“Golden Wonder” Salamander Rediscovered in Guatemala

The spectacular Jackson’s Climbing Salamander was last seen in 1977 and considered extinct. This month a forest guard at the Rainforest Trust-supported San Isidro Amphibian Reserve in Guatemala stumbled across this amazing species – the most exciting species rediscovery of the year!

The American generation born between 1883 and 1900; a hit TV series about an island; and the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander (Bolitoglossa jacksoni). Before this month, they all had one thing in common:

They were lost.

Today, Hemingway remains disillusioned and Jack and company are (spoiler alert) still dead. But the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander?

We found it.

In 1977, graduate students at UC Berkeley discovered three new salamander species in the Cuchumatanes mountain range of northwestern Guatemala. One of them was the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander. We’ve seen the two other species since — the Finca Chiblac Salamander (Bradytriton silus) and the Nimble Long-limbed Salamander (Nyctanolis pernix) — but the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander has eluded scientists for 40 years.

To put that into context: the last time a human spotted the species, “Hotel California” was the top song in America. But that was before this month.

Ramos León, a park guard at the Rainforest Trust-supported San Isidro Amphibian Reserve in Guatemala was patrolling near the reserve’s edge. During his patrol, he noticed a small, bright yellow juvenile salamander. He took a photo which confirmed the rediscovery of Jackson’s Climbing Salamander.

To amphibian experts, the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander had near-mystical status. Its bright yellow skin gave the species the nickname “golden wonder.” The few people who have seen the species opine that photographs do not give true justice to its vibrant colors.

In response to other salamander discoveries, Rainforest Trust supported the reserve’s protection in 2015 along with FUNDAECO, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, Global Wildlife Conservation, World Land Trust and the International Conservation Fund of Canada. At the time, the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander’s whereabouts remained a mystery. Yet, without prior habitat protection we would likely never have seen the species again.

“With the Cuchumatanes Range under threat – a well-known epicenter for endangered amphibians and one of the highest global conservation priorities – in 2015 we acted swiftly using our Conservation Action Fund to support the purchase and protection of critical properties,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust.

“And we are delighted to report that this important wildlife refuge has permitted the survival and ultimate rediscovery of the spectacular Jackson’s Climbing Salamander.”

And so, we know that much like the Mona Lisa in 1911 and forests in Madagascar, biodiversity can get lost. But, much like the Mona Lisa in 1914 and forests in Madagascar, biodiversity can also be found.

Support Rainforest Trust’s Work to Protect Habitat for Endangered Species Around the World

Rainforest Trust’s Largest Land Purchase Creates Conservation Corridor in Australia

For almost 30 years, Rainforest Trust has been the leader in the purchase and protection of private lands across the tropics for threatened species. The vast majority of these private lands are relatively small holdings, but the property known as Caloola Station, on the Cape York Peninsula of Australia, is over 44,000 acres. This property is almost entirely undisturbed and uniquely pristine habitat with a stronghold population of Endangered Northern Quolls, but until recently was on the verge of being sold to developers.

On October 31, Rainforest Trust supported its Australian partner South Endeavour Trust in the purchase of the 44,726-acre Caloola property, preventing the degradation and deforestation of this vital site. Located at the junction of the Wet Tropics, Cape York and Einasleigh Uplands bioregions, Caloola strategically connects these with two key wildlife corridors. It contains 28 regional ecosystems, 20 of which have little or no representation in the Australian protected area network. Furthermore, water for Cooktown is sourced from the Annan river that runs beside the Caloola property.

“This is a historic land purchase for Rainforest Trust and a monumentally important acquisition for wildlife conservation,” said CEO of Rainforest Trust Dr. Paul Salaman. “The Caloola property is strategically situated at the crossroads of Australia’s most biodiverse regions – the Daintree and Cape York tropical forests to the Great Barrier Reef – and now ensures a permanent connection for a vast network of protected areas that spans over 700,000 acres.”

The presence of a very significant population of the Northern Quoll has been confirmed on the Caloola property. The Northern Quoll is listed as Endangered by IUCN and has been negatively impacted by habitat destruction and the non-native invasive Cane Toad, as the toads are poisonous to the quolls if consumed. The Northern Quoll population on Caloola seems to be one of the few populations that is not attempting to feed on the highly toxic Cane Toad. The protection of Caloola provides a place of refuge for this amazing marsupial.

With at least five different types of rainforest, the site also provides important habitat for the Buff-breasted Buttonquail, Black-footed Tree-rat, Red Goshawk, a range of tropical bats including the Ghost Bat and Semon’s Leaf-nosed bat, as well as the Bennett’s Tree-Kangaroo. It also has important populations of the threatened Cooktown Orchid and Cooktown Fan Palm.

Before being secured for conservation, the major threats to the Caloola property were derived from its proximity to the coast (just 4 miles away) and to Cooktown (about 5 miles), as it is in a prime location for residential or agriculture development. Any road construction or development could have caused major disturbances, as weed invasions – a major concern in Australia – are closely linked to vehicle movements. Such development would likely have also increased the amount of sediment coming off the property, further increasing the threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

“We are absolutely delighted to be partnering with Rainforest Trust on this incredibly important purchase, as without the organization’s support, Caloola and its values would have been lost for all time,”

said Tim Hughes, Director of South Endeavour Trust. “Being so close to Cooktown and the coast, paired with some spectacular views of the Annan River Gorge and the Great Barrier Reef, it was inevitable that the property would have been developed if not protected now.”

Rainforest Trust and South Endeavour Trust have also worked together to secure the Misty Mountain Wildlife Corridor, a 173.5-acre property which links a wildlife corridor to help complete a nearly 3 million-acre rainforest mosaic in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

This project was generously supported through the SAVES Challenge, and through the leadership of our partners and Luanne Lemmer and Eric Veach.
 

HEADER IMAGE: ENDANGERED NORTHERN QUOLL. PHOTO BY SOUTH ENDEAVOUR TRUST

 

Urgent Efforts Underway to Protect Unique Habitat in Brazil

Rainforest Trust only needs to raise the last one-third of funding to support the purchase of 596 acres as a first-of-its kind project in Brazil’s unique Cerrado habitat!

As a major tributary of the Amazon, Brazil’s Araguaia River traverses one of the most unique landscapes of the world. It literally divides two biomes: Amazon flooded forest on one side and the Cerrado, or tropical savannah, on the other. At the convergence of this ecotone, Rainforest Trust is helping its local partner Instituto Araguaia 593 acres of pristine Cerrado that backs up to the river and connects with protected areas of the flooded forest, including Cantão State Park, where Instituto Araguaia operates.

“Every single protected area in the Cerrado is [in the rocky uplands]. There is no protection in the lowlands because of agricultural development potential,” Co-founder of Instituto Araguaia George Georgiadis said in a presentation at Rainforest Trust headquarters.

Despite the uniqueness of this region, the Cerrado is the most threatened habitat in Brazil. Recognizing this, Rainforest Trust encouraged its partner to explore how this habitat is crucial for the survival of threatened species. Luckily, Ornithologist Tulio Dornas felt confident that the soon-to-be purchased parcel would be home to the rare Endangered Kaempfer’s Woodpecker, which was once thought extinct.

Dornas found several pairs of Kaempfer’s Woodpeckers in bamboo stands on the property, demonstrating its critical importance as a protected area for a rare species dependent on a highly specific habitat. But the property has other conservation benefits as well, including being an important habitat for the Endangered Giant Otter, who has a den along the property’s riverbank; limited to no logging, an impressive feat considering the amount of hardwoods there; and a wildlife corridor for passage between the flooded forest and the Cerrado.

Unfortunately, these ecological benefits are often outweighed by agricultural pursuits, as the land is very valuable to farmers. It is possible to etch out three crops a year (two soybean and one corn) in some areas of the Cerrado with help from irrigation, making it one of the highest yielding biomes of the world for this profitable crop. Which is exactly why it is also the most threatened habitat in Brazil, even more than the Amazon rainforest. As the second largest habitat of Brazil, taking up 21 percent of the land, nearly 80 percent of it has been destroyed for agricultural developments. However, it gets little conservation attention, despite its uniqueness and importance, with approximately only 2 percent protected.

“We decided to focus our efforts as conservationists as preventative, before soy sweeps through the region like a hurricane,” Silvana Campello, Co-founder of Instituto Araguaia, said in the presentation.

Soy production is the number one agricultural product from the region. Not only do soy producers deforest and burn the Cerrado, but they also use immense amounts of a pesticide that further destroys the land and pollutes the waterways, Campello said. Understanding how these behaviors could have serious impacts on the Cantão State Park, Instituto Araguaia with the help of Rainforest Trust decided to create a secure conservation corridor around the park that could help safeguard the protected area.

Using satellite imaging to determine where the most pristine swaths of Cerrado remain, Instituto Araguaia aspires to establish a corridor of protection. Hoping to convince private landowners that “conservation is good and necessary, and important for issues like climate change,” Campello said they are spreading the word about the benefits of setting up private reserves. In addition to the clear benefits to wildlife, in Brazil, private reserves are treated much like parks, and provide tax benefits for the landowner as well. Since private reserves are irreversible in perpetuity by federal law, they want this new protected area to be

“a seed to persuade as many people as we can to set up private reserves,” Georgiadis said.

For more information or if you are interested in helping protect Cerrado habitat, please visit our project page here.
 

HEADER IMAGE: ENDANGERED GIANT OTTERS. PHOTO COURTESY OF INSTITUTO ARAGUAIA

 

Mozambican Community Conservation Spurred On by Puppets

Rainforest Trust is working to support the conservation of over 13,000 acres of Mt. Namuli in Mozambique, a critical biodiversity hotspot. Community conservation outreach is a vital part of the larger efforts of partners LUPA and Legado to conserve Mt. Namuli.

The communities around Mt. Namuli are a vital part of the greater Namuli ecosystem. They rely on the mountain for ecosystem services like water, and the mountain relies on their support for conservation.

The community-based conservation approach around Mt. Namuli has the potential to set a new precedent for community conservation in Mozambique. But it takes a village to organize and educate a village on conservation.

The conservation teams on the ground in Mozambique helped organize a puppet show put on by students from one of the local primary schools. This came on the final day of a local conservation workshop organized in part by Rainforest Trust’s partners.

“It is critical to the success of any conservation effort that the youngest community members learn about and actively participate in conservation-related activities as early as possible,”

said Dr. Sally Lahm, Rainforest Trust’s Africa and Madagascar Conservation Officer. “These students are the future supporters of, and contributors to, effective management of the Mount Namuli ecosystem.”
 

HEADER IMAGE: Photo courtesy of James Q. Martin

 

Canandé Herpetological Community the Most Diverse Outside the Amazon

Rainforest Trust is currently helping expand Ecuador’s Rio Canandé Reserve by 3,754 acres. Home to a number of threatened species, including the Great Green Macaw and Brown-headed Spider Monkey, the reserve is now also home to the highest number of amphibians and reptiles in any place outside the Amazon.

A recent biological survey in Ecuador’s Rio Canandé Reserve uncovered many species of reptiles and amphibians not previously seen in the reserve. Scientists now believe there are 123 different species of reptiles and amphibians, making the reserve the most herpetologically diverse area in the world outside the Amazon. With potential further growth of the project, this number could increase to around 136 species. The survey was conducted by the conservation groups Fundación Jocotoco and Tropical Herping, and was supported by Rainforest Trust.

Regarding the survey and conservation efforts to expand Canandé Reserve, Rainforest Trust’s Director of Conservation Programs James Lewis said, “We have learned over the years that there are massive benefits to preserving as much pristine rainforest and other habitats as possible; however, both time and resources are limited so research like this helps us better understand where we should be focusing our efforts.”

“As Rainforest Trust supports more efforts like this around the world, we will be able to put our experience into action by taking the research and turning it into long-term, effective protected areas for the world’s most threatened species.”

Ranging from tiny frogs to giant boas, the Canandé herp community is an eclectic bunch.

First Carchi Andes Toad Sighting in Ecuador in 33 Years

Rainforest Trust is supporting the expansion of Fundacion EcoMinga’s Dracula Reserve in Ecuador. Recently, an incredibly rare toad was spotted there — the first Ecuadorian sighting since its discovery in 1984.

In 1984, researchers first found the Carchi Andes Toad (Rhaebo colomai) in northwest Ecuador. For 20 years, the species went unseen. Then, in 2005, researchers identified a small population in Colombia and confirmed the species’ continued existence. But this August, researchers in Ecuador’s Dracula Reserve recorded the first species sighting in Ecuador since the first discovery. Listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN, the Carchi Andes Toad is under threat from habitat loss and extinction looms. But this rediscovery provides a little hope for the rare and unique toad species.

“Over the last 20 years amphibians across the globe have suffered massive declines. Many species have been driven to the edge of extinction,” said James Lewis, Rainforest Trust’s Director of Conservation Programs.

“Stories like this one must give us hope. The Carchi Andes Toad has managed to hang on and now we need to work together, as a global community, to ensure its survival.”

Other than the Carchi Andes Toad, the Dracula Reserve is home to many other species, including the iconic “Dracula” orchids for which it is named. Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Fundacion EcoMinga to expand the reserve and provide more safe haven to these incredible endemic species.

For More Information and to Support this Project: Land Purchase Campaign to Save Ecuadorian Cloud Forest

Moustached Bird Appears on Dracula Property

According to the IUCN Red List, the Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis) is native to Colombia and Venezuela.

Wait, scratch that.

The bird was just seen in Ecuador for the first time, in Fundacion EcoMinga’s Dracula Reserve. A group of ornithologists spotted not only one, but four puffbirds on the property, believed to be two mating pairs. Previously, the species’ range map extended from northern Venezuela through western Colombia, near the border with Ecuador but not across it. So far, the Dracula Reserve — near the border with Colombia — is the only place in Ecuador with a Moustached Puffbird sighting.

Working with local partner Fundacion EcoMinga, Rainforest Trust supported the Dracula Reserve’s creation and is currently supporting a 1,475- acre expansion of the reserve. The Dracula Reserve is home to many species, including the iconic “Dracula” orchids for which it is named.

This exciting discovery is further evidence of how much is still waiting to be discovered in the tropics and how much we still have to learn about the life histories of many species.

We’re delighted to be partnering with EcoMinga to purchase additional key habitat in the region in order to expand the Dracula Reserve and are eager to learn if the puffbird–and any other surprise species–might be waiting to be discovered on these new properties.

Check out this video footage of the discovery!

Sea Turtles Were; Sea Turtles Are; Sea Turtles Will

The most emotional word in conservation is “were.”

Cheetahs were once found across Africa and the Middle East.

Lonesome George was the last one of his species of Galapagos Tortoise.

Now-extinct Great Auks were characterized by shimmering black and white feathers across a tall body.

“Were” peppers the vocabulary of every conservationist like pepper peppers a well-seasoned stuffed pepper. It often has a negative connotation. But every once in awhile, we get to use “were” in the most beautiful way. This week, I’m privileged to write this sentence:

Many sea turtle populations were on the decline.

You read that correctly. By conglomerating population estimates of individual sea turtle populations over the past few decades, researchers found that the majority of sea turtle populations across the world’s oceans are increasing in size. While the increasing numbers are encouraging on their own, this study also showed the potential for sea turtle populations to rebound after periods of decline — an important factor in potential conservation success.

This announcement follows the Snow Leopard news we reported on. Researchers determined that the global Snow Leopard population was much larger than earlier estimates. This change was due to both advances in monitoring techniques and conservation successes. But the overall Snow Leopard population is still declining. This sea turtle news is an aggregation of existing numbers, not a new estimate. In addition, with sea turtles, the researchers found some locations with declining populations but the vast majority of locations had increasing populations.

Of course, some sea turtle populations are still declining. This includes many populations of Vulnerable Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea). The authors also clarified that their assessment doesn’t contradict the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) assessment of sea turtle species as “Vulnerable,” “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered.” Sea turtles are still in danger of extinction, and the IUCN listings continue to make that clear.

Instead, this new report and the increasing sea turtle populations are living proof that conservation can work. The researchers mention that increased nest protections and innovations to reduce turtle mortality from fishing were probably big factors in the population rebounds. Despite continued threats and a remaining high risk of extinction, a future for sea turtles is more likely thanks to diligent conservation work around the world.

Rainforest Trust is working to support sea turtle habitat protection across 172,974 acres of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce, a feeding and breeding site for Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtles, Endangered Green Turtles and Vulnerable Olive Ridleys.

For More Information and to Support this Project: Sanctuary for the Scalloped Hammerheads of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica

 

HEADER IMAGE: Oliver Ridley Sea Turtle hatchlings make their way to the ocean. Photo by Conservation des Espèces Marines

 

Climate Change Series Part 2 – Rainforest Destruction is a Major Contributor to Global CO2 Emissions

Our first story in Rainforest Trust’s climate change series focused on how tropical forests naturally sequester carbon dioxide, thereby helping to regulate a significant component of global climate change: the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. However, when a tropical forest is damaged or destroyed by, e.g. logging or burning, the carbon stored in the soils and plants’ above-ground mass is released back into the atmosphere, actually significantly contributing to our growing CO2 emissions problem.

Unfortunately, our global tropical forest coverage is drastically being reduced each year. Originally, six million square miles (3.84 billion acres) of tropical rainforests existed worldwide. Now, there are only 2.4 million square miles (1.536 billion acres). And, although tropical deforestation rates slowed in the 2000s compared to the rates in the 1990s, estimates show they are once again increasing this decade. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), current tropical deforestation is occurring at a rate that is some 8.5 percent greater than it was in the 1990s. This equates to nearly 70,000 acres of rainforest lost every single day.

Deforestation and degradation of all the world’s forests release immense quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, second only to the burning of fossil fuels. Tropical deforestation alone accounts for approximately 15 percent of net global carbon emissions. This amounts to about the same carbon emissions as the entire global transportation sector (e.g. cars, trucks, ships, etc.), according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change report.

By preventing deforestation through the creation of protected areas, Rainforest Trust prevents carbon emissions and safeguards the planet’s resilience to climate change. In all the projects Rainforest Trust has begun working on just since May 2016, initial estimates of above-ground carbon storage come to 669,371,577 metric tons. If released to the atmosphere, that would be equivalent to the carbon emissions of more than 142 million cars per year.

Therefore, halting deforestation and degradation can be an integral part of climate change mitigation.

“Tropical forest conservation and restoration could constitute half of the global warming solution, according to a recent peer reviewed commentary in Nature Climate Change,” Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman stated in his Guardian Editorial.

“Deforestation in the name of economic development has occurred routinely over many decades without regard to its devastating consequences. It is completely unsustainable for governments to continue to provide concessions, subsidies and tax breaks to business when logging, mining, fires, palm oil plantations, large scale commercial agriculture, cattle ranching and road construction continue to diminish the earth’s finite, invaluable rainforests,” Dr. Salaman said.

The bottom line is that when a forest is destroyed not only do we lose the potential to have carbon pulled out of the atmosphere for decades to come, but we also have once-stored carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere. It is the proverbial loss-loss situation when it comes to mitigating climate change, among other important environmental protections.

The good news is that we are becoming more aware of the importance of protecting rainforests, resulting in more areas under protection today than ever before, thanks to efforts like ones carried out by Rainforest Trust and its partners. To date, we have purchased and protected more than 17 million acres, with plans to more than double that amount to 50 million acres by 2020 through the SAVES Challenge.

“The case for rainforest preservation – already overwhelmingly strong – can no longer be cast as a niche effort of conservationists and scientists; it needs to be everyone’s concern. For those wishing to tackle our planet’s greatest environmental challenge, there is no better place to begin than saving our tropical rainforests,” Dr. Salaman concluded.