New Reserve Safeguards Vital Landscape in Bolivia

This week, Rainforest Trust and partner Wildlife Conservation Society-Bolivia (WCS-Bolivia) established the Rhukanrhuka Municipal Reserve. The 2,123,749-acre reserve in the Beni region protects grasslands found in the transition area between the Sub-Andean and Llanos de Mojos Ecosystems. The Beni grasslands, an area twice the size of Portugal, is South America’s third largest savanna complex and one of Bolivia’s most vital ecoregions. 

Rainforest Trust South America Conservation Officer Rossana Merizalde with the WSC-Bolivia team. Photo by WCS-Bolivia.

This expansive tropical savanna and the pristine forests found to the north contain multiple rivers that follow the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains. A combination of rain during the wet season and snowmelt from the Andes causes the rivers to flood almost half of the land each season. This flooding allows an extensive variety of wildlife to call this region home. 

The new reserve will help safeguard important populations of emblematic and threatened mammal species, including Jaguars and Pumas. Other resident mammals include Maned Wolves and both Collared and White-lipped Peccaries. The area is home to two endemic Titi monkeys, as well as Black-faced Black Spider Monkeys, two species of Howler Monkeys and Tufted Capuchins. 

In the northern section, the reserve is part of the Rogaguado and Ginebra Lakes Important Bird Area (IBA). This wetland savanna habitat is home to a variety of wading birds such as the Cattle Egret, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Wood Stork and Whistling Heron. The flooded areas attract birds including Black-collared Hawks, Sunbitterns, Sungrebes and Wattled Jacanas. 

“The designation of this reserve will not only expand connectivity for wild species in a critical region of Bolivia, but will cement their long-term protection,” said Angela Yang, Rainforest Trust Chief Conservation Officer. “The new protected area is now almost twice as large as the originally proposed reserve due to the great collaborative work of our partner and stakeholders, especially the communities and municipal government.”   

The Rhukanrhuka Municipal Reserve is a key part of a network of protected areas and indigenous lands. This network stretches over 34 million acres, from the snow-capped Andean peaks of Apolobamba near Peru to the Beni aluvial plains. Three indigenous titled lands, the Pilon Lajas Biosphere Reserve and the Santa Rosa de Yacuma Municipal Protected Area all border the reserve. 

A pair of Titi monkeys in the new reserve. Photo by WCS-Bolivia.

The protected area will prevent further habitat loss from agricultural expansion. The reserve will also increase the landscape’s resilience to anthropogenic threats. Creating this reserve is an opportunity for local authorities to improve natural resource governance. Having a protected area allows the municipal government to increase vigilance over illegal settlements, timber extraction, fishing and hunting. 

“We applaud the Municipal Government of Reyes, its communities and private ranchers for taking this huge step towards reconciling local livelihoods, sustainable development and cultural values; with the need to protect this vast wilderness and key species” said Dr. Lilian Painter, Country Director for WCS’s Bolivia Program.

WCS-Bolivia will provide expertise in protected area management, including the strategic vision and objectives, a financial strategy and participation mechanisms. They will support the Reyes municipal government in developing management programs focused on endangered species conservation, monitoring, control and vigilance, local participation, outreach and ecotourism. 

Local people and the rancher’s association will support the initial identification of vulnerable areas and establish a protected area management committee comprised of regional stakeholder representatives. The management plan will take into account ecotourism opportunities, work to reduce the risk to key habitats and preserve environmental functions essential to local communities. 

“Rainforest Trust is incredibly pleased to be partnering with WCS-Bolivia, the Municipal Government and the local communities in the protection of this extraordinarily important and richly biodiverse habitat,” said Mark Gruin, Acting CEO of Rainforest Trust  “For us, partnerships like this are fundamental to the establishment of effective, sustainable protected areas.”

With the designation of the Rhukanrhuka Municipal Reserve, Rainforest Trust has now protected over 22 million acres of rainforest across the globe.


Header image: The Near Threatened Jaguar. Photo by Jeffrey Zack.

Voices from the Rainforest: Hiralal Sardar, Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardian

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.


Protecting the Sanctuary He Calls Home

Hiralal Sardar was born in Paschim Kushaha, the Sunsari district of Nepal. For most of his life, he worked for local landowners as a farmhand. Although he has no formal education, his work experiences led him to understand the region and its people in a unique way. Hiralal’s history with the area inspired him to begin working with Rainforest Trust partner KTK-BELT on the Koshi Tappu Conservation Project.

Hiralal was asked to be a forest guardian for the Paschim Kusha Biodiversity Sanctuary, a 40-acre parcel adjacent to the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Sanctuary that Rainforest Trust helped to purchase in 2018. The two protected areas are composed of vital riparian habitat and home to 485 recorded bird species. They are widely considered to be two of the most important water bird reserves in South Asia.

Hiralal working in the reserve. Photo by KTK-BELT.

Hiralal currently serves as the sole guardian of the sanctuary. The majority of his work is dedicated to protecting the sensitive bird habitat against human and livestock intrusion. His patrolling has led to a pronounced reduction in the cutting of Typha grass, a native plant beneficial to wildlife. Typha forms the architecture of “playgrounds” and resting sites for many endangered birds in Koshi Tappu. Hiralal’s patrolling has suspended other harmful anthropogenic activities in and around the Paschim Kusha Biodiversity Sanctuary such as waste proliferation and poaching.

Because of his ties to the region, Hiralal initially faced challenges informing the local communities about conservation. “When I first started and was wearing a KTK-BELT shirt, people didn’t listen to me because I am their neighbor. I used to have to scold people not to graze their animals in the sanctuary,” said Hiralal. “But now they are proud of how beautiful the sanctuary has become and how many birds are here now. Many people say it’s the one place where you can see many rare birds in just a 40-acre site.”

Although he has made great strides in protecting the reserve, Hiralal and other Koshi Tappu guardians are still trying to minimize threats. “The biggest problem is that we need to control grazing,” said Hiralal. “If we can create enclosures and round up the thousands of feral cattle in and around the reserve, Typha and other grasses will come back and the habitat can naturally revive. I’ve been amazed by how quickly it grows back.”

Hiralal plans to protect and improve the sanctuary for years to come. “I hope I can continue to be a guardian of Paschim Kusha until I am old and see this sanctuary become the best place for people to visit when they come to Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve.”

Header image: Sunset at the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by KTK-BELT.

Voices from the Rainforest: Gunwant Mahajan, Rainforest Trust 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.


Discovering the Smithsonia viridiflora

Gunwant Mahajan works as a senior field coordinator with Rainforest Trust partner, Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF). He has conducted detailed plant surveys and identified populations of many endangered plant species in the proposed Prachitgad Community Reserve in India. Rainforest Trust and AERF are working to protect Prachitgad, an area north of the Western Ghats mountains.

In this blog, he writes about discovering the Smithisona viridiflora orchid on the reserve and its importance to the biodiversity of the reserve’s unique habitat.

Floral Pearl of Prachitgad Community Reserve

The Prachitgad Community Reserve protects key habitats for a variety of mammals and birds. The area is home to many endemic and threatened plant species, including the herbaceous flora, which have not been studied in the north Western Ghats. The AERF team has documented 118 herbs and counting.

Gunwant working in the field. Photo by AERF.

Orchidaceae is a family of epiphytic and terrestrial herbs with special microhabitat requirements. They are a favourite of pollinators, too. So far, the team has recorded more than 10 species of this herb family within a comparatively small area, near the crest-line of the Western Ghats mountain range.

The most significant find of this year is an epiphytic orchid, Smithisona viridiflora, recorded in the post-monsoon season of 2018. Smithsonia viridiflora was previously known by various synonyms such as Gastrochilus dalzellianus (Santapau) Santapau & Kopadia, Sarcocholis dalzellianus Santapau and Aerides dalzelliana (Santapau) Garay. It is epiphytic on Lagerstroemia microcarpa, Ficus microcarpa, Memecylon umbellatum, Ficus racemosa and Oeal dioica. It is also seen on a rare, giant tree, Terameles nudiflora.

In the Prachitgad Community Reserve, Smithsonia viridiflora is found on Carissa congesta, an old species of shrub. It is recorded in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. In Maharashtra, it is recorded in the areas of Thane, Pune, Kolhapur, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri. It is endemic to Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot, and found in evergreen forests. According to the IUCN Red List, it is Endangered.

The species is suffering from a decline in their natural habitat due to forest degradation and a decrease in the number of evergreen trees, its host species. We will continue to document more sites in the reserve that contain host trees during the post-monsoon season of 2019. We are excited to see this rare endemic orchid in the reserve, which reiterates the importance of conservation in this unique forest near the crestline of mountains.

A total of 319 plant species are recorded in the Prachitgad Community Reserve. Forty-eight of them are endemic to the Western Ghats, while 19 are listed on the IUCN Red List. This amount of plant diversity indicates the ecological significance of this reserve and its conservation importance in the North Western Ghats.

Smithsonia viridiflora on the Prachitgad reserve. Photo by AERF.


Header image: Mountains in the Prachitgad Reserve. Photo by AERF. 

Integrated Technology Bolsters Conservation

Header photo courtesy of Sumac Muyu Foundation.

One of the more recent boundary-pushing developments in technology is cross-platform integration. By allowing different devices to communicate with each other, such as a cell phone and a home security system, we can reduce digital “clutter” and streamline work.

But integration isn’t just for convenience—it’s also for improving efficiency, including in high-pressure, high-stakes situations. That’s the idea behind SMART, the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, a program bringing this new technological interface to conservation.

Data collection and analysis is the core of the SMART software. As rangers patrol a protected area, they can input everything from wildlife sightings to snares to actual encounters with poachers within seconds. Camera traps can also gather this information in real time, allowing for immediate data collection in otherwise inaccessible areas, day and night.

Rainforest Trust staff and Fellows learn more about SMART from Wildlife Protection Solutions.

SMART then collates the data and looks for patterns. For example, the program notices if there is any correlation between the areas frequented by both wildlife and poachers. This analysis allows ranger teams to plan more effective patrol routes. The camera traps can also provide real-time alerts on both wildlife and poacher intrusions. This function can prompt patrol teams to send out an emergency crew to stop poaching and monitor individual protected animals.

Last month, Rainforest Trust’s Partner Retreat included a SMART training program. Two experts from the conservation technology nonprofit Wildlife Protection Solutions trained participants in the classroom and through hands-on field exercises. They provided each participating Rainforest Trust Fellow with a pre-loaded, field-ready smartphone and an overview of the software. Practice field exercises took place in the forest around Rainforest Trust’s office.

Rainforest Trust staff and Fellows participate in a SMART training program last month at the Rainforest Trust Partner Retreat.

“The SMART training has immediate protection benefits,” said Mark Gruin, Rainforest Trust’s Acting CEO. “The Fellows will take a more-than-basic knowledge of the tool back to their organizations for more effective patrols and monitoring.”

“Proper data analysis can provide optimization in any industry,” said Rosie Faccone, Technology Coordinator for WPS. “It just so happens that with conservation it translates to empowering the rangers and patrol teams, and ultimately protecting our planet’s biodiversity more effectively.”

SMART integration and data analysis has, so far, only started bringing conservation into the new tech landscape. Future innovation can only connect more rangers with more wildlife and more opportunities for protection.

Voices from the Rainforest: Rendra Bayu, Rainforest Trust 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.


Educating Future Conservationists 

Rendra Bayu works as a Field Coordinator with Yayasan Konservasi Rare Aquatic Species of Indonesia (RASI). He specializes in government and private sector engagement for protected area management and public outreach. He also helps run an English tutoring center for underprivileged students. Rendra’s education background lends itself well to spreading awareness of conservation and the species he works to protect.

Rendra leading a community meeting. Photo by RASI.

Why did you become a conservationist?

At first, I was interested in learning more about Pesut Mahakam (also known as the Pesut River Dolphin) and other endangered species from Kalimantan. Growing up, I only knew of their statues and that they were extremely rare. When I started browsing the internet, I came across RASI and learned about their conservation activities and wanted to get more involved.

Because my background is in education, I wanted to spread the message that the Pesut is not extinct yet and that with the help of local communities we can spread awareness and make a change. I feel inspired that I have the opportunity to share about the unique and endemic species of Kalimantan with the Fellow international network.

Video from RASI of a Pesut River Dolphin rescue, untranslated.

Tell us about a time that you felt you had made a difference as a conservationist.

When I campaigned to raise awareness in schools along the Mahakam River. I can see that many more young people understand and care about the Pesut River Dolphin. They have started uploading videos or photos on social media when the dolphins pass their village.

Also, I once assisted in rescuing a river dolphin that got trapped behind the river bank and was cut off from the river. After our team removed all the obstacles on the flooded bank we were able to make the dolphin move through a small opening and get it back to the main river.

Rendra working on the Mahakam River in East Borneo. Photo by RASI.

What is the hardest part of your job?

When doing surveys and observations from early morning to late afternoon in tropical heat, it can be quite challenging, but fortunately we do surveys as a team so we can motivate each other and keep focused.

Tell us about a conservation success.

We just finished three sub-district workshop meetings, which were very successful. Twenty-six villages all signed to be part of a protected area. We even got additional reserve size for core zones.

Also, we managed to change thrashing behavior in 100 floating raft households for the moment and aim to add at least 400 more within the protected area.

What has surprised you the most in the field?

When I was doing interviews with 80 gillnet fishermen, I realized that I was lucky to have my boatmen who were able to speak the local language. The local dialect is so different from mainstream Indonesian so I was able to learn and understand it better.

Header image: Rendra conducting a study on the Mahakam River. Photo by RASI. 

Voices from the Rainforest: Herman Michael Lyatuu, 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.


Bringing Technology and Conservation Together

Herman Lyatuu, Project Manager for Magombera Nature Reserve, was born in the Kilimanjaro area in northern Tanzania. He currently works with the Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), through their Udzungwa Forest Project partnership with Flamingo Land and Reforest Africa.

Herman (middle) flying a drone during the Partner’s Retreat. Photo by Rainforest Trust.

Why did you become a conservationist?

It started as a seed in my teenage life when I first saw my dad working as a Forester. He had a tree nursery at home that my siblings and I helped him tend after school. He taught me how to germinate and take care of different types of trees, but concentrated on medicinal native plants. My knowledge and interest in conservation then grew as I grew. When I began high school, I decided to take this route professionally, all thanks to inspiration from my dad in my younger years. Now I am working for TFCG and Reforest Africa under the great conservationist and researcher, Dr. Andy Marshall, with donor support from Rainforest Trust and Flamingo Land in the UK. This has given me renewed inspiration.


What inspires you most about being a Conservation Fellow?

Being a Fellow means that I get more exposure, more responsibilities and more accountability in the field of conservation. My understanding in the field of conservation will expand to an international level, including the understanding of internationally employed tools such as Global Positioning Systems, Global Information Systems, and SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool). What I find exciting is that my contribution to conservation is now seen worldwide.


Tell us about a conservation success.

Through conservation education, my team managed to train more than 85% of 10,000 villagers in the use of fuel-efficient stove technology and more than 75% of the villagers are still using the technology. I am also very happy to have been part of a team that upgraded 26km2 (6,424.47 acres) of high biodiversity forest to create the Magombera Nature Forest Reserve. There were so many stakeholders contributing to this effort, but my team was here on the ground to coordinate each activity to see the success of upgrading this mysterious forest first hand.

Herman (far right) working with local villagers. Photo by Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group.

Tell us about a time that you felt you had made a difference as a conservationist.

The first year that I joined the Udzungwa Forest Project, I managed to convince villages around Magombera Forest who are highly in need of dedicated land to participate in tree-planting and conservation efforts. Each village donated one hectare and we managed to plant more than 4,500 native trees. This also required germinating more than 25 native tree species for which germination methods were formerly not documented anywhere.

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

I am working in a village community that depends highly on both natural forest resources and agriculture. Villages like these often seek to expand their farms to get more output because of the increasing population. They do not use the modern way of cultivation. This also leads to frequent encroachment, firewood collection, and poaching within nearby forests.

Despite challenges, Herman remains passionate about conservation because,When we lose our natural resources, we lost our identity, culture and future. When we serve the environment, we serve ourselves, species and the world at large.”

Header image: Magombera Nature Reserve. Photo by Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group.