Land Purchase in Panama Helps Protect a “Sky Island” of Cloud Forest for Threatened Amphibians

Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve in Panama has been expanded by 260 acres and safeguards critical habitats for newly discovered species, thanks to Rainforest Trust’s local partner Asociación Adopta el Bosque Panamá (ADOPTA), the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) and other supporters.

Rainforest Trust’s partner ADOPTA has secured 260 acres to expand Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve in eastern Panama. Three land properties were purchased to establish an important buffer zone that will act as a barrier to prevent squatters from moving into extensive public wilderness areas and to discourage poachers from hunting in the vicinity.

“This initiative that first started with 100 acres of rainforest purchased has grown to almost 1,500 acres of rainforest that we’re protecting now,” said Guido Berguido, Executive Director of ADOPTA. “With the help of Rainforest Trust, we have been increasing more and more of the protected areas.”

Cerro Chucantí, an isolated massif or “sky island” in eastern Panama, rises from sea level to 4,721 feet in elevation and sustains a diverse cloud forest as well as other tropical forest ecosystems. The closest peaks with similar elevation and vegetation are found at least 90 miles away; the geographic isolation of the Cerro Chucantí mountaintop has allowed its flora and fauna to differentiate considerably, such that it contains a number of locally endemic rainforest species found nowhere else on Earth.

Cerro Chucantí is home to many species new to science, and there is a high potential for many more to be identified. In 2008, the dark brown Chucantí Salamander (Bolitoglossa chucantiensis) was discovered in this area, and a new frog species called the Serrania de Maje Tink Frog (Diasporus majeensis) was found there as well.

“This site of Cerro Chucantí has turned out to be far more exceptional than we ever dreamed,” said Berguido. “More than 20 new species of plants and animals have been found at this location that are found nowhere else on Earth.”

There are still two species of snakes, at least three frogs, one salamander and over a dozen species of ants awaiting formal description. Cerro Chucantí is also home to a number of species recognized as being at high-risk for extinction, including the Great Green Macaw, Baird’s Tapir, Giant Anteater and the Critically Endangered Black-headed Spider Monkey.

Despite their incredible biodiversity, the rainforests in Cerro Chucantí are under significant threat from slash-and-burn activities, logging and cattle ranching. During this year’s long dry season, forest destruction and conversion to pasture land continued near Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve. The new strategic expansion of the reserve secures a section of the forest and prevents further clearing, especially as new colonists are encroaching on thousands of acres of unclaimed land. As a gateway to over 60,000 acres of public lands, Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve is laying the foundation for the designation of government protected areas, an effort ADOPTA is working hard to achieve with the support of Rainforest Trust.

Strategic Purchase of Araucaria Forest Acres Protects Brazilian Parrots

116 acres of the Araucaria Forest are now protected from the threat of deforestation and provide refuge for Endangered birds in Brazil.

Rainforest Trust partner Associação Amigos do Meio Ambiente (AMA) secured 116 acres to create the High Altitude Parrot Reserve (Reserva Natural Papagaios-de-Altitude) in the Araucaria Forest, which is part of the Santa Catarina Highlands.

The Santa Catarina Highlands are home to the largest remaining population of the Endangered Vinaceous-breasted Parrot. Of the 2,500 remaining individuals, half are found in the Santa Catarina Highlands. Other imperiled regional birds include the Endangered Crowned Solitary Eagle and the Vulnerable Red-spectacled Parrot. The High Altitude Parrot Reserve is located within an area designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, and Brazil’s Ministry of Environment has designated the area a high priority for conservation efforts.

Creation of the High Altitude Parrot Reserve preserves an important fragment of the Araucaria Forest found in the Santa Catarina Highlands, while supporting populations of threatened bird species. Cleared and degraded areas are being reforested with native plants and AMA is working with the owners of neighboring lands to build partnerships and encourage local involvement in conservation efforts.

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped to make possible the creation of the High Altitude Parrot Reserve, especially IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands and an anonymous donor.

Major Logging Concession in Borneo Overturned to Provide Refuge for Endangered Species

On January 18, a major logging concession of 34,414 acres in Sabah, Borneo was overturned and the land permanently protected through its designation as a forest reserve. This vital habitat for Critically Endangered Bornean Orangutans and Sunda Pangolins is now incorporated into the Kuamut Forest Reserve, which safeguards the last vulnerable flank of the pristine forest of the world-renowned Danum Valley Conservation Area.

Rainforest Trust in collaboration with Bornean partners the South‐East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), Sabah Foundation and Permian Global worked with the Sabah Forestry Department and State Government to permanently protect the 34,414-acre former logging concession through its designation as a Class I Forest Reserve.

“It was predicted that without intervention, 40 percent of the Kuamut forests would have been converted to sterile oil palm plantations by 2020,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “Killing the logging concession lease and making the area a forest reserve – which gives the same level of protection as a national park – expands Kuamut Forest Reserve to 206,039 acres, providing a crucial refuge for Borneo’s spectacular wildlife.”

The rainforests of Borneo, which date back more than 100 million years, are some of the earth’s oldest and most biodiverse, supporting thousands of endemic species. In total, 15,000 flowering plants species, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of birds are found in this incredible island. Critically Endangered species found in Sabah include the Sunda Pangolin, whose numbers have drastically decreased due to poaching for its meat and scales, as well as the Bornean Orangutan, whose status has recently been increased to Critically Endangered due to the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat.

Unfortunately, industrial logging has decimated Borneo’s forests and the rapid spread of palm oil plantations has contributed to the drastic decline in wildlife populations. Because of the efforts of Rainforest Trust, local partners and the Sabah government, the recent conversion of the logging concession to expand the Kuamut Forest Reserve annuls all logging plans and significantly improves protection for some of the island’s most threatened species.

Rainforest Trust and local partners are currently working to finalize this project by declaring an additional 81,767 acres to strengthen Kuamut Forest Reserve.

“The generous support of Rainforest Trust has enabled SEARRP to provide the science that underpinned the protection of this crucially important area of forest,” said Dr. Glen Reynolds, Director of SEARRP. “Having now extended our relationship with Rainforest Trust, we look forward to expanding these efforts and, with our partners in Sabah, contribute to the conservation of much larger areas of Sabah’s priceless rainforests.”

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped to make possible the expansion of Kuamut Forest Reserve, especially Daniel Maltz, Brett Byers and Leslie Santos, Luanne Lemmer and Eric Veach, and Charles Uihlein.

Amphibian Conservation Team Recognized for Positive Impact on Threatened Species

Rainforest Trust’s partner Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) recently awarded its amphibian team “Program of the Year” in recognition of their efforts to save threatened South African amphibians.

Amphibians – including frogs, toads, salamanders and their lesser known relatives, limbless caecilians – are at the forefront of the global species extinction crisis. Despite this need for immediate action, there are few conservation organizations that have a program specifically dedicated to addressing this drastic decline. Rainforest Trust partner EWT is one of the exceptions, and in December its Threatened Amphibian Program (TAP) was awarded the organization’s “Program of the Year”.

“This [award] is a testament to everything that we have been working toward as a program over the past four years, most importantly the expansion of our habitat rehabilitation, community and social work,” wrote TAP Manager Dr. Jeanne Tarrant.

EWT’s TAP has been a leader in amphibian conservation efforts in South Africa, helping to not only raise awareness of the plight of these incredible creatures but also implement vital conservation actions needed to save them.

“What Jeanne and her team have been able to accomplish is really very special,” said Rainforest Trust’s Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Officer James Lewis. “Jeanne has not only found species thought to have gone extinct, but she is also engaging thousands of people in the protection of amphibians and really making a difference to the lasting survival of highly threatened species. She is an inspiration to myself and many others in the herpetofauna conservation world, and I’m extremely pleased to see that TAP has won the award this year.”

Rainforest Trust is currently working with TAP to utilize Biodiversity Stewardship Programs in South Africa to encourage landowners and communities to become active custodians of important amphibian habitats on their own properties. These efforts will lead to the establishment of formal protected areas for endangered species such as the Amathole Toad and Pickersgill’s Reed Frog.

The highland habitats of the Amathole Mountains are extremely rich in animal and plant species with high rates of endemism, including the Critically Endangered Amathole Toad. This species was presumed to be extinct, as it had not been seen for 13 years, until it was rediscovered in 2011 by Jeanne and her colleagues. Since this incredible rediscovery, EWT has worked toward the implementation of conservation measures in the region. Though their efforts have made significant progress, agricultural encroachment and commercial forestry have severely impacted the Amathole Toad’s range and that of other endemic species, as the area has no formal protection. To combat these threats, Rainforest Trust and EWT are working to create the Amathole Catchment Protected Environment.

In eastern South Africa, Rainforest Trust and EWT are working to establish two protected areas that will help safeguard key wetlands that are priorities for both water catchment functions and species such as the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog. These two sites will form part of the last stronghold for this Endangered frog, as 80 percent of the species’ population currently falls outside of official protected areas. The creation of Adam’s Mission Wetland Nature Reserve and Isipingo Wetland Environmental Conservation Reserve through land acquisition and Biodiversity Stewardship Programs are strong examples of how conservation organizations can work with local communities and stakeholders to protect indispensable sites for biodiversity and human well-being.

Sustainable Economic Initiative Defends Endangered Tree Species in India

Rainforest Trust’s partner Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) in India uses unique economic opportunities to encourage communities to sustainably manage natural resources.

After dedicating extensive time and resources to planting saplings of a threatened tree species, many people would find it incredibly discouraging to come across a pile of these felled trees slated to be sold to a logging company. Instead, conservationists with the Indian environmental nonprofit AERF regarded the situation as an opportunity to engage with the community about local conservation and alternative economic possibilities.

The scientific name of this Vulnerable tree is Pterocarpus marsupium, though it is locally known as ‘Bija,’ ‘Vijaysar’ or the ‘Indian Kino Tree.’ The species grows in the moist deciduous forests of India’s north Western Ghats, a mountain range that is one of the most species-rich ecosystems in South Asia. Despite its high biodiversity, the northwestern section of the mountain range is severely under-protected. While there are ‘sacred groves’ in the region, which are old growth forest patches dedicated to deities that are traditionally protected by communities, there have been challenges associated with conserving private forests.

AERF acknowledges that conservation sometimes requires developing new value propositions for promoting sustainable biodiversity use so that reaping economic benefits doesn’t cause irreversible damage to the biodiversity. Since the fuel wood trade is a major source of livelihood for communities in the area, prohibiting the practice of cutting down trees may not be effectively enforced or economically viable. Recognizing this, the nonprofit discovered that community members could instead be educated to take advantage of their natural resources in a sustainable way.

“Once we got some success through community participation in saving sacred groves, communities started expecting more from us in terms of what direct benefits they can get,” said Jayant Sarnaik, the Joint Director of AERF.

“Conserving sacred groves partly was our agenda, but over a period [communities] realized that something linked to livelihoods could also be developed, and our organization could do something about that. That is how we diversified into developing alternative livelihood strategies, which are linked to conservation.”

Sarnaik explained that he got the idea of sustainably harvesting the Bija species when he saw local community members peeling the bark off the trees. When he asked people why they were doing this to the saplings that AERF had planted, the response was that the tree bark was used for traditional medicine. Sarnaik and his team recognized that a single tree could potentially have more economic value when used for its medicinal aspects than a whole forest plot sold for timber conversion, and so AERF began to approach landowners with a proposition: convert a minimum number of these trees that are at least 15 years old into profitable products through an AERF-implemented value chain, in exchange for conserving the majority of the forests that would otherwise be sold to logging companies.

“This initiative brings home the ‘golden mean’ of conservation-on-the-ground where sometimes one has to lose small battles to win the big war against mass-scale deforestation,” AERF explained.

AERF now cooperates with landowners and artisans to produce tumblers out of a limited amount of Bija trees that may help control blood sugar levels if a person drinks from them, while giving access to a larger market that allows for a fair price for the product. While providing a sustainable income to landowners, part of the proceeds are also used to protect the remaining and younger Bija trees in their forest plots.

Each product comes with a reminder: “The tumbler you hold in your hand is the ultimate sacrifice of one Bija tree whose valiant act saved countless others around it from being subjected to mindless logging.”

By using various economic incentives such as the tumbler production to limit the felling of trees in the north Western Ghats, AERF has scaled from protecting 50 acres in 2007 to currently safeguarding more than 3,500 acres, and is continuing to expand its protected areas through partnership with Rainforest Trust.

“What we are doing is not just looking at conservation practices of the communities, but also the traditional knowledge associated with species like plants and animals and how they can be used for conservation,” said Sarnaik. “Conservation doesn’t just mean protection. It also means sustainable use.”

Rainforest Trust is currently partnering with AERF to protect additional forest habitat in the north Western Ghats.

Rainforest Trust Helps Protect over 6 Million Acres of Tropical Forest in 2016

Since the founding of Rainforest Trust in 1988, over 16 million acres have been safeguarded from threats such as deforestation thanks to the efforts of Rainforest Trust, local partners and supporters.

Thanks to our wonderful supporters, Rainforest Trust invested $15.6 million in vital conservation initiatives in 2016 to support 119 projects across the tropics, and since its founding has established 136 new protected areas. Rainforest Trust’s innovative approach to rainforest protection makes it one of the most cost-effective international conservation organizations in the United States, with board members covering 80 percent of all administration and development costs. Rainforest Trust has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, and 100 percent of project gifts directly fund crucial conservation action.

Some of Rainforest Trust’s 2016 successes:

  • Southern Cardamom National Park and Prey Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary have greatly expanded Cambodia’s protected area network and safeguard over 1.2 million acres from increasing pressures of logging and agricultural expansion.
  • The declaration of the nearly 2.2 million-acre Lomami National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is heralded as a critical breakthrough in securing urgently needed rainforest protection for Endangered wildlife such as Bonobos and Okapis.
  • Itombwe Nature Reserve represents a major step forward for the conservation of Critically Endangered Grauer’s Gorillas by permanently protecting more than 1 million acres of Central African rainforest habitat.
  • The new 219,609-acre Gola Forest National Park – only the second national park in Liberia – protects vital habitat in the Guinean Forest of West Africa, which contains astonishing levels of endemic plant and animal life.
  • Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve in Palawan, the largest critical habitat designated in the Philippines, now safeguards endemic and threatened species such as the Palawan Horned Frog, Palawan Hornbill and Philippine Pangolin, while protecting the forest-dwelling Batak people.
  • After 15 land acquisitions, a key strategic property was secured and added to Buenaventura Reserve to consolidate the most important cloud forest reserve in southern Ecuador for Endangered birds such as El Oro Parakeets and Ecuadorian Tapaculos.
  • Tesoro Escondido Reserve in northwestern Ecuador 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.

Rainforest Trust is committed to protecting millions of additional acres in 2017 through numerous projects around the world.