Historic Rainforest Protection for Endangered Wildlife and Indigenous People in the Philippines

The Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve in Palawan, the largest critical habitat created in the Philippines, safeguards endemic, threatened species such as the Philippine Pangolin, Palawan Bearcat and Palawan Horned Frog, and also protects the forest-dwelling Batak people.

Rainforest Trust is delighted to announce that over 100,000 acres of rainforest encompassing and surrounding Cleopatra’s Needle, one of Palawan’s highest peaks, were just declared as a Forest Reserve due to the collaborative efforts of Rainforest Trust’s local conservation partner Centre for Sustainability-PH working with the Puerto Princesa city government.

This forest harbors incredible concentrations of endemic and endangered wildlife, and until the recent declaration was one of Palawan’s most threatened ecosystems due to pressures from logging, hunting and rapid urbanization. Of the species that reside only on the island of Palawan and nowhere else in the world, 85 percent are found on and around Cleopatra’s Needle; with that amount of rare species dependent on Palawan’s natural environment, the protection of its rainforest has been a conservation priority of global importance.

The southern and eastern hills of Cleopatra’s Needle are home to a population of the Endangered Palawan Horned Frog, and nearby creeks contain the largest remaining population of the Vulnerable Philippine Flat-headed Frog. The Endangered Palawan Toadlet was rediscovered in 2015 in Cleopatra’s Needle, after not being observed for over 40 years.

Nearly 60 terrestrial mammal species have been recorded in Palawan, including the Endangered Philippine Pangolin, Vulnerable Palawan Bearcat and Asian Small-clawed Otter. Of 279 bird species found on Palawan, 27 are endemic to the Philippines, such as the Palawan Hornbill whose population is declining due hunting and the loss of lowland forest elsewhere on the island. In total, 31 threatened species inhabit the forests of Cleopatra’s Needle.

In addition to providing a haven for species that are at-risk for extinction, the reserve will also protect territory for a local indigenous group, the Batak tribe. Originally from Papua New Guinea and thought to be among the first humans to settle in the Philippines, the Batak people now reside in small villages and sustainably harvest a variety of forest products such as tree resins and honey.

“The reserve will protect the Philippine’s last 200 members of the Batak tribe and will safeguard the area from outside logging, maintaining their traditional lands and clean water supply,” said Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

As part of the declaration process for the Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve, a management plan was created, forest guard training courses were implemented and ecotourism activities are to be introduced to improve the livelihood of the Batak tribe.

This project was made possible thanks to the efforts of our local partner in Palawan as well as the generous support of Luanne Lemmer, Eric Veach, Brett Byers, Leslie Santos and many other friends of Rainforest Trust and in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation.

Rainforest Trust continues to safeguard rainforests in the Philippines through our appeal to save the last critical habitats on Dinagat Island.

Recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area and last stronghold for the Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox and Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat, Dinagat Island is totally unprotected and is under imminent threat from a proposed massive mining operation.

We are urgently seeking your support to create four new protected areas that will secure essential forest and coastal habitat while establishing the first-ever designated conservation protection on this unique island.

Header photo: Palawan Horned Frog. Photo by Robin Moore.

Supporter Spotlight: Rainforest Sunglasses

Promoting a culture of environmental sustainability among travelers and adventurers while saving the rainforest.

Rainforest Sunglasses is an eco-friendly company that invests a portion of its profits from its handcrafted eyewear into conservation. It came into existence as an escape from the grind of everyday life.

Patrick Atallah, the company’s founder, first imagined the idea behind the brand while hiking in the forest. He explains, “Nature has a centering effect on us. It is quiet, calm, beautiful and inspiring…and yet with all of its benefits, we realize that it is dwindling at a rapid rate. Because of nature’s importance in our lives, it became the inspiration for Rainforest Sunglasses.”

Next year for further inspiration, Patrick will travel to the Amazon rainforest for the first time. But for now, his vision is that Rainforest Sunglasses will bring together a group of travelers and adventurers who can share stories of the beautiful places and incredible people they have encountered, all while supporting the natural world they cherish.

As a result, most of the company’s handcrafted wood sunglasses are designed for an active lifestyle and fashioned from bamboo, an extremely reliable and sustainable raw material. Bamboo is a rapid-growing grass that can be harvested every four to five years, as opposed to commercial tree species that can take anywhere from 25-70 years to reach maturity. Bamboo is both resistant to water and a naturally antibacterial fiber, making it an ideal material for manufacturing.

To further support nature and conservation, Patrick has chosen to donate to Rainforest Trust a portion of every purchase made at Rainforest Sunglasses. He explains, “When we were researching conservation organizations, we were immediately drawn to Rainforest Trust because 100 percent of our project donations go to support conservation throughout the world. This was extremely important to us because we wanted to know that the money we were raising was truly going to make a tangible impact.”

Rainforest Sunglasses is collaborating with Rainforest Trust this Cyber Monday, November 28th. With any online order, use the code RainforestTrust and 10 percent of your purchase will go directly to Rainforest Trust’s Pangolin Fund. Donations to this fund will help Rainforest Trust preserve vital forest habitat for several endangered pangolin species that are in urgent need of protection.

Header photo: Patrick Atallah, founder of Rainforest Sunglasses

Land Purchase Consolidates Critical Cloud Forest Reserve in Ecuador

Over the past 16 years, Rainforest Trust has helped establish and expand Buenaventura Reserve in southern Ecuador. After 15 land acquisitions, a key property to consolidate the most important cloud forest reserve in southern Ecuador has just been secured.

Rainforest Trust recently received notice from partner Fundación Jocotoco that it has purchased the Guzman property to expand Buenaventura Reserve by an additional 469 acres. The reserve, which now totals 6,266 acres, provides habitat for Endangered birds such as El Oro Parakeets and Ecuadorian Tapaculos.

Discovered 36 years ago by Rainforest Trust’s president, Dr. Robert Ridgely, approximately half the global population of El Oro Parakeets reside entirely within Buenaventura Reserve today. Since the reserve was established in 2000, the El Oro Parakeet population has rebounded by 33 percent. The few dozen remaining Ecuadorian Tapaculos, an Endangered bird species that has lost much of its range due to deforestation, depend on the reserve for their survival.

“After 16 years of purchasing private properties to build this amazing gem of a nature reserve, we are delighted to have helped secure a key parcel and conclude this phase of the reserve’s development,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“We are grateful to the many supporters of our land purchase campaign to create a permanent cloud forest safe haven for the Endangered El Oro Parakeet and other spectacular species.”

In addition to the El Oro Parakeet and Ecuadorian Tapaculo, Buenaventura Reserve also protects a stronghold site for the Endangered Gray-backed Hawk. This species is typically found only in pairs but is commonly observed in greater numbers in the reserve. Other threatened birds include the Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Red-masked Parakeet and Pacific Royal Flycatcher. More than 330 species of birds have been recorded at Buenaventura, of which 34 are local endemics.

Buenaventura Reserve also provides habitat for 33 amphibian species and 29 reptile species, five of which are globally threatened. A new species of nonvenomous snake (Synophis zaheri) was discovered at the Buenaventura Lodge and described in 2015. The Buenaventura Rainfrog (Pristimantis buenaventura) was described at the reserve this year.

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped support Buenaventura, including March Conservation Fund, Dansk Ornitologisk Forening, Fairledge Fund, Martin Schaefer, Robert and Peg Ridgely, The Moses Feldman Family Foundaiton, Weeden Foundation, Bihua Chen and Jackson Loomis, James and Ellen Strauss, George W. Merck Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, J. Milton Harris and Alice Chenault, Emmerson and Sheila Bowes, Sally Davidson, Leo Model Foundation, Roberta Ashkin, Nigel Simpson, Bert Harris, and an anonymous supporter.

Header photo: El Oro Parakeet. Photo by Doug Wechsler.

Progressive Protection for Pangolins

What happens when the scaly armor that is supposed to protect pangolins leads to them becoming the most trafficked mammals in the world?

A shy pangolin has tough outer scales and curls into a tight ball when frightened– but these defenses are useless against threats such as poaching and habitat loss that are pushing the creatures closer to extinction.

All eight species of pangolin are illegally hunted because of the extremely high demand for their scales that are used in some traditional medicines, and for their meat. Today, all four of the Asian species – the Chinese, Sunda, Indian and Philippine – are listed as either Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The four African species – the White-bellied, Black-bellied, Giant Ground and Temminck’s Ground – are all listed as Vulnerable. Recently, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) delegates voted to ban all international commercial trade in pangolins.

While the CITES decision is mostly a symbolic action, it is helping to raise awareness about pangolins. Unfortunately, these unique creatures still face the threat of habitat loss and rely on protected areas for safety from illegal hunting. Pangolins have found refuge in a number of protected areas that Rainforest Trust supports, including current projects in India, Nepal, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Rainforest Trust is working with Applied Environmental Research Foundation in India’s North Western Ghats to protect critical habitat for Indian Pangolins. The new Prachitgad Community Reserve will prohibit unsustainable clearing of forest and hunting, providing a much-needed haven for the threatened pangolins.

In Nepal, Rainforest Trust is partnering with Red Panda Network to create a reserve that will help safeguard Critically Endangered Chinese Pangolins and other rare Himalayan species.

White-bellied Pangolins have a range that spans West and Central Africa and are found within the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve in Cameroon. Rainforest Trust is working with Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society to elevate the protected status of the reserve to a national park while expanding it so that it will safeguard a total of 741,000 acres.

The proposed Balanga Forest Reserve that Rainforest Trust and Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation are helping to establish in the DRC is home to White-bellied, Black-bellied and Giant Ground pangolins. This reserve in addition to the adjacent Lomami National Park will provide nearly 3.4 million acres of protected habitat – a massive area almost the size of Connecticut – that is necessary for the continued survival of vulnerable animals in the region such as pangolins.

“I was very lucky to see a Sunda Pangolin when I was in Borneo this past summer, and it was truly a moving experience witnessing a mother with a baby hanging onto it in one of the reserves Rainforest Trust helped establish,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“This proves to us that despite the enormous pressure on the species, the protected area approach works – and we will continue to expand safe havens for pangolins across Africa and Asia.”

Take action and help protect these unique creatures: for the price of a pumpkin pie, you can help save an acre of habitat for pangolins.

Header photo: Sunda Pangolin. Photo by Chien Lee/ wildborneo.com.

Tropic Topics: Pangolins in Asia

As we gear up to celebrate pangolins for Giving Tuesday, listen to Rainforest Trust’s Asia Conservation Officer tell more about what makes this species so unique and how we can ensure a brighter future for the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Header photo: Photo by Chien Lee/wildborneo.com

Tapirs Soon to Return to REGUA Reserve

Rainforest Trust’s Brazilian partner Reserva Ecologica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) is leading efforts with a local university to reintroduce two South American Tapirs back into their natural habitat in the Atlantic Rainforest.

REGUA Reserve safeguards essential habitat for 60 mammal species in the Atlantic Rainforest, and that number will be increased by the end of this year. This winter, two Vulnerable South American Tapirs – a species that was formerly extirpated in the State of Rio de Janeiro where REGUA is located – will be reintroduced in the reserve.

The South American Tapir is one of the largest mammals on the continent and is known for its important role in seed dispersal. Tapirs usually have a wide forest range and forage for food such as fruit, berries and leaves.

As part of the reintroduction process, the REGUA team has been meeting with local landowners and schools to ensure that the community is aware of the program and to answer any questions about how to secure lands so that the tapirs don’t cause damage to farm crops. The tapirs will be fitted with tracking collars to monitor the animals once they are released, and a series of camera traps have been set up throughout their forest habitat. Over the next five years, REGUA is planning to release about 50 individuals that will be monitored to provide conservationists with data on the state of the species and their habitat.

Header photo: Male South American Tapir in Brazil. Photo by Bernard Dupont/Flickr.

Supporter Spotlight: Richard Edmondson

A New Zealander decides to turn his bucket list into a legacy.

Richard Edmondson started his 50th birthday celebration with a voyage to the other side of the world. A native of New Zealand, Richard had already traveled extensively across the globe, visiting some of the planet’s greatest rainforests from the Western Ghats of India to Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon.

To ring in his 50th birthday, Richard was determined to visit a new location: the concrete jungle of New York City. His recent trip left a significant impression, especially viewing firsthand the philanthropic enthusiasm of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. – a juggernaut of public service responsible for several of New York City’s most iconic public spaces and who contributed to the country’s national parks. In fact, in the 1920s, Rockefeller gave more than $1 million to save 15,000 acres of pine forests at Yosemite from loggers.

After his eye-opening visit to New York, Richard explained, “I decided to rewrite my ‘bucket list’ and emulate the large-scale philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., albeit on a considerably smaller budget!”

With this newfound charitable goal inspired by Rockefeller, Richard began looking for a way to make it a reality to benefit the conservation of tropical forests, a cause important to him for many reasons.

“Rainforest destruction accounts for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, and rainforests are important regulators of our planet’s climate and life support systems,” noted Richard. “They contain more species of plants and animals than anywhere else on Earth, and millions of people live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods.”

Without the vast financial resources of Rockefeller, measuring the impact of his contributions became important to Richard, who researched how to ensure his legacy had longevity and a considerable return on investment.

“There are lots of organizations doing good work in this field, but Rainforest Trust offers the best bang for your buck in my opinion… and works with conservation groups on the ground to permanently protect forests,” said Richard.

“You know that your donation is actually helping to protect forests, and you can quantify the protection your donation is providing. Some of Rainforest Trust’s projects allow you to protect an acre of rainforest for less than a dollar and other donors offer matching gifts, so anyone can make a big difference with relatively modest donations.”

So how is Richard’s new objective coming along?

Since the beginning of 2016, he has already contributed to Rainforest Trust to help safeguard 8,274 acres of tropical forests throughout Peru, Nepal, Cameroon and Indonesia, to name just a few sites that he has supported.

Having set his conservation goal to use Central Park, which spans 843 acres, as a yardstick to measure his own contributions, Richard explained, “My goal for 2016 is to protect a total of 10,000 acres of rainforest, which is an area nearly 12 times the size of Central Park.” By the time he turns 60 years old, Richard claims that he aims to save 100,000 acres – an area 118 times the size of Central Park!

As Richard strives to check off this outstanding achievement on his bucket list by supporting Rainforest Trust’s conservation projects around the globe, he has found that he can leave this lasting legacy of rainforest protection, saving vast natural lands much like Rockefeller – but for a fraction of the cost.

Header photo: Richard Edmondson traveling in Kerala, India. Photo courtesy of Richard Edmondson.

Tropic Topics: Plant Blindess

We all see plants in our everyday life, so what does it mean to be “plant blind?” Tune in to Rainforest Trust’s Tropic Topics podcast below to listen to our Plant Conservation Officer, Dr. Craig Costion, explain how we can help increase awareness and funding for plant conservation.

Urgent Disaster Relief for El Dorado Nature Reserve

Critical refuge for endangered birds in Colombia devastated by recent natural disasters.

El Dorado Nature Reserve that is managed by Rainforest Trust’s partner Fundación ProAves is part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which boasts the highest concentration of endemic birds in the world and protects a breeding stronghold of the Santa Marta Parakeet along with a variety of rare amphibians and plants.

Unfortunately, these species are now struggling to survive amidst the tragic destruction of their habitats. Though the reserve is a designated protected area which prevents logging and other negative land uses, it has been drastically impacted by recent ecological disasters.

In the spring, two fires swept through the reserve and spread rapidly since they occurred during the dry season. This catastrophe damaged nearly 124 acres of forest habitat, including the nest boxes for the Endangered Santa Marta Parakeet.

This fall, Hurricane Matthew caused major damage to the reserve’s infrastructure and trees, and wildlife populations that depend on this land severely suffered. The ProAves staff witnessed heartbreaking scenes when surveying the destruction, including lifeless hummingbirds and a Scarlet-fronted Parakeet that had plummeted to its death because of the intense storm, a branch still clutched in its claw.

Fortunately no humans were hurt, but it will take momentous efforts to return this reserve to its spectacular nature. ProAves is working to restore the El Dorado Nature Reserve so that it can once again be a safe haven for wildlife in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. ProAves is repairing infrastructure, clearing damaged trails and reviving habitat through forest restoration in areas that were most impacted by the fires and hurricane.

With your help, El Dorado Nature Reserve can once again be a safe refuge for the species that call this place home.

Header photo: ProAves staff surveying the damage at El Dorado Nature Reserve. Photo courtesy of ProAves.