Supporter Spotlight: Bailey Conner

A Birthday Party for the Birds

Bailey Conner celebrated her birthday this year by really spreading her wings. She learned all about rainforests and their wonderful species in school and was enamored. Bailey and her classmates studied how animals live together in this ecosystem and even went so far as to build a rainforest inside their classroom.

“She came home each day with new rainforest facts like: a lot of our medicine comes from the rainforest,” her mother, Jessica, shared.

With her seventh birthday approaching, Bailey knew that she wanted a rainforest-themed party. The National Aviary, located right in downtown Pittsburgh, was at the top of the list. Upon discovering that Bailey and friends could meet a Macaw – one of Bailey’s favorite birds – her family knew it was the right place. Other winged guests included a parrot that painted Bailey a picture as a gift and an Aracari. Vibrant Aracaris are in the Toucan family, sporting bright plumage and large colorful beaks. They are found in Central and South American tropical rainforests high up in the canopy. Because Aracaris do not migrate, conserving their habitat is particularly important.

Bailey didn’t stop there, as she also wanted to help save the rainforest and its numerous species! To take her birthday the extra mile (or acre), instead of presents she collected money to donate for rainforest conservation. After learning about the threat of deforestation, Bailey knew she wanted to contribute to an organization that specialized in tropical forest conservation.

“Once Bailey collected money in lieu of presents, we wanted to donate the funds to Rainforest Trust to help save the animals,” Jessica explained. “We were happy to hear of the organization (Rainforest Trust) and all the great work they are doing to preserve the rainforest.”

Through her generous party, Bailey and her friends were able to raise enough money to save 25 acres of tropical rainforest.

Header photo: Rainforest Trust supporter Bailey Conner saved acres of tropical rainforest. Photo courtesy of Jessica Conner.

Red Panda Sightings Inspire Conservation Work

Forest guardians working in Nepal are motivated by the shy species they are dedicated to protecting in their natural habitat: adorable yet endangered Red Pandas.

Intensely hunted for their unique russet-and-cream colored fur as well as their highly valued bushy tails, Red Pandas are becoming increasingly rare – particularly as their habitat is disappearing across Nepal. To help mitigate these threats, Rainforest Trust’s partner Red Panda Network (RPN) is dedicated to safeguarding habitat for these Endangered mammals through the creation of the 430,000-acre Red Panda Community Forest Reserve. While RPN’s work produces much-needed relief for Red Pandas from the pressures of hunting and habitat loss, the organization also provides an opportunity for community members to become engaged with conservation initiatives through employment as forest guardians.

One of these forest guardians is Chenga Tsering Sherpa, an energetic young man from the Taplejung District of eastern Nepal. Chenga received a formal education until 8th grade and then had to leave school due to family issues, spending the majority of his time herding cattle and practicing agriculture.

While Chenga was aware of the Red Pandas that resided in the forest nearby his village, he was unfamiliar with how their numbers were drastically decreasing in other areas across Nepal. Although he had been told that Red Pandas were hiding in nearby trees, the first time Chenga saw these elusive creatures was when he began working with RPN as a forest guardian.

“Chenga [said] that face to face experience with the cuddly small mammals motivated him to work harder for the conservation of these animals and their habitat,” according to RPN.

Within three months of working with RPN, Chenga learned how to handle a global positioning system (GPS), operate measurement tools and perform data tracking procedures. While developing research skills, he also provided information about the status of wildlife habitat to the conservation organization through his monitoring work.

“Our conservation work would simply not be possible without the endorsement and involvement of local communities,” said Rainforest Trust’s Asia Conservation Officer Rick Passaro. “Any alternative approach to protected area creation and management is sure to fail.”

Header photo: A Red Panda spotted during RPN ecology monitoring. Photo by Peema Sherpa.

Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed: Elusive Cloud Rat and Moonrat Caught on Camera

Video footage provides incredibly rare images of the Critically Endangered Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat and Endangered Dinagat Gymnure in their natural habitat within the Philippine island of Dinagat.

Known for its lush rainforests, Dinagat Island is home to a variety of rare species found nowhere else in the world. The dense foliage provides excellent hiding spots for these secretive creatures– sometimes so well, that a species could be presumed extinct.

This was the case for the Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat, an endemic rodent that was first discovered between 1974 and 1975. Little is known about this cloud rat, as it has been scientifically described from only a single specimen, and after its initial discovery the species went unseen for decades. Thought to no longer exist in the wild, it was feared to be extinct until its incredible rediscovery in 2012. Researchers Milada Řeháková and Václav Řehák observed and recorded the Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat for the first time in nearly 40 years, and this sighting helped renew hope for Dinagat’s threatened species and boosted conservation efforts on the island.

Video of Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat recorded in 2012. Courtesy of Milada Řeháková and Václav Řehák.

In December 2016, an expedition led by Green Mindanao and supported by Rainforest Trust was conducted to map land for potential protected areas on the island. During this trip, the enigmatic Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat was again caught on camera by Řeháková.

“I am very happy that our Philippine partners came up with the idea of establishing protected areas on Dinagat Island and that I can be part of it,” said Řeháková.

“The Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat is a unique species that is not found anywhere else on the planet and deserves protection.”

Video of Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat recorded in 2016. Courtesy of Milada Řeháková.

Another of Dinagat Island’s endangered and elusive species, the Dinagat Gymnure (also known as the Dinagat Moonrat), was recorded during this same expedition, again by Řeháková. This was the first time the species had been photographed and video-recorded in the wild. Endemic to the Philippines, the Dinagat Gymnure is restricted to three islands where deforestation has greatly impacted the shrew-like mammal’s habitat, making the creation of new protected areas critical to its survival.

Video of Dinagat Gymnure recorded in 2016. Courtesy of Milada Řeháková.

Currently, Rainforest Trust and local partner Green Mindanao are working to create four new protected areas in Dinagat Island that will secure essential forest and coastal habitat for threatened species such as the Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat and Dinagat Gymnure, while establishing the first designated conservation protection on this unique island.

Header photo: Image of the Critically Endangered Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat caught on camera. Courtesy of Milada Řeháková.

Education and Empowerment in Ecuador

Rainforest Trust’s partner works with Ecuadorian youth to develop sustainable livelihood options through research opportunities directly linked to conservation.

The new Tesoro Escondido Reserve, which was established in the Chocó ecoregion of Ecuador by Cambugán Foundation with the support of Rainforest Trust (in addition to Dr. Mika Peck of the University of Sussex and Scott Rasmussen Trust), provides a vital stronghold for one of the most threatened primates in the world: the Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey. This reserve is also home to 44 percent of mammal species recorded in Ecuador (including Jaguars), threatened birds such as the Endangered Great Green Macaw and the Baudo Guan, as well as multiple Endangered amphibians.

Within this biodiversity hotspot lies a research hub that provides opportunities for scientists and volunteers to work with local communities to monitor and record species residing in the reserve. Experience over the years with the Tesoro community has shown that involving local families in land protection and the research process positively affects attitudes toward the forests and visiting scientists, creating a sense of empowerment that ultimately leads to a common decision to conserve the environment.

As part of this initiative, Cambugán Foundation with the support of Dr. Peck has implemented a parabiologist program where local people are trained and hired to work as research assistants. This scientific training program provides an alternative source of income for young people in Tesoro, developing a sustainable livelihood opportunity that is associated with conservation efforts.

“The concept differs from the traditional ‘park guard’ concept in the fact that parabiologists are involved in the decision-making process of the research, and they are credited in scientific publications and go to symposiums and congresses to speak about the research they are involved in,” said Dr. Citlalli Morelos-Juárez, the Tesoro Escondido Reserve coordinator. “This is a way of empowering them and to make them a real part of the activities that the reserve is carrying out.”

In towns surrounding Tesoro Escondido Reserve, young people are often limited to three main employment options: work for a company that extracts natural resources, convert their land to farm pasture or migrate to a city to increase their chance of finding a more stable source of income.

“The parabiologists in our project have broken that scheme and feel proud of the work they carry out in the reserve,” said Dr. Morelos-Juárez. “They have taken up the initiative of a lot of the activities and have also become ambassadors of the conservation in their own communities.”

This year, Cambugán Foundation has employed three parabiologists, with a special focus on women empowerment. The Foundation says that females have fewer education and employment options than men in the region, and are usually married at a young age. One of their current parabiologists is 19-year-old Yulexy Villigua, who the Foundation says is incredibly motivated and is learning how to utilize a GPS and develop computer skills to assist with research projects. Villigua was involved in a recent primate census conducted by the Foundation in Tesoro Escondido Reserve, and she will assist with an upcoming reforestation project to maintain forest connectivity.

Another female role model associated with the reserve is a woman named Yadira Giler who volunteers as a field manager. Personally invested in Tesoro Escondido Reserve, she saved her own money and bought a camera to photograph species such as the Brown-headed Spider Monkey that she provides for free to the Foundation to use for research and outreach purposes. Giler, along with her husband Patricio Paredes, coordinates research logistics and trainings within the parabiologist program and assists with fostering positive community relations.

“We strongly believe that to do long term conservation in an area there must be a community involvement and empowerment,” said Dr. Peck. “We are very pleased to have this component in the Tesoro Escondido Reserve.”

Supporter Spotlight: George Jett

Speaking for species through a lens

George Jett is an invaluable member of Rainforest Trust. After retiring from over 30 years at the Environmental Protection Agency, he spends much of his time traveling the world and documenting the species he encounters. He is an exceptional source of photographic information, having documented 401 species of birds in his home state of Maryland during his lifetime – something no one else has done. In 2008, George did a big Maryland photographic fundraising year and documented 307 species – a record for Maryland, and one that no one else has come close to achieving. That project raised over $10,000 for conservation.

“A few young bucks have tried to catch me, but haven’t succeeded,” George proudly stated.

As an avid traveler, his collection also boasts international species. He and his wife, Dr. Gwen Brewer, try to take a few trips a year.

“Ethiopia and South Africa are my top folders currently, in terms of number of species photographed,” George said. “I am also working right now with a woman on butterflies of the Andes that I photographed in Peru.”

George was drawn to the rainforest and the plight of its species after a birding trip to Costa Rica. “I was budding into a serious birder back then,” he reminisced. “[My friends and I] flew into a small research station at Peninsula de Osa on their recommendation. When we got off the plane, there were birds and butterflies everywhere, just surrounding us. It was incredible.”

Most birders keep a list of the species they see in a journal or date book, making note of when and where they see each one. George thinks of his photos as his version of a journal.

“I want to catch people’s eyes and capture their minds,” George explained.

The idea is that by sharing these wonderful creatures with the world via his photographs, George can spread knowledge about the many species he sees and inspire others to care about what happens to them. He described a trip to El Dorado Nature Reserve in Colombia:

“The last time I was there, they had used some of my photographs on banners to show people what [some of the species there] looked like. I really enjoyed being there – being able to see and contribute to conserving the animals.”

Originally drawn to the mission by his friend and Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman, George appreciates the urgency of the nonprofit’s conservation work.

“There is an agile salamander in Guatemala completely endemic to this one little spot – truly found nowhere else in the world – and Rainforest Trust needed to protect the tiny spot for the salamander,” he explained. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see it (the salamander), but it was the only place on Earth they existed, so I donated. It’s incredible that Rainforest Trust does that.”

George’s generosity has helped save over 24,242 acres so far.

A portion of George’s extensive photo collection is available at:

Land Titles for Indigenous Communities in Peru Create a Firewall of Protection

Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon received legal recognition of their land ownership rights, which allows them to have access to state benefits and strengthens the buffer zone of the spectacular Sierra del Divisor National Park.

Nineteen indigenous communities working with participatory conservation projects implemented by Rainforest Trust’s local partner Center for the Development of an Indigenous Amazon (CEDIA) have recently received title ownership of their territories. The titles were presented by the CEO and Chairman of Rainforest Trust, as well as the Regional Governor, Director of the Agriculture Authority of Loreto Region and CEDIA staff on February 15 during a celebration in the Loreto Region of Peru, which highlighted the importance of community support in the protection of wildlife habitat and how vital it is to the success of long-term conservation strategies. Nine of the titles presented were directly supported by Rainforest Trust, and the nonprofit organization is working with CEDIA to secure land titles for additional communities.

These new land titles will strengthen the buffer zone of Sierra del Divisor National Park, a massive 3.3 million-acre protected area established with the support of CEDIA, local indigenous communities, Rainforest Trust and other supporters in 2015. The creation of this national park and its surrounding buffer zone have been part of a multi-year, multi-organizational effort to secure a conservation corridor that spans 67 million acres from the banks of the Amazon in Brazil to the snowcapped Andes of Peru. The region has some of the highest levels of biodiversity ever recorded on the planet and is thought to contain many species still unknown to science, and local communities actively participate in safeguarding the national park.

“It was a tremendous honor to present legal documents to indigenous leaders that finally own legal rights to their land,” said Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“Not only do these 19 communities now have access to state benefits such as healthcare and education, but their land greatly strengthens conservation efforts, as this blocks mining and logging concessions on their lands.”

The celebration also coincided with CEDIA’s 35th anniversary. Rainforest Trust and CEDIA have collectively protected almost 30 million acres of Amazon Rainforest by establishing land rights for hundreds of indigenous communities and by creating new protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

“Rainforest Trust has been a crucial partner for CEDIA for [25] years, together we have had extraordinary achievements for the conservation of the Amazon and the defense of its communities,” said Dani Rivera, project manager for CEDIA. “Such a long and successful relationship is only possible when based in confi­dence, results and loyalty in difficult times. We have great plans for the future and we are sure that we will continue to [make] history on the conservation of the Amazon with a global scope.”