Land Purchase Creates Fiji’s First Bat Sanctuary

Rainforest Trust celebrates the purchase of over 20 acres in Fiji to protect the land around Nakanacagi Cave, home to the only known maternity colony of the Endangered Fijian Free-tailed Bat, creating the nation’s first bat sanctuary. This strategic purchase on Vanua Levu Island was undertaken in partnership with our local partner, the National Trust of Fiji, together with Bat Conservation International (BCI) – and was officially dedicated with a large, local ceremony on July 17.

“This is an exceptional opportunity to protect a single site that is literally irreplaceable for the security of the Fijian Free-tailed Bat,” said Dr. George Wallace, Chief Conservation Officer for Rainforest Trust.

“In the absence of protection, the fate of nearly the entire global population would be potentially in jeopardy, but we have a chance here to provide a much more certain future for the species.”

Securing this parcel of land initiates the process of creating the new Nakanacagi Cave Reserve. A forthcoming adjacent parcel will add over 30 additional acres, ensuring protection of the entire cave system and surrounding habitat. Ultimately, the entire area will be formally integrated into the Fijian government’s nascent protected areas system.

“The overall goal of this project is to establish sustainable partnerships that result in the long-term protection of the cave and the unique biodiversity of this area. Around 95 percent of the global population of Fijian Free-tailed Bats rely on this one site and initial biodiversity assessments recorded at least 20 endemic plants surrounding the cave,” said Chair of the National Trust of Fiji Craig Powell.

Some researchers believe the other 5 percent, on the island of Vanuatu, may actually be another bat species. This would make this cave system even more crucial for the species’ survival.

Local communities used to hunt Fijian Free-tailed Bats for food. Recent conservation outreach efforts have curbed bat consumption, but without formal protection, hunting could resume. The local partner is working to create a consensus amongst the local communities on the importance of conservation, and the Nakanacagi Cave Reserve’s creation is a vital part of this plan.

Hence, last week’s launch was an elaborate traditional dedication ceremony of prayer, kava, song, feast and dance, including one inspired by the bats themselves. The much revered Tui Macuata (Paramount Chief), Ratu Wiliame Katonivere, an outspoken conservationist, commended the village on ceasing the traditional harvest of the bats. Protection of the cave was further pledged by the District Chief and local community leaders in front of a group of around 300 ceremonial participants, made up of local community members, school children and guests from the local government, Rainforest Trust, BCI, National Trust of Fiji, Nature Fiji, Museum of Fiji, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the University of the South Pacific.

“The pageantry and high spirits of the dedication ceremony by the Nakanacagi villagers, clans and provincial leaders were inspiring,” said BCI Chief Conservation Officer Kevin Pierson, who attended the ceremony. “Of Fiji’s six bat species, five are in decline. This sanctuary is a critical step in the protection of the Fijian Free-tailed Bat and a wonderful first major conservation win for the Fijian Bat Conservation Initiative.”

Besides bat hunting, erosion and deforestation threaten the cave and surrounding habitat. Past logging and burning have degraded some areas of the native forest, causing it to be susceptible to damage from extreme winds that accompany tropical cyclones. With protection and restoration undertaken by Nature Fiji, the forest can begin to recover and make erosion less potentially damaging.

The reserve will be formalized over the next five years under the Fiji Forestry Department’s Reserve Demarcation Policy. A management plan will be put in place and local conservation rangers will be deployed to ensure continuing conservation successes.

New Ranger Training Site Purchased for Heart of Nantu Project in Indonesia

Rainforest Trust and local partner Yayasan Adudu Nantu International (YANI) are pleased to announce that in April, the site for a new ranger training facility for their Heart of Nantu project was purchased. The more than six acres, which will be known as the Alawahu Community Training Centre, are adjacent to Nantu Wildlife Sanctuary, a 172,294-acre threatened protected area in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

“We have long recognized that having trained rangers — ‘boots on the ground’ — is vital to ensure that our reserves remain permanently protected,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “In addition, this new training facility will provide employment opportunities for the local community.”

The new training site was once pristine lowland forest that was cleared in 1997. The plot now consists of grassland with 78 planted and matured coconut trees. Our local partner will begin reforestation with native trees on certain parts of the site immediately while using the planted coconut trees for building materials for the ranger outpost. In addition to being a training facility, it will also become the focal point for community engagement to include workshops, trainings and cooperative meetings that build local grass-roots appreciation and support for additional protection for the Nantu Forest.

“Such facilities are extremely scarce/non-existent in Sulawesi,” said YANI Executive Director Dr. Lynn Clayton. “Hence, this will be one of the first of its kind here and an extremely valuable tool towards long-term conservation of the globally important Nantu forest ecosystem.”

Once complete, the Heart of Nantu project will expand Nantu Wildlife Sanctuary by 15,266 acres via this small land purchase and an application for Legal Expansion of the sanctuary by 15,260 acres. The proposed protected area is a key access point for illegal loggers, gold-miners and slash-and-burn farmers aiming to encroach into the heart of Nantu. It also comprises of critical habitat for key populations of Sulawesi’s endemic and unique rainforest biodiversity, where 62 percent of its mammal species and approximately 30 percent of its bird species are found nowhere else.

This purchase was made possible by the Conservation Action Fund. All gifts to the Conservation Action Fund are matched through the SAVES Challenge and used 100 percent in support of our programs.

Conservation Acquisition for Endangered Dove Inspires New Brazilian Park

Thanks to efforts taken by Rainforest Trust, the government of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state just designated 88,174 acres — about twice the size as Washington, DC — as the new Botumirim State Park to protect the unique cerrado habitat. The cerrado, the most rapidly disappearing habitat in the country, is home to the Critically Endangered – and once thought extinct – Blue-eyed Ground-dove.

“It is great to see our long-term strategy to protect this spectacular dove has paid off with the designation of this new state park,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman.

“Building on our land purchase with SAVE Brasil, this significant expansion will not only safeguard the core Blue-eyed Ground-dove population, but it will also allow habitat around it to recover and the dove to rebound and thrive in the future.”

Rainforest Trust’s work to establish the first protection ever for the rediscovered Blue-eyed Ground-dove in 2017 raised awareness of both the bird’s existence and its need for protection, leading the government to make this fateful decision.

On October 23, 2017, Rainforest Trust teamed up with our local partner Sociedade para a Conservação das Aves do Brasil (SAVE Brasil) to purchase 1,606 acres of cerrado habitat, forming the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove Nature Reserve.

The Blue-eyed Ground-dove is one of the rarest birds in the world. It had been lost for 75 years until a population was rediscovered in 2015 by an independent ornithologist. Collaborating with SAVE Brasil and Rainforest Trust, a research group undertook an intensive survey for the species and created a comprehensive conservation plan. Although this rediscovery was one of the most amazing ornithological finds in recent memory, before these efforts, this highly threatened bird had no protection and was at grave risk.

“In an urgent bid to save this beautiful dove, we supported searches to locate other populations in the hope it was already protected. But after intensive searches, it was clear that just one private property being sold for development contained the vast majority of all surviving individuals. With our partner SAVE Brasil we acted swiftly to purchase this property and permanently safeguard the species,” Salaman said after completing the first land purchase last year.

On July 6, the Minas Gerais government recognized the work of Rainforest Trust and SAVE Brasil and expanded protection of the cerrado habitat to further safeguard this incredible bird.

Conservation Organizations Purchase Critical Properties for Wildlife in Nepal

Rainforest Trust is pleased to announce the purchase of five parcels of vital riparian habitat in partnership with KTK-BELT and International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC). The acquired properties lie next to Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, and their purchase will fortify and expand the country’s first and largest Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance site.

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, with a new expanded total acreage of 42,560, provides habitat protection for numerous globally threatened species, including six species of vultures – four of which are Critically Endangered – as well as the Critically Endangered Red-crowned Roofed Turtle and Bengal Florican. With 485 recorded bird species in this small reserve, it is considered one of the most important aquatic bird reserves in South Asia.

“Rainforest Trust is proud to partner with KTK-BELT and ICFC to strategically acquire 40 acres of threatened woodland and wetland habitat and expand the spectacular Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve,”

said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “This additional habitat protection helps numerous endangered wildlife species, like the Ganges River Dolphin and the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle.”

The expanded reserve section includes an important forest that is vital for the Critically Endangered nesting vultures. In the last 20 years, forest cover has declined by more than 80 percent in the Koshi Tappu ecosystem, reducing these nesting sites in particular. This expanded security also prevents land-grabbing in this sensitive buffer region, and provides increased defense against invasive weeds, wildlife trapping and overfishing.

The completion of this project will assist ongoing efforts by other institutions and nongovernmental organizations currently working to double the size of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve due to its ecological importance.

Another crucial aspect of this purchase is that the parcel is located in the south of the reserve, where conservation efforts have been challenged due to a lack of community engagement, stemming from discrimination the community has historically faced. Our local partner worked closely with the communities surrounding this new protected area to increase education about the importance of conservation, and they provided valuable alternative livelihood opportunities such as vulture eco-tourism, Ganges River Dolphin viewing areas and bio-brick production using harvested invasive plant species as a benefit to the local populations.

Through the generous support of our friends around the world and the SAVES Challenge, this project is a success.

Burn the Trees to Save the Habitat

The Fynbos habitat of South Africa is home to many endangered and rare plant species. Some of these plant species are found only in the Fynbos, a small, coastal habitat patch native to southern South Africa.

These endemic species do not include the Port Jackson Willow.

The Port Jackson Willow (Acacia saligna) is native to Australia. But, in the past 200 years, it has spread to South Africa through human agriculture and gardening. And the tree species has been thriving — spreading across the country and out of control. The trees are displacing native vegetation and destroying ecosystems all over the African Cape — including the rare Fynbos.

So what is one to do when alien trees are destroying your ecosystem?

You burn them.

One of Rainforest Trust’s partners in South Africa, the South African Tortoise Conservation Trust, cleared the Port Jackson Willow from the Geometric Tortoise Preserve they created along with Rainforest Trust. Once the trees were cut and uprooted, they were ready for burning.

But, as we’ve seen time and time again, solving one conservation problem often opens the door to solve another one at the same time.

The Geometric Tortoise Preserve has some of the last remaining habitat for the Critically Endangered Geometric Tortoise (Psammobates geometricus). And fires are a natural part of many ecosystems. But if an uncontrolled fire were to consume the preserve, it may make the land uninhabitable for the tortoises or even kill the tortoises who live there.

Seeing as the preserve is likely home to 50 percent of the entire population of the species, a destructive fire would be, eh, less than ideal.

One of the best protections from spreading forest fires is also one of the simplest — the fire break. By lowering the vegetation around the border of a protected area, we can reduce the organic matter available for a fire to consume. Made simple: less dry grass means a lower likelihood of a fire spreading into the preserve. But the threat of fire remains possible — strong, dry winds can push a raging wildfire over a firebreak. That’s why these firebreaks also serve as access roads, allowing fire-fighting equipment to move around the preserve in case a fire does spread inside.

To create the fire break around the Geometric Tortoise Preserve, our partner could have spent hours weed-whacking. Or, they could use a bunch of wood from an invasive species already lying around that needed burning anyway.

Guess which option they chose?

That’s right, they piled the Port Jackson Willow wood around the border of the preserve and lit it on fire. With careful management, this created a solid fire break. In addition, Port Jackson Willows are easy fodder for a spreading wildfire, so their removal reduces the likelihood of a fire spreading further inside the preserve. [Insert the conservation-appropriate equivalent of “two birds, one stone.”]

Invasive species management and avoiding the threat of wildfire (not to mention much of conservation) can feel Sisyphean. But with solutions such as this, sometimes we get the mountain to roll the boulder for us.

Rainforest Trust Partner Helps Stop Bauxite Mine

“I’ll take ‘Def-ORE-station’ for $1,000, Alex.”

“Gibbsite, boehmite and diaspore make up much of this ore whose mining is contributing to deforestation across the tropics.”

“…”

~~~~~~~

You probably have never have heard of bauxite. But you almost certainly use bauxite-derived products every day.

Bauxite is one of the most important sources of aluminum. Yes, despite your steadfast recycling habits, the world is still mining new sources of aluminum. In fact, even if we recycled every soda can in the world, we would still mine more sources of aluminum. Today, manufacturing everything from cars to currency to rocket fuel requires aluminum. So, needless to say, we love ourselves some aluminum.

But where does it all come from?

Often, from bauxite. And we love ourselves some bauxite. We mine it all over the world, but especially in tropical regions. In fact, we love bauxite so much that in 2017, we mined 300,000 metric tons of the stuff.

That’s the same as 1,634 jumbo jets.

But you know who might not love themselves some bauxite? The communities whose land is being mined and whose forests are being cleared to get to it.

Around the world, mining spells trouble for the world’s rainforests and communities who live in rainforests. Because when mining clears the forests, guess who rarely gets a say in whether that happens?

The people who actually live near these mines.

Yes, not only has mining contributed to ecological devastation of the world’s rainforests, the communities who will face the brunt of the environmental consequences often have little say over how, when and if mining occurs.

But not today. At least, not on the island of Nende in the Solomon Islands.

Rainforest Trust’s partner in the Pacific island nation, OceansWatch-Solomon Islands, recently helped stop a bauxite prospecting project. An Australian mining company, AU Capital Mining, had received a permit to prospect for the mineral on Nende. But, according to OceansWatch-Solomon Islands, many local landowners are in opposition to the idea. In fact, last year the Guardian reported that this company faced allegations it “coerced, bullied and tricked communities into signing over prospecting rights to their land.”

But last month, Radio New Zealand reported that the Solomon Islands government rescinded AU Capital Mining’s exploratory license on Nende due to “unsatisfactory” work. Radio New Zealand also reported that Solomon Islands Mining Minister Braddley Tovosia said that “the company had failed to establish amicable relations with the local communities.”

This was something the prospecting agreement had stipulated as necessary.

Our partner worked alongside local landowners to get this permit rescinded. Without their work, the mine development may have continued unabated, despite objections from the Nende communities. This decision is a victory for both these communities and Nende’s wildlife, including the endemic and Endangered Nendo Shrikebill.

Rainforest Trust is working with OceansWatch-Solomon Islands on protecting two Biodiversity Reserves on islands nearby Nende. These reserves are home to threatened and endemic species such as the Critically Endangered Vanikoro Flying Fox and the Endangered Santa Cruz Ground-dove.

Learn more about our project to protect threatened wildlife in the Solomon Islands.