Critical Land Purchase Establishes the Misty Mountain Wildlife Corridor, Connecting 3 Million Acres of Rainforest in Australia

With support from Rainforest Trust, South Endeavour Trust purchased a strategic 173.5-acre property at risk of deforestation that is a vital piece in connecting an extensive rainforest corridor from the uplands to the coast in Queensland, northern Australia.

This May, Rainforest Trust supported South Endeavour Trust’s purchase of a priority site that is crucial to the long-term conservation of upland biodiversity in tropical Australia. Protecting the 173.5-acre property links a wildlife corridor to help complete a nearly 3 million-acre rainforest mosaic in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The Misty Mountain Wildlife Corridor is essential for the natural movements of wildlife across this diverse landscape, as it re-establishes a continuous stretch of rainforest from the Australian coast to the uplands. For many threatened species, this ability to disperse enhances their capacity to adapt to climate change, which is projected to have severe impacts on species in tropical Australia’s higher elevations.

“The fragmentation of the unique rainforests of Australia’s Wet Tropics poses huge challenges for biodiversity,” said Tim Hughes, South Endeavour Trust’s Executive Director. “This is particularly so in the heavily cleared upland regions of the Wet Tropics.”

“This acquisition closes a critical gap for connectivity in these upland rainforests and will benefit a wide range of threatened and near threatened species.”

The uplands of Australia’s wet tropics support more vertebrate species than any other landscape in the country, including species such as the Southern Cassowary, Spotted-tailed Quoll, Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo and Lemuroid Ringtail Possum. Recent surveys in the area around the purchased property recorded the presence of 369 vascular plant species and 92 bird species. In addition, three Endangered frogs are known from the area: the Common Mist Frog, Lace-eyed Tree Frog and Torrent Tree Frog.

“While this region is a conservation priority, the high altitude rainforests on rich volcanic basalt have long been targeted for deforestation and cattle ranching,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, Rainforest Trust’s CEO.

“This small land purchase is now connecting a vast contiguous mosaic of montane to lowland rainforest to the Great Barrier Reef, helping create one of the most important tropical land and seascapes on our planet.”

In December, South Endeavour Trust and the Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection will sign an agreement to officially designate the purchased property as the Misty Mountain Nature Refuge. Plans are also underway to strengthen the wildlife corridor through reforestation of degraded lands immediately adjacent to the corridor.

Header photo: The Misty Mountain Wildlife Corridor re-establishes a continuous stretch of rainforest from the Australian coast to the uplands. Photo by South Endeavour Trust.

A Man, A Snake, A Flower

Rainforest Trust’s partner has the unique distinction of having not one, but two species named in his honor in the span of a few months.

Last year, Guido Berguido, a Rainforest Trust partner and the founder of ADOPTA (Asociación Adopta el Bosque Panamá), became the namesake of the Chucanti Centipede Snake, Tantilla berguidoi. The snake was named to honor Berguido’s creation of the Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve in Panama where the snake was first discovered. Now, Berguido can add a plant, Heliconia berguidoi, to the list of organisms named after him.

Researchers Rodolfo Flores, Carla Black and Alicia Ibáñez described the newly-discovered flowering plant species earlier this year in PhytoKeys. Like the Chucanti Centipede Snake, scientists first observed H. berguidoi in the Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve. Characterized by pastel pink flowers peeking out from bright-red, arc-shaped structures known as bracts, H. berguidoi has a total estimated range size of just four square kilometers.

In their paper, the researchers explained that they honored Berguido for “first [bringing] national attention to Cerro Chucantí after witnessing not only its natural splendor, but the rampant ongoing deforestation.” Cerro Chucantí is an isolated massif or “sky island” in eastern Panama, which rises from sea level to 4,721 feet in elevation. The closest peaks with similar elevation and vegetation are at least 90 miles away. This topography isolates the Cerro Chucantí mountaintop and enables extensive evolutionary differentiation of the region’s flora and fauna. Hence, Cerro Chucantí has several locally-endemic rainforest species likely found nowhere else on Earth, including H. berguidoi.

Despite current protections, these species and the entire ecosystem remains imperiled by encroaching slash and burn activity, logging and cattle ranching. When asked about ongoing threats, Berguido said, “Even though we have made great progress in learning about the unique flora and fauna of Cerro Chucantí, and now, with Rainforest Trust’s and International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC)’s support are almost doubling the size of the original Reserve, in a recent patrol of the farther flanks of the mountain we witnessed ongoing slash and burn of primary forest to give way to farming and cattle ranching.”

“This is a wake up call that we can’t slow down our efforts to protect this unique Sky Island!”

As a gateway to over 60,000 acres of public lands, the Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve lays the foundation to designate government protected areas. ADOPTA has worked with Rainforest Trust and ICFC to expand Cerro Chucantí Nature Reserve by 260 acres, protecting more of this unique and diverse ecosystem from deforestation.

Article by Ethan Freedman, Rainforest Trust Publications Officer.

Header photo: Rainforest Trust’s partner Guido Berguido recently had this species of flowering plant named in his honor. Photo by Carla Black.

Rediscovered Snake Sparks Major Conservation Initiative

The rediscovery of the threatened Albany Adder – a tiny viper which was soon to be declared “extinct in the wild” since it had not been seen in almost a decade – is sparking a major conservation initiative to safeguard this rare reptile’s habitat in South Africa.

Human-induced habitat destruction, paired with poaching for the pet trade, has led the Albany Adder to be considered one of the rarest snakes in the world (it is listed as Critically Endangered in the most recent reptile conservation assessment for South Africa published in 2014). Because this snake is endemic – meaning it is found only in a specific, limited range – there is a much higher risk that habitat fragmentation and loss could lead to the species’ extinction if left unchecked.

Conservation organizations Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and Rainforest Trust understood that to secure a future for the Albany Adder, protecting its habitat needed to be a priority. Before committing to the creation of a protected area though, the presence of this incredibly rare snake first had to be confirmed, as it was last scientifically recorded almost 10 years ago. The most recent sightings had occurred at a site currently being mined, and the EWT team consulted with local herpetologists regarding the possibility that the species could be found there again. After determining the ideal timeframe (active male adders pursuing mates are easier to spot than dormant ones), there was only one thing left to do: go into the field and search for them.

Armed with cameras, measurement tools and a healthy dose of anxiety (since only 12 Albany Adders had ever been officially recorded), conservationists set out to affirm the species’ existence in November 2016. As the EWT team travelled to the Eastern Cape Province, the prevalent concern wasn’t with the risk of coming in contact with the snake’s venom, but an even scarier prospect: that it may already be too late to save the species.

For almost an entire week, the team searched through bushes, under rocks and in limestone holes for the greyish tan snake that is perfectly adept at blending into its environment. Even well into the night, conservationists drove down numerous highways and dusty farm lanes, hoping to catch a glimpse of the snake in a different context.

By the last day – with many findings of other reptile species but no sign of the Albany Adder – morale was low. The EWT team decided to return to the first area that had been surveyed as a last attempt to document the species. As luck would have it, their vehicle was low on fuel so the EWT Field Officer Michael Adams had to leave the team and travel to the nearest town roughly 20 miles away to refill. On his way back to the site, Adams came across a sight that had been almost given up on: a single female Albany Adder slithering across the road.

“I was massively excited, but I had no one to celebrate with!” Adams said.

After calling the other conservationists to the discovery, documenting and then releasing the female adder back into its natural habitat, Adams and the EWT team continued searching into the evening. Incredibly, they came across a second Albany Adder, this time a young male. The EWT team conducted another search in March 2017, finding additional adders including a pregnant female. Between the two surveys, five Albany Adders were documented, bringing the total recordings of the species to 17 confirmed sightings.

Bolstered by the success of their searches, the EWT and Rainforest Trust are now working to protect the habitat of this highly threatened snake. The Coega Bontveld vegetation which the adder species inhabits has been drastically reduced by development activities and is under continuous threat from mining, road construction and the expansion of a nearby industrial complex.

Because Albany Adders have been confirmed at the mining site, there is a strong case for protecting the land through a Biodiversity Stewardship Program, which is a way for private landowners to work with conservation authorities to manage the ecosystems within their lands with a focus on protecting biodiversity. The EWT is currently discussing land rights with various landowners in the area, with the aim to create a protected area that is close to 1,000 acres in size. According to Adams, this proposed nature reserve will be the first protected area in Africa to be dedicated to the security of a Critically Endangered snake species, and other wildlife such as Blue Cranes, Secretary Birds and Ludwig’s Bustards will benefit as well.

“The Albany Adder will only survive if it is given formal protection and its last remaining habitat is protected into perpetuity,” said Rainforest Trust’s Director of Conservation Programs James Lewis.

“If we don’t do this now, then the loss of this incredible species will rest on the shoulders of our generation. We can act, and we can save this species. We must.”

Header photo: Rainforest Trust supported EWT’s expedition to rediscover the Albany Adder. Photo by Michael Adams.

Project to Protect a Critical Amphibian Hotspot Officially Launched in Cameroon

Government officials have given permission to begin the process of establishing a protected area on Mount Manengouba, an ancient volcano shrouded in rainforest within the southwestern Cameroon highlands that contains a relic population of amphibians and reptiles found nowhere else in the world.

Mount Manengouba harbors 100 species of amphibians and provides habitat for more than half of the most threatened frogs and toads in Cameroon. A combination of topographic variety, lush tropical mountain cloud forest and diverse habitats has endowed this volcanic mountain with exceptional endemic biodiversity, leading it to be ranked among the highest conservation priorities in Central Africa. Despite being a global priority, this volcanic mountain is unprotected and at grave risk from deforestation due to increasing pressures for agricultural land through shifting cultivation, tree extraction for construction and livestock pasture.

This February, Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) issued a note to officially initiate the process of protecting 5,542 acres of mountain forest to prevent further hunting and habitat degradation on Mount Manengouba for the interest of highly threatened amphibians and other wildlife dependent on this area. This allowed Rainforest Trust’s partners Cameroon Herpetology-Conservation Biology Foundation (CAMHERP-CBF) and Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) to hold an inception workshop in March to discuss project plans and seek stakeholders’ collaboration and support in the implementation of the conservation initiative. This workshop brought together government administrative authorities from the localities of Mungo and Bangem, as well as village chiefs, elders and community members from villages around Mount Manengouba.

“One main step into the success of this project is that almost all administrative and local authorities who took part at the inception workshop are very positive about the project,” according to a report from CAMHERP-CBF.

In addition to the ongoing periodic community workshops, a project monitoring and evaluation working group was also formed to ensure that project plans are followed and the designation process includes the perspectives of all stakeholders. This monitoring team includes the administrative delegates of MINFOF from the surrounding towns of Bangem and Nkongsamba, representatives of the village chiefs, and the CEOs of CAMHERP-CBF and ERuDeF. This group will convene every three months to evaluate past project activities and determine objectives for the upcoming months.

“The issuance of a note by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife to commence the gazettement process, and the subsequent official project launch and successful inclusive workshop are key aspects of the process of protected area creation in Cameroon,” said Rainforest Trust’s Africa Conservation Officer Dr. Sally Lahm.

“CAMHERP-CBF and ERuDeF are to be congratulated for their professionalism and diligence.”

Learn more about this irreplaceable amphibian hotspot in Cameroon.

Header photo: Critically Endangered Manengouba Long-fingered Frog. Photo by CAMHERP-CBF.