New Nature Reserve Completes Massive Protected Area Complex in the Congo

Kabobo Natural Reserve, which was created today thanks to Rainforest Trust’s local partner, donors and other supporters, protects 364,975 acres of vital wildlife habitat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

On December 21, Kabobo Natural Reserve was established in the southern section of the Misotshi-Kaboga massif, an area in southeastern DRC that is of critical importance for amphibian, bird and mammal conservation, including the Kabobo Apalis (an endangered, endemic bird) and a population stronghold of the Eastern Chimpanzee. Together with the adjacent Ngandja Natural Reserve, which Rainforest Trust helped to create in August 2016, these two new protected areas safeguard over one million acres 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 to create both the newly established Kabobo Natural Reserve and Ngandja Natural Reserve. These organizations have worked tirelessly to safeguard habitat for endangered species and cultivate community support for the new protected areas, 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. On August 3, 2016, the Governor of South Kivu designated this protected area, whose name was changed to the Ngandja Natural Reserve to reflect the local culture and heritage of the region. On December 21, 2016, the second section of the proposed park located in Tanganyika Province was declared as Kabobo Natural Reserve, completing the priority protected area complex.

“We are delighted that this major new reserve in the Kabobo range not only protects a tremendous diversity of wildlife, but importantly was established thanks to a bottom-up approach of seeking community involvement and approval,” noted Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “For protected areas to succeed, all stakeholders must be involved – and none are more critical than the people that live around this new sanctuary.”

Protection of the massif was supported by elders from every village, including indigenous people such as the Efe pygmies. Now that the reserve has been declared, Rainforest Trust’s partner is holding regular meetings with traditional chiefs and local authorities to assess management and protection activities moving forward.

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

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 Kabobo Natural Reserve. The United States Agency for International Development (CARPE/USAID), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund and IUCN SOS grants supported the surveys, consultations and participatory mapping with local communities by WCS.

Header photo: Kabobo escarpment. Photo courtesy of A.J.Plumptre/WCS.

Communities Convene to Celebrate Congolese Conservation

Major breakthrough in securing urgently needed rainforest protection for Central African wildlife commended at celebratory event.

Rainforest Trust’s partner Lukuru Foundation recently hosted an event to celebrate the newly established Lomami National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The nearly 2.2 million-acre national park, which was officially designated this July by the Prime Minister of the DRC after approval by the president and his cabinet, provides fundamental protection for Endangered species such as Okapis and Bonobos and also brings much-needed security and stability to the region. Lomami National Park was the first national park in the Congo, and one of the few in Africa, to be established with major support from local communities.

“This national park was many years in the making as consensus was sought at the local clan and community level before moving it to provincial and national levels,” said Dr. Terese Hart, the national administrator for Lukuru Foundation. “By 2013 both concerned provinces declared provincial parks, so there was close involvement by locally elected officials to promote the status of park before it moved to national level. Over the years of collaboration with the community many local people have joined our teams, and we are confident of the continued collaboration for the security of the amazing Lomami National Park.”

The celebration included a performance from local musicians and presentations from the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, the National Secretary General of the Environment, the Governor of Maniema (one of the two DRC provinces in which the national park is located), the Director General of Congolese Nature Institute (ICCN), the Chef de Cooperation from the European Union and the Chef de Cooperation from Germany. Other guests included provincial governors, the Minister of Tourism, three army generals, numerous advisors to the president, local conservationists and community members.

Rainforest Trust is currently partnering with Lukuru Foundation to create Balanga Forest Reserve next to Lomami National Park, and together the two protected areas will safeguard nearly 3.4 million acres of wildlife habitat in the Congo Basin.

Header photo: A guest reviews information about the new national park during the celebration. Photo by Lukuru Foundation.

New Refuge for the Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey

A recently established core protected area in Ecuador’s northwestern region of Tesoro Escondido safeguards one of the largest remaining populations of the Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey and provides a haven for Great Green Macaws, Jaguars and other threatened species.

The Tesoro Escondido Reserve in Ecuador was recently expanded by 1,516 acres, thanks to the efforts of Rainforest Trust and local partner Cambugán Foundation. The reserve’s combined 2,965 acres are now protected from threats such as deforestation and encroachment of oil palm plantations, through direct land purchases that include vital habitat for the Brown-headed Spider Monkey.

The Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey has been identified as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world and is found only in Ecuador’s Chocóan rainforests, which are in part protected by the new Tesoro Escondido Reserve. An estimated population of 150 individuals exist in the region of Tesoro Escondido, leading this site to be regarded as a global priority for the species. These spider monkeys play a critical role in maintaining forest diversity as they disperse the seeds of numerous tree species, and until the creation of the new reserve they had been drastically impacted by loss of their forest habitat, hunting and expanding oil palm pressures that threatened their survival. This summer, infant Brown-headed Spider Monkeys were seen in the reserve, which is a positive sign of the species’ ability to rebound and thrive in the protected area.

In addition to being a stronghold for the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Tesoro Escondido is home to one of the last populations of western Ecuadorian Jaguars and 44 percent of mammal species recorded in Ecuador. Several globally threatened birds have been observed in this area, including the Endangered Great Green Macaw and the Baudo Guan, as well as multiple Endangered amphibians (such as Cochranella mache, Pristimantis colomai and Hyloxalus toachi).

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped with the expansion of the Tesoro Escondido Reserve, including an anonymous donor, the Scott Rasmussen Family Trust and the University of Sussex.

Header photo: Brown-headed Spider Monkey. Photo by Hans de Bisschop/Flickr.

Supporter Spotlight: Dr. Brittany Goldberg

An enthusiastic environmentalist makes a commendable commitment to conservation.

An environmentalist at heart and keenly aware of her relationship with the world around her, Rainforest Trust supporter Dr. Brittany Goldberg drives a hybrid vehicle and has been a vegetarian since the age of 13. Though she has never traveled to the rainforest, she has donated to protect 344 acres of rainforests worldwide – all the way from Brazil to Sumatra.

In September, Brittany celebrated her one year anniversary as a Rainforest Trust supporter and is now thrilled to be participating in the organization’s new monthly giving program called Roots – particularly because the automatic monthly donations are so simple and fit well into her busy lifestyle.

Like many supporters, Brittany has a full schedule, which for her includes working as a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by day while picking up occasional rotations at the hospital in her spare time. Fortunately, the new Roots program helps her to give back without the time commitment some of her other activities require.

As a network of committed supporters, Roots members donate monthly to ensure Rainforest Trust’s urgent conservation work. In return, they receive quarterly rewards via email of behind-the-scenes photos, videos, stories and project updates about the places they are helping to protect.

After thoroughly researching similar nonprofit organizations, Brittany chose to support Rainforest Trust above the rest because of its high ranking on Guide Star that indicates a great level of transparency, financial efficiency and program effectiveness.

“I’m most interested in a return on investment and having a high impact,” Brittany said. “I decided it was time for me to give back, and I researched some charities with missions that interested me.”

With the click of a button, Brittany was able to register her monthly Roots donation, committing to support Rainforest Trust’s conservation efforts and project sites across the planet. Now she can sit back and help celebrate the victories as national parks and reserves are established worldwide.

Header photo: Rainforest Trust supporter Dr. Brittany Goldberg enjoys spending her free time in nature. Photo courtesy of Dr. Brittany Goldberg.

Monitoring Wildlife: Eyes on the Ground and in the Sky

Visual technology advances in the conservation field allow researchers to gather information about rare and enigmatic species that were previously inaccessible. These images provide conservationists with invaluable data on the state of these species and the habitats on which they depend for their survival.

As a video feed streams images of undisturbed foliage, a large shape ambles into the viewing frame. At first it is difficult to make out what creature it could be, until suddenly it becomes clear: a rare and Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros turns its head and stares directly into the camera, locking eyes with the viewer.

Footage from remotely activated camera traps provides opportunities like this to be “up close and personal” with elusive and endangered species, offering a powerful conservation tool that enables the observation of wildlife without the animals being aware of the observer. With less than 100 Sumatran Rhinos surviving in the wild, they are among the most endangered large mammals and are notoriously shy. Being able to witness one in its natural habitat is a rare privilege for both amateur wildlife enthusiasts and researchers. In addition to giving viewers the chance to watch these animals from the comfort of their own computers, camera traps provide critical insight to conservationists who might have access to the field but not directly to the species they are trying to protect.

This technology is aiding in the development of successful conservation strategies that rely on a continued understanding of the range, behavior and habitat requirements of wildlife needing protection. Camera trap photography can aid conservationists in confirming the presence of rare species and is a tool to track populations of endangered animals, draw distribution maps, monitor animal behavior and estimate wildlife populations. The advantages of camera traps are numerous: their setup ease makes them less time consuming than traditional catch-and-release methods used to study animals; they are minimally intrusive, causing no impacts to wildlife; and the images they produce can be reviewed by teams of scientists, reducing the chance of individual subjective errors.

As part of a species survey, Rainforest Trust’s Cambodian partner, Wildlife Alliance, is using camera traps to collect photos of a variety of animals in the Southern Cardamom National Park, which was newly established this spring through the collaborative efforts of both organizations. Images of marbled cats wandering through the forest undergrowth and clouded leopards traveling in pairs give a glimpse into the lives of these elusive animals, sometimes providing unexpected results. For example, sightings of these rare cat duos may indicate the presence of an abundant prey base since they are usually solitary creatures, according to Wildlife Alliance’s CEO Suwanna Gauntlett.

Another advance in conservation imaging technology is the usage of drones to monitor wildlife movements and habitat change. Rainforest Trust often uses drones equipped with high definition cameras to provide an aerial view of conservation project sites. During a recent site visit in Borneo, Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman maneuvered a drone to inspect forest regeneration inside a newly protected area to ensure that oil palm plantations were not invading the protected forest. He also used the drone to count the number of Borneo Pygmy Elephants that inhabit one of the properties that Rainforest Trust helped to protect.

While aerial photography is useful to monitor large-scale movements of wildlife, small, non-intrusive cameras that are temporarily attached to animals can provide more localized insight. Rainforest Trust’s partner Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) in Papua New Guinea recently used Crittercams (developed by National Geographic) to learn more about the Matschie’s Tree-kangaroo. In this case, gently fastening a miniature camera to the creature using a collar is preferable to a ground camera trap, as tree-kangaroos spend the majority of their time high in the tree canopy. The visual recording process involves local communities as former hunters use their tracking skills to help TKCP researchers capture, equip and release the elusive tree-kangaroos.

The attached camera then records short video segments throughout the day and reveals information, such as feeding behaviors, that is otherwise difficult to observe. These images are invaluable for making decisions regarding the ecological composition and size of new protected areas based on the needs of the species.

“Extremely secretive species can now be tracked via camera traps, and drones provide instant information on the true situation on the ground,” said Dr. Bert Harris, Rainforest Trust’s Director of Biodiversity Conservation. “Advances in photographic technology are enabling conservationists to accomplish what was once impossible.”

Header photo: A Crittercam Collar is temporarily attached to a tree-kangaroo. Photo by Lisa Dabek.