Private Reserve Expansion in Ecuador Strengthens Protection of Premier National Park

The Nangaritza Valley in southern Ecuador holds the country’s densest concentration of biodiversity. Lush lowlands surrounded by cloud-covered mountains boast diverse habitats and unique wildlife. But human interests such as logging threaten the valley’s foothill forests. So this month, Rainforest Trust and partner Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional purchased 268 acres of rainforest to expand the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve.

The Numabla landscape. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura.

In 1982, the Ecuadorean government created Podocarpus National Park. But they excluded the forests of Numbala in the Nangaritza Valley. Since then, timber extraction and conversion of rainforest to pastureland have threatened the area. These pressures, along with a landowner unwilling to sell, made long-term protection in Numbala unlikely. Despite these ongoing challenges, Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional established the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve next to the park in 2006. This private reserve plays a vital role in connecting some of the largest remaining intact forest blocks in the region.

The newly expanded reserve houses a few of the last stands of Podocarpaceae, a family of giant, native conifers logged for their high-quality wood. The reserve not only protects the Vulnerable Pino Hayuelo and Near Threatened Uncumanu from loggers, but is also a buffer zone for wildlife in Podocarpus National Park. Over 40 mammals, including the Endangered Andean Tapir and Vulnerable Spectacled Bear, and 300 bird species call the reserve home.

Out of all the protected areas in Ecuador, the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve boasts the highest number of endemic plant species. The reserve’s main habitat is montane tropical forest — one of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened habitats. But forests like these are important to more than global biodiversity. Their preservation helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Healthy rainforests keep carbon locked in the ground and out of the atmosphere where it contributes to the climate crisis.

“The mountain cloud forest is one of the most threatened ecosystems in terms of anthropogenic rates of species extinction. Timber extraction is accelerating this threat in Numbala,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “But important buffer lands like this are vital. Without them, the national park’s intact forest would be more accessible to exploitation.”

 

This project was made possible by gifts to the Conservation Action Fund and the SAVES Challenge.
Header photo: A stream in the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura.

 

Land Purchase Completed for Endangered Parrots in Mexico

The Monte Mojino Reserve, in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, is mainly tropical dry forest. This forest type is one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Only 5% of tropical dry forests anywhere overlap with protected areas — putting this habitat and the species that rely on it in danger of extinction.

Rainforest Trust has worked with local partner Naturaleza y Cultura Sierra Madre since 2004 to protect and expand Monte Mojino. This month, the two organizations purchased 1,299 acres of vital habitat in the area.

The reserve is home to many notable species, including the Endangered Lilac-crowned Amazon. This parrot needs to nest in cavities, which old trees provide. But outside protected areas, such trees are falling prey to wood extraction and deforestation for cattle grazing. Poachers also target Lilac-crowned Amazons for trade. Growing Monte Mojino expands both habitat and anti-poaching safeguards, reducing two threats to this colorful and threatened bird.

The ecosystem also contains the Goode’s Thornscrub Tortoise. Researchers discovered this species in the reserve in 2016 and named it for Rainforest Trust Board Member Eric Goode. Plant-wise, the Virgin’s Palm, a rare and threatened cycad species grows in the area. Only 500-1,000 trees remain in the world, all of them in a small patch in northwestern Mexico. The area also sits on the border between the Nearctic and the Neotropical regions. Hence, it is both unique and important to global biodiversity.

The Monte Mojino landscape. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura.

Despite its ecological value, the area faces many threats. Wildfires and climate change endanger the ecosystem, but proper management can ease some of these stressors. In addition, cattle ranching is both extensive and an important part of the local economy. Thus, the local partner is engaging with communities to involve them in conservation and recognize its benefits. Besides environmental education and work opportunities, Naturaleza y Cultura is also working with children and creating a local women’s artisan cooperative. These initiatives have created a good working relationship between the partner and many of the communities and ranchers.

“Protecting this unique ecosystem was vitally important,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “From threatened parrots to endemic cycads, this area of Mexico is unlike anywhere else in the world and now safeguarded from growing threats.”

This project was made possible through donations to our Conservation Action Fund.
 
Header photo: The Endangered Lilac-crowned Amazon. Photo by CDest.

 

World’s Tallest Tropical Tree Found in Malaysian Borneo

In the 2018 Tree Yearbook, many of the superlatives went to familiar candidates. A redwood won “Most Imposing,” again. “Most Unpleasant Neighbor” went to a strangler fig. “Best Leaves” went to a banana plant (not technically a tree, but judges allowed it.)

But a new contender in the arboreal retrospective also emerged: “Tallest Tropical Tree.”

Last year, researchers in Malaysian Borneo’s Danum Valley conducted LIDAR (or Light Detecting and Ranging) surveys. Essentially, LIDAR bounces lasers around to get a detailed picture of a landscape’s structure.

The Danum Valley

Among the thick rainforest, they found a unique individual tree. A Yellow Meranti, Shorea faguetiana, looked like it measured over 300 feet tall. But they needed to do more tests. Unding Jami, from Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), one of Rainforest Trust’s partners in Malaysia, ended up climbing the tree with a measuring tape.

Jami said “the view from the top was incredible. I don’t know what to say other than it was very, very, very amazing.”

After finalization, the researchers confirmed that the tree measured 328 feet and surpassed another nearby tree as the tallest in the tropics. To put that in perspective — 328 feet is a 33 story building. It’s over six times the height of your standard Red Maple. It’s taller than the Statue of Liberty.

The researchers nicknamed the tree “Menara,” which means “tower” in Malay. It weighs over 89 tons and may also be the world’s tallest flowering plant. The world’s tallest tree, tropics notwithstanding, is a redwood coming just 50 feet taller at 379 feet.

Rainforest Trust helped protect part of the Danum Valley with SEARRP, the Sabah Foundation and Permian Global with the Sabah Forestry Department and State Government. The forest is home to Critically Endangered wildlife such as Bornean Orangutans and Sunda Pangolins.

“Rainforest Trust is excited to see more research discovering new aspects of the Danum Valley ecosystem,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “This discovery highlights the area’s unique value to world biodiversity.”

Climate Change Dries Up Sacred Lake in Colombia

A sacred lake in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of northern Colombia is gone. The lake, a symbol of fertility to the Kogi indigenous population, dried up in Rainforest Trust’s El Dorado Nature Reserve in early 2019. The Sierra Nevada, along with being the “Most Irreplaceable Site for Biodiversity on Earth” according to the journal Science, is also the seat of creation for the Kogi people. The local population believes that if the rain-fed lake, Nakulindue — meaning Fountain of Life or Birth of Life — disappears, humanity will lose its fertility and vanish.

Lake Nakulindue had dried into a marshland by June 2015. Photo by Victor Jimenez.

The Kogi are a Pre-Columbian society of about 20,000 people who have lived for millennia in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. They believe they are caretakers of the towering 19,000-foot mountain range, which is, to them, the birthplace of life, nature and humanity.

The Kogi have attempted to warn the western world about the dangers of unfettered development carving out our natural resources. They have felt the impact of logging, mining and road construction on their mountain range. They have seen its vegetation shift and its snow-capped ridges dry out over the decades due to climate change. But this year is the first time that Lake Nakolindue and other sacred waterways have dried up, potentially to the point of no return.

“Losing this lake is not only a loss to the local ecology of El Dorado and the Kogi people, but also a blow to global biodiversity,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “The symbolism behind this barren lake in the wake of climate change — that it means the end of humanity — cannot be understated. We can only hope that continuing to protect rainforest across the tropics will mitigate climate change and prevent other sacred sites from being lost.”

The sacred lake now completely dry in April 2019. Photo by Paul Salaman.

Rainforest Trust and our Colombian partner Fundación ProAves established the El Dorado Nature Reserve to prevent further development in the area while safeguarding the Kogi’s ancestral lands. Many of Santa Marta’s unique forests have been and continue to be cleared for cattle pastures, holiday homes and coffee plantations. So protecting El Dorado is important, especially for the species there found nowhere else. The Critically Endangered Santa Marta Toro, thought extinct for 113 years, was rediscovered in 2011 and lives only in this reserve. The mountain range boasts the highest rates of bird endemism on Earth, home to over 600 bird species, including over 20 endemics, like the Critically Endangered Santa Marta Parakeet. The hope is that these species thrive as the pasturelands in the reserve are restored by Fundación ProAves. In time, perhaps these efforts to heal the landscape will also help recover the Kogi people’s sacred lake.

Header: A Kogi tribeswoman and child. Photo by Dwayne Reilander.

Voices from the Rainforest: Bagus Irawan, Conservation Fellow

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.


Raising Awareness for Conservation

Bagus Irawan is a Conservation Fellow in Sumatra, Indonesia, championing the Leuser Ecosystem, a verdant expanse of lowland and clouded mountain rainforests under extreme pressure from mining and palm oil, pulp and paper plantations.

Bagus focuses on community relations and conservation education. He is one of the few adults in the region that does not work for the government or an extractive company. Where many before him failed to make inroads with Kluet communities, Bagus is starting to succeed because of his patience and dedication to the forests he calls home.

Bagus (second from right) meets with local community members in the Kluet watershed. Photo by Bagus Irawan.

 

Why did you become a conservationist?

I was born and grew up in the South Aceh district, which is part of the Leuser Ecosystem. Since I was little I have been accustomed to interacting with forests and wild animals, so I had the dream of becoming a mountaineer at that time. I have been in conservation since I finished high school at a conservation institution. There, I came to know the importance of conservation to maintain the stability of nature and wildlife for human survival. I see too many people who are destroying forests and hunting animals, so I take a small part in saving forests and animals, especially in the Leuser Ecosystem.

 

Tell us about a conservation success at your project site.

Many conservation agencies and forestry authorities couldn’t access the Kluet region because of community conditions. We also had the same challenge — how many times have we been expelled and threatened? But we continued to strive and manage the strategy. Now, we have a very good relationship with the entire community there and we can carry out activities according to what was planned. We have built traditional house facilities and monitoring posts. We have also been considered as family by much of the local community. Even during the construction of our monitoring post, the local community offered their land free to us.

Working to provide an understanding of conservation to local communities, especially with people who have different levels of education, is very difficult. For economic reasons, communities often convert forests into monoculture plantations. The challenge is to change the people’s mindset to become a conservationist society.

The first time I interacted with the community in Kluet I got a strong rejection. But the conditions are now inversely proportional. I feel that I have become part of the community there, like being at home.

 

What inspires you most about being a Conservation Fellow?

I want to share my experiences with friends around the world about the conservation activities we have done in Kluet. I also want to learn about other conservation experiences around the world. With my limited experience and knowledge here, by working with other fellows, I can participate in campaigning for Leuser conservation throughout the world.

 

Why is conservation important to you?

The environment requires balance to carry out its functions. If nature is disturbed it will have a very bad impact on life on Earth. The Kluet region is a key wildlife habitat in the Leuser ecosystem and is a source of livelihood for 20,000 people. The majority of them are farmers who need water for their fields and gardens. If this region is destroyed and not conserved, this potential consequences would be inconceivable. I would be very sorry to see the source of life of my families there disappear. Not to mention, key animals such as Sumatran Rhinos, Sumatran Tigers, Sumatran Orangutans and Sumatran Elephants — all Critically Endangered subspecies — will lose their habitat.

More Critically Endangered Doves Spotted in Brazil

Over the past few years, Rainforest Trust and our local partner in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, SAVE Brasil, have worked to protect habitat for the Critically Endangered Blue-eyed Ground-dove.

The saga began in 2015. For the first time in 75 years, someone spotted the Blue-eyed Ground-dove, until then believed to be extinct. Soon after, more reports confirmed that first sighting. And lo-and-behold: an extinct species was now … not. A series of rapid conservation moves by local actors and international groups, including Rainforest Trust, followed. The plan: protect the rediscovered species’ habitat, ensuring its future survival.

The Blue-eyed Ground-dove. Photo by Rafael Bessa.

In 2017, Rainforest Trust and SAVE Brasil purchased a plot of land home to most of the Blue-eyed Ground-dove population to create the Blue-eyed Ground-dove Reserve. The following summer, the Minas Gerais government created Botumirim State Park next door. Together, the two protected areas secure almost 90,000 acres for the bird and other species of Brazil’s threatened cerrado ecosystem.

Brazil’s threatened cerrado ecosystem. Photo by Eduardo Gomes.

But the Blue-eyed Ground-dove’s upward conservation trajectory hasn’t slowed. A couple of months ago, researchers studying the bird’s habitat heard rumors of a new group of ground-doves. Someone had seen doves outside their known habitat. Last month, after initial scouting, they confirmed these rumors — and four more individual birds.

A sign marking the Blue-eyed Ground-dove Reserve. Photo courtesy of SAVE Brasil.

The four new individuals increase the known Blue-eyed Ground-dove population by 26%. But the new birds may also increase the species’ genetic diversity, bolstering population health.

“Those who work in nature conservation are usually very resilient, but it is difficult to search for a rare species like the Blue-eyed Ground-dove in a habitat that looks perfect for it and not find it there,” said Marcelo Lisita, a project assistant for SAVE Brasil. “After one year of looking around different sites without finding any new individuals, it was with a profusion of excitement that we spotted these few in a new area.”

The rumors started with a local community member. SAVE Brasil takes this as a sign that their outreach efforts have been successful. Raising awareness about the ground-dove and the cerrado’s ecological importance are a top priority for outreach.

Researchers hope this will be the first of more new ground-dove discoveries in the area and that protecting the birds’ unique habitat will lead to a growing population.

Australian Wildlife Corridor Restored to Mitigate Effects of Climate Change

The Misty Mountain Nature Refuge on Australia’s northeastern coast lived up to its name during the protected area’s first-ever community planting day. In late March, over 70 volunteers met on a hazy tropical ridge to begin ecologically restoring a stretch of rainforest from the reserve to the coast. The conservation project’s goal is creating a wide, safe corridor for range-restricted mammals seeking cooler habitat in the wake of climate change.

Recognizing the region as a national priority, Rainforest Trust and Australian partner South Endeavor Trust established the 173.5-acre Misty Mountain Nature Refuge in 2017. The refuge connects not only the mountains to the sea, but also two large expanses of World Heritage rainforest. The vital corridor created by this refuge is essential for animals to move freely. Ultimately, Queensland’s wildlife will have a 3 million-acre mosaic of diverse rainforest habitats to traverse.

Local resident enjoying the March community planting day. Photo by Tim Hughes.

Volunteers have already planted 5,000 native species to increase biodiversity as they widen the corridor. Tim Hughes, South Endeavour Trust’s Executive Director, does not have to explain the restoration work’s importance to the volunteers. They are “all very aware of how critical this corridor project is,” he said. “This is a truly committed community trying to repair the environment within which they live so that its unique wildlife can have the best possible chance to survive the challenges of both habitat fragmentation and climate change.”

The volunteers’ main goal is widening the corridor for mammals such as the Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo and the Lemuroid Ringtail Possum. The latter species is particularly susceptible to climate change since they can succumb to heat stress. But a secure corridor allows them to seek refuge from increased heat due to climate change. “This improved ridge to reef corridor in the Misty Mountain Nature Refuge is a necessity for these range-restricted mammals as threats from climate change increase,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman.

The project aims to install 17,000 locally-sourced plants over the next two years. Volunteers are using 95 different species, some of which will grow into food sources for the Vulnerable Southern Cassowary. The refuge is also home to a northern subspecies of the Near Threatened Spotted-tailed Quoll, the largest remaining native carnivore in the region. The quoll will benefit from restoration as well, since its prey will thrive from an increase in vegetative diversity and abundance.

Header photo: Volunteers working together to widen and restore the wildlife corridor. Photo by Tim Hughes.