroached upon, to the detriment of both the environment and the species that depend on it. Due to the destruction and fragmentation of their rainforest habitats in Australia, Southern Cassowaries are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Because of the symbiotic relationship between cassowaries and the forest— the plants provide food and habitat, the birds ensure its continued growth through seed distribution— to protect one is to preserve the other. By helping safeguard Daintree National Park and the Atherton Tablelands, Rainforest Trust works to ensure that these stunning ecosystems and the cassowaries that call them home flourish for generations to come.

This World Cassowary Day, help save these charismatic birds by protecting their unique habitats in Daintree National Park if you are in the US, or both Daintree National Park and the Atherton Tablelands if you reside in Australia.

Header photo: Southern Cassowary in the Daintree Rainforest. Photo courtesy of AAWE_19.

Supporter Spotlight: Oceans Connect

Two nature enthusiasts bike across South America to raise funds for the Amazon.

Amy Tunstall and Jake Wilcox are no strangers to the open road; both are avid bicyclists with a taste for adventure and passion for experiencing the natural world.

Following the conclusion of the recent Olympics hosted in Brazil, Amy and Jake have committed to raise $10,000 by cycling over 3,500 miles across South America from coast to coast, starting in Rio de Janeiro. They will split the funds raised through their project “Oceans Connect” between Rainforest Trust and various local communities along the road.

Jake and Amy plan to ride along the Interoceanic Highway, which connects the ports of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to San Juan de Marcona and Pisco of Peru. Along the way, they will be observing the effects of deforestation that have occurred since the road’s construction.

New roads inevitably lead to the development of side roads, causing fragmented habitat and allowing easier access to forest resources. In fact, there is a term associated with the visual pattern created by this network of roads that often occur in a fishbone-like pattern: herringbone deforestation.

Unfortunately, while the Interoceanic Highway allows an ease of transportation that permits people, products and cultures to move more freely and quickly across the continent, the road passes right through the middle of one of the world’s greatest treasures: the Amazon Rainforest.

Home to the world’s largest tropical rainforest on Earth, the Amazon is legendary for its great biodiversity that contains millions of species, many still undescribed. However, during the past few decades, nearly 20 percent of its lush forest has been lost, making the work of Rainforest Trust increasingly more urgent to safeguard what forest remains.

“From having the largest rainforest in the world to one of its mightiest mountain ranges, South America has a little bit of everything – making it an ideal location for an expedition,” noted Jake. “We figured it was time to give a little back, especially to protect a rainforest that we will be seeing first hand and that gives so much to all of us.”

When asked why they chose to support Rainforest Trust with their coast-to-coast fundraiser, Jake answered, “You guys have a proven success record of over 25 years for protecting tropical habitat and rainforest all around the world. Millions of acres have already been saved from destruction, and you partner with local communities to help make the donations go the farthest.”

Jake and Amy’s grand adventure kicked off on September 10, and they’ve already spotted their first wildlife along the trail – a monkey sighting. To follow their adventure, visit them on Facebook and Instagram.

Header photo: Jake Wilcox. Photo courtesy of Amy Tunstall and Jake Wilcox.

Supporter Spotlight: Richard Jones, Rainforest Ceramics

Former Member of the New South Wales Upper House, Richard Jones is a lifelong advocate for the environment. He now utilizes his love of producing ceramics to protect the rainforest and its endangered species that are so dear to his heart.

Richard Jones has worn many hats over the years: publisher, environmental NGO founder, member of Parliament and now – artist. Richard had originally planned to study, create and sell fine ceramics, but other projects and opportunities sidetracked this endeavor.

“When my mother died in 1967, the most precious things she left me were ceramic pieces she made,” said Richard. “I started on the pottery wheel a few years later but became caught up in a whirlwind of starting my own business and working for the environment.”

A whirlwind is an apt description of Richard’s journey over the past few decades. His initial passion for the environment grew early in his publishing career. When Richard was the CEO of a publishing house in 1971, a friend brought to his attention the plight of the ancient forests at Australia’s Myall Lakes. Acres of old-growth coastal forests that host a variety of unique species were being bulldozed for easier access to minerals and sands.

“I wrote to an Australian politician, Premier of New South Wales Robert Askin, asking him to help protect these precious coastal forests,” said Richard. “The Premier responded that I might know about publishing but knew nothing about politics.”

Not to be deterred, Richard decided to run for Parliament so that he could enact environmental change. While campaigning for a political position, Richard founded Greenpeace Australia, the Fund for Animals and was the first convener of Friends of the Earth. He was also publisher and editor of the environmental magazine Simply Living in the ’80s.

Due to his tireless efforts, Richard was finally elected to the New South Wales Upper House in 1988. During his time in office, he negotiated to save old growth forests and create new marine parks while protecting Aboriginal rights.

Today, Richard has come full circle, returning to his love of crafting ceramics and selling his artistic creations to benefit the rainforest. His pottery project, Rainforest Ceramics, hosts an online shop full of one-of-a-kind items whose sales support Rainforest Trust’s work worldwide.

“I chose to support Rainforest Trust over any other organization because it is the best in the world at conserving global rainforests. I did my research!” noted Richard.

This August, Richard was part of an open studio event for artists across eastern Australia. In just one weekend, Richard was able to raise enough funds to help Rainforest Trust protect 2,078 acres of Congolese rainforest.

“People who buy my ceramics are thrilled at being able to contribute to save the rainforest,” said Richard.

To learn more about Richard Jones and his ceramics, visit Rainforest Ceramics and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Header photo: Richard sits in a 5-acre rainforest that he and his wife regenerated from a paddock for cows. Photo courtesy of Jo Immig.

$100 Million Initiative to Create New Protected Areas for Endangered Species

At a recent international conference, Rainforest Trust announced a major initiative to help establish Protected Areas across the tropics.

Rainforest Trust has launched the SAVES (Safeguarding Areas Vital to Endangered Species) Challenge at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Hawaii. Through this initiative, Rainforest Trust has committed to raise $50 million as a challenge match that will direct a total of $100 million to create new Protected Areas throughout the tropics for the planet’s most endangered species.

This announcement coincides with President Barack Obama’s recent expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a refuge for more than 7,000 marine species that is now the largest Protected Area on the planet. President Obama spoke about this expansion and the impacts of conservation the day before the opening of the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Hawaii this September.

Every four years, the IUCN hosts the world’s largest conservation event where scientists, government officials, business leaders, representatives from indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations gather to discuss pressing issues affecting conservation and sustainable development. The WCC has two sections: the Forum, which is an opportunity for participants to share experiences, develop collaborations and showcase efforts to address the complex challenges facing biodiversity; and the Members’ Assembly, where IUCN members collectively decide on the direction of the organization and lay the foundation for significant global conservation action.

“Rainforest Trust is built on the belief that collaboration is the key to conservation success,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, Rainforest Trust CEO. “The IUCN WCC provides an important opportunity for groups, no matter how big or small, to have a say on the international conservation stage.”

The SAVES Challenge was strategically launched during the IUCN WCC, as Rainforest Trust seeks to drastically grow its efforts by forging new alliances with in-country organizations that will assist in securing lands for species assessed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

At the IUCN WCC, Salaman met with distinguished conservationist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson, who is a supporter of Rainforest Trust.

“Rainforest Trust has my highest respect and in my opinion deserves support,” Wilson had previously noted in an endorsement of the nonprofit. “The [organization] is a model of what international conservation efforts should be.”

Wilson was elated to learn about the SAVES Challenge at the WCC, which directly advances his vision of protecting at least half of the planet.

Rainforest Trust collaborates with local organizations to safeguard areas vital to endangered species by creating permanent Protected Areas in regions most at risk of habitat destruction. These Protected Areas are established and permanently protected through direct land purchase and acquisition, the designation of national parks and other government Protected Areas, the conversion of logging concessions, or the creation of community conservation areas whose borders are managed and maintained by forest guards.

Just this year, Rainforest Trust has helped establish nearly 5 million acres of critical Protected Areas across Latin America, Asia and Africa. Most recently, Rainforest Trust worked with a local partner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to create a massive Protected Area, which is almost equal in size to Yellowstone National Park. The nearly 2.2 million-acre Lomami National Park in the heart of the Congo Basin secures vital habitat for a host of threatened species, including Bonobos, Okapis and Forest Elephants. Since 1988, Rainforest Trust and its local conservation partners have strategically created over 100 new Protected Areas toward the goal of protecting 50 million acres of vital habitat by the year 2020.

“The challenge is to respond to the urgency of saving the last great wildlife habitats on earth,” said Salaman. “We need to act now to ensure these areas are protected while they still exist. We are determined to do so through the SAVES Challenge, and we invite all conservationists and philanthropists to join us.”

Join the SAVES Challenge by making a major and lasting impact protecting the world’s most imperiled wildlife through a generous gift to Rainforest Trust or by becoming a conservation partner to help create Protected Areas.

Spectacled Bear Cubs Sighted in Ecuadorean Reserves

Three Spectacled Bear cubs were seen in reserves created by Rainforest Trust’s partner Fundación Jocotoco in Ecuador.

Spectacled Bear cubs—named for their distinctive spectacle– like facial markings— have been spotted at the Antisanilla and Tapichalaca Reserves in Ecuador. The only bear species found in South America, their populations are decreasing due to habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Rainforest Trust helped expand the Tapichalaca Reserve in southern Ecuador and supported partner Fundación Jocotoco’s conservation efforts to create the 6,100-acre Antisanilla Reserve in 2014. The Antisanilla Reserve encompasses a complex series of canyons and cliffs at the base of the 17,814-foot Volcan Antisana, and the high-altitude Protected Area is a haven for Andean Condors, Spectacled Bears and other threatened species. Just six months after its creation, the first Spectacled Bear was sighted in the Antisanilla Reserve. It was recently discovered that this individual is female, as she was seen feeding her cub. The Jocotoco team has been monitoring the mother bear for over two months, for two distinct reasons.

“First, we wanted to survey our bear population in the reserve. Through our camera traps we have identified at least three different adult bears. The mother bear is more than 10 years old, and identified by her nose color,” said Dr. Martin Schaefer, Fundación Jocotoco’s Executive Director.

“Second, we are monitoring the mother bear because there is still hunting going on adjacent to the reserve. Luckily, the mother bear has been very stationary, presumably because the cubs are too young to walk long distances.”

The images of the bear cubs show that the two reserves’ habitats are suitable for breeding, and provide hope for the continued population expansion of Spectacled Bears in the region. However, there is still work to be done to protect these bears from threats outside of the reserves, such as hunting. Fundación Jocotoco is currently working to include the Yanacocha Reserve into a contiguous Spectacled Bear corridor northwest of Ecuador’s capital, Quito. This expanded corridor will harbour an estimated bear population of 250 individuals, and will provide a haven where Spectacled Bear cubs can be raised undisturbed.

Header photo: A camera trap captures an image of a Spectacled Bear cub at the Tapichalaca Reserve. Photo courtesy of Fundación Jocotoco.

Opening of the IUCN World Conservation Congress

Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman and conservation officers are in Hawaii for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC). Paul’s reflections about the conference’s purpose and how it aligns with Rainforest Trust’s mission are below.

Today saw the opening of the World Conservation Congress (WCC), a meeting held every four years by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the world’s largest global environmental network. The IUCN creates a unique forum for governments and civil society groups, such as Rainforest Trust, to come together and work to address pressing issues affecting the survival of biodiversity.

Over the next two weeks, Rainforest Trust conservation staff will be helping to develop important new partnerships with a range of stakeholders. These partnerships will help us further our mission of protecting threatened tropical forests and endangered wildlife by partnering with local and community organizations in and around vulnerable areas.

The congress is divided into two “sections.” The first, which runs until September 5, is the main forum where over 7,000 people from conservation organizations and governments come together to share experiences, develop collaborations and showcase efforts to address critical and complex challenges facing biodiversity.

The second part of the congress is when decisions on the IUCN’s work plan for the next four years are made. Here, the approximate 1,300 members of the IUCN are invited to vote on motions, elect key positions and lay the foundation for significant conservation action during the next four years under the IUCN.

Rainforest Trust is built on the belief that collaboration is the key to conservation success. The IUCN WCC provides an important opportunity for groups, no matter how big or small, to have a say on the international conservation stage. It helps to empower those groups on the front lines of conservation battles, enabling high level issues to be highlighted in a public arena.

Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter during the coming week, as we will continue to provide updates on progress throughout the meeting. For those of you attending the meeting, we encourage you to come and meet the Rainforest Trust team and learn more about our efforts and the work of our partners. Please come and find us at booth 633.


Header photo: Rainforest Trust’s CEO and conservation officers with partners. Photo courtesy of Rainforest Trust.