The Front Lines of Conservation in the Galápagos Islands

Establishing and managing nature reserves is very demanding, and it requires a great deal of experience and perseverance. This past spring, I had the opportunity to take a trip to see first hand the efforts under way in the Galápagos Islands to establish new protection for endangered species, thanks to our generous supporters. I was delighted that I was joined by several of them; Dr. Larry Thompson, George Jett and Heather Galick.

We reviewed several private properties containing stronghold populations of Critically Endangered Galápagos Petrels, as well as other endemic plants and animals. These areas are under pressure for development and in urgent need of protection.

My visit provided an important opportunity to review progress and plan for the future.

I started the conservation expedition with a few days on mainland Ecuador, to visit the 6,100-acre Antisanilla Biological Reserve we helped create in partnership with Fundación Jocotoco in 2013. This was a really great visit, because it was evident that native wildlife is already booming in the reserve that is less than 30 miles from Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. I saw plenty of condors here, and migratory shorebirds resting in the reserve’s wetlands.

I am very proud of the work Jocotoco’s team is doing with Rainforest Trust’s support to protect this and many other vital areas of Ecuador’s rainforest.

Then we were on to the Galápagos Islands, the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory on biological evolution, where the Rainforest Trust team spent a week visiting priority conservation areas and traveling amongst the southeastern islands, taking in their unique beauty at every step.

The Galápagos, an archipelago of volcanic islands located on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, are renowned for their vast number of endemic species. And just like Charles Darwin, who began his research on San Cristóbal, we began our adventure on that island as well.

The Galápagos were truly magnificent, with approachable wildlife found nowhere else.

We were greeted by throngs of sleepy and passive Galápagos Sea Lions lying around town!

We visited the proposed Galápagos Nature Reserve site and realized the pressure from development was evident everywhere. In fact, the exponential growth of the island’s human population has resulted in large-scale encroachment of infrastructure onto natural habitats across the entire island – to a much greater extent than I had realized before taking this voyage.

Ecotourism on all the islands is both their greatest ally and their greatest pressure, and therefore finding a true balance is key.

Another major pressure for native Galápagos wildlife – which we witnessed firsthand at our proposed project site – is non-native invasive species. For example, there are over 500 species of terrestrial non-native plant species on the Galápagos. That’s more than native plant species! Unfortunately, plants introduced in recent decades have spread rapidly to dominate native flora, and they are not the right species to sustain other native wildlife.

One of the principal focuses of the Galápagos Nature Reserve is to remove non-native plants and allow native species and wildlife to flourish on San Cristóbal. Between pressures from development and invasive species, the urgency to protect this unique habitat is very real.

We also had a chance to visit the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Nature Preserve, which houses a breeding center for the Endangered San Cristóbal Giant Tortoise. We were fortunate to see a few of these majestic tortoises in the wild, some of which were estimated to be over 100 years old.

We also hiked into Punta Pitt on the eastern end of San Cristóbal; this is the only place throughout the island chain where you can observe all three species of boobies native to Galápagos and two species of frigatebirds. We saw all of them!

After leaving San Cristóbal, we toured several more islands, seeing amazing wildlife at every stop. We watched sea lions, sea and land iguanas, Swallow-tailed Gulls, shearwaters and Waved Albatrosses, as well as more boobies and frigatebirds.

This was truly an experience of a lifetime for me, and I am looking forward to returning to see the first private nature reserve established in these “Enchanted Islands”!

Three New Snail-Sucking Snakes Named in Honor of Rainforest Trust Supporters

The discovery of three new snail-sucking snake species in the forests of western Ecuador was announced today in a study published in the journal ZooKeys by a group of Ecuadorean and international scientists. Rainforest Trust’s President and supporters, who have helped purchase and protect multiple threatened areas across Ecuador, were honored for their efforts to protect this vital habitat by having the new snakes named after them.

The process of naming a species creates awareness about its existence and risk of extinction, and it also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the work of the people fighting to protect it.

Rainforest Trust President Dr. Robert “Bob” S. Ridgely as well as Rainforest Trust supporters George Jett and Dr. Beverly Ridgely, Dr. Bob Ridgely’s father, were recognized in perpetuity for their contribution to conservation with the following species names: Dipsa bobridgelyi, Dipsa georgejetti and Sibon bevridgelyi.

“We are proud that our generous supporters are being recognized for their efforts to permanently protect these and many other endangered species,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“It is a permanent and most fitting tribute to the dedication Beverly, Bob and George have shown to protecting at-risk habitats. The fact that these namesake species will be able to survive, and thrive, is their legacy.”

The researchers discovered the species new to science, which are all snail-sucking snakes, in southwest Ecuador, with two of the species being located within Buenaventura Reserve. Rainforest Trust partners with the local conservation group Fundación Jocotoco to strategically purchase and protect land across Ecuador, including properties to expand protection in Buenaventura and other areas where the snakes were discovered, in an effort to halt species extinction.

Alejandro Arteaga, a Ph.D. student at the American Museum of Natural History and Scientific Director of Tropical Herping, partnered with Dr. Alex Pyron, Assistant Professor of Biology at George Washington University, to carry out a series of expeditions in Ecuador between 2013 and 2017. These trips led to the discovery of the three new species.

“We had to let people know that these cool snakes exist, then also let them know that these species might soon stop existing,” Arteaga said. “ [We] then [need to] get people’s help to protect the snakes’ habitat.”

The new species are part of a group of snakes for which snails are the primary source of food. These reptiles have their jaws modified in such a way that they can suck the viscous, slimy body of a snail right out of its shell.

“It is truly an honor to be recognized by Rainforest Trust, which in their 30 years have protected over 18,000,000 acres,” said longtime supporter George Jett. “The staff and leadership also deserve to be honored. They are the most professional and productive conservation group I have dealt with in my many decades of supporting conservation efforts. When they asked me if I would not mind having a snail-sucking, arboreal, non-venomous snake named for me, I could not have been more pleased. Thank you.”

While these snakes are harmless to humans, they are tragically threatened by deforestation for timber and agricultural expansion. The three “Snail-Eater” species discovered were facing the possibility of extinction, as the remaining forest that is critical to their survival is almost completely destroyed. Fortunately, Rainforest Trust is continuing to support its local Ecuadorean partner (Fundación Jocotoco) in the purchase and protection of rainforest properties to expand the Canandé Reserve and secure the surrounding landscape, most recently through a 26-acre land purchase on May 10.

Rainforest Trust’s CEO Honored with Mulago’s Henry Arnhold Fellowship

Rainforest Trust is proud to announce that Chief Executive Officer Dr. Paul Salaman has been chosen as one of eight recipients – out of over 500 prospective candidates – for the Mulago Foundation’s 2018 Henry Arnhold Fellowship. The fellowship is part of the foundation’s mission to support high-impact organizations in doing what they do best. Becoming a fellow is a lifetime appointment and includes a financial award to the organization and leadership training retreats and mentorship in the first few years.

The Henry Arnhold Fellowship program first started in 2016 to honor the philanthropic work of its namesake, who took over Mulago in 1993 after the passing of his brother Rainer. This fellowship program focuses on Henry Arnhold’s conservation efforts. Eight social entrepreneurs in conservation are hand-picked each year to join. The fellows are then equipped with tools they need to (1) design high-impact scalable models for better, faster conservation outcomes; and, (2) build their organizations to deliver them at scale.

“It is such an honor to be awarded the prestigious Henry Arnhold Fellowship, and last week’s retreat was a great introduction to the support and mentorship I can continue to expect from the highly experienced team at the Mulago Foundation, as well as other fellowship members,”

said Dr. Salaman. “On a personal note, learning about Mr. Arnhold brought up fond memories of my own grandfather, who shares a similar history of persecution in Germany and then entering the second world war for the Allies. This just made me all the more proud to be a Henry Arnhold Fellow and represent Rainforest Trust.”

Henry Arnhold escaped Nazi-occupied Germany to start a new life with his family in the United States, upon which he participated in the family banking business. His philanthropic work has expanded over the years with considerable support for non-profit organizations.

Rainforest Trust Joins KBA Partnership

Rainforest Trust is pleased to announce that it is now an official partner of the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Partnership. This partnership, which was formed in 2016, brings together 12 leading nature conservation organizations to have a unified voice in identifying, mapping, monitoring and conserving important sites for biodiversity conservation.

“The KBA Partnership brings together the world’s leading conservation organizations with their combined knowledge, partner networks, financial resources and science and monitoring programs to identify and conserve the planet’s critically important areas,” said Rainforest Trust Chief Executive Officer Dr. Paul Salaman.

“So it is essential that we join the KBA Partnership – the most important initiative to direct conservation actions since the IUCN Red List was launched 50 years ago.”

Rainforest Trust has long been focused on conserving areas that are recognized as critical for biodiversity conservation. In fact, the vast majority of our protected areas are either wholly or partially within confirmed KBAs, or are likely to be labeled as ones once assessed under the new KBA Standard. This standard provides us with a common methodology for identifying priorities for conservation, and as we move forward we will strive to ensure that all our protected areas meet the KBA Standard.

Rainforest Trust will work with our local partners and other KBA Partnership organizations to support the formation of National Coordination Groups, so that national processes to identify, document and map KBAs can efficiently be implemented. We will also incorporate much of the KBA Standard into our selection process for determining on which areas to focus our protected area funding. One of our biggest priorities is to fund areas that have significant proportions of the populations of highly threatened animal and plant species.

“We look forward to working with the entire KBA Partnership to identify and monitor the integrity of the world’s Key Biodiversity Areas,” said Dr. George Wallace, Rainforest Trust’s Chief Conservation Officer. “The KBA initiative literally provides us with a roadmap to the places we most want to protect – it really couldn’t be more important.”

The other 11 participating organizations include BirdLife International, IUCN, Amphibian Survival Alliance, Conservation International, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Global Environment Facility, Global Wildlife Conservation, NatureServe, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wide Fund for Nature.