New Nature Reserve Completes Massive Protected Area Complex in the Congo

Kabobo Natural Reserve, which was created today thanks to Rainforest Trust’s local partner, donors and other supporters, protects 364,975 acres of vital wildlife habitat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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On December 21, Kabobo Natural Reserve was established in the southern section of the Misotshi-Kaboga massif, an area in southeastern DRC that is of critical importance for amphibian, bird and mammal conservation, including the Kabobo Apalis (an endangered, endemic bird) and a population stronghold of the Eastern Chimpanzee. Together with the adjacent Ngandja Natural Reserve, which Rainforest Trust helped to create in August 2016, these two new protected areas safeguard over one million acres for the region’s endangered wildlife and rich biodiversity.

Rainforest Trust supported the Albertine Rift Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society in a joint collaboration with other groups to create both the newly established Kabobo Natural Reserve and Ngandja Natural Reserve. These organizations have worked tirelessly to safeguard habitat for endangered species and cultivate community support for the new protected areas, despite the boundary changes that have affected the reserve designation process.

In 2015, DRC government decentralization resulted in the creation of multiple new provinces, and the area originally proposed as Ngamikka National Park was suddenly contained within two provinces. Because of this division, local leaders and communities opted to establish the section of the proposed park in South Kivu Province as the M’Mbondo Reserve. On August 3, 2016, the Governor of South Kivu designated this protected area, whose name was changed to the Ngandja Natural Reserve to reflect the local culture and heritage of the region. On December 21, 2016, the second section of the proposed park located in Tanganyika Province was declared as Kabobo Natural Reserve, completing the priority protected area complex.

“We are delighted that this major new reserve in the Kabobo range not only protects a tremendous diversity of wildlife, but importantly was established thanks to a bottom-up approach of seeking community involvement and approval,” noted Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “For protected areas to succeed, all stakeholders must be involved – and none are more critical than the people that live around this new sanctuary.”

Protection of the massif was supported by elders from every village, including indigenous people such as the Efe pygmies. Now that the reserve has been declared, Rainforest Trust’s partner is holding regular meetings with traditional chiefs and local authorities to assess management and protection activities moving forward.

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped to make possible the creation of Kabobo Natural Reserve, especially Bernie Han, Leslie Danoff and Larry Robbins, and Geo Chen and Angela Huang.

Rainforest Trust supported the Albertine Rift Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society in a joint collaboration with World Wide Fund for Nature-DRC and AfriCapacity in the creation of Kabobo Natural Reserve. The United States Agency for International Development (CARPE/USAID), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund and IUCN SOS grants supported the surveys, consultations and participatory mapping with local communities by WCS.

Communities Convene to Celebrate Congolese Conservation

Major breakthrough in securing urgently needed rainforest protection for Central African wildlife commended at celebratory event.

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Rainforest Trust’s partner Lukuru Foundation recently hosted an event to celebrate the newly established Lomami National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The nearly 2.2 million-acre national park, which was officially designated this July by the Prime Minister of the DRC after approval by the president and his cabinet, provides fundamental protection for Endangered species such as Okapis and Bonobos and also brings much-needed security and stability to the region. Lomami National Park was the first national park in the Congo, and one of the few in Africa, to be established with major support from local communities.

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“This national park was many years in the making as consensus was sought at the local clan and community level before moving it to provincial and national levels,” said Dr. Terese Hart, the national administrator for Lukuru Foundation. “By 2013 both concerned provinces declared provincial parks, so there was close involvement by locally elected officials to promote the status of park before it moved to national level. Over the years of collaboration with the community many local people have joined our teams, and we are confident of the continued collaboration for the security of the amazing Lomami National Park.”

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The celebration included a performance from local musicians and presentations from the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, the National Secretary General of the Environment, the Governor of Maniema (one of the two DRC provinces in which the national park is located), the Director General of Congolese Nature Institute (ICCN), the Chef de Cooperation from the European Union and the Chef de Cooperation from Germany. Other guests included provincial governors, the Minister of Tourism, three army generals, numerous advisors to the president, local conservationists and community members.

Rainforest Trust is currently partnering with Lukuru Foundation to create Balanga Forest Reserve next to Lomami National Park, and together the two protected areas will safeguard nearly 3.4 million acres of wildlife habitat in the Congo Basin.

New Refuge for the Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey

A recently established core protected area in Ecuador’s northwestern region of Tesoro Escondido safeguards one of the largest remaining populations of the Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey and provides a haven for Great Green Macaws, Jaguars and other threatened species.

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The Tesoro Escondido Reserve in Ecuador was recently expanded by 1,516 acres, thanks to the efforts of Rainforest Trust and local partner Cambugán Foundation. The reserve’s combined 2,965 acres are now protected from threats such as deforestation and encroachment of oil palm plantations, through direct land purchases that include vital habitat for the Brown-headed Spider Monkey.

The Critically Endangered Brown-headed Spider Monkey has been identified as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world and is found only in Ecuador’s Chocóan rainforests, which are in part protected by the new Tesoro Escondido Reserve. An estimated population of 150 individuals exist in the region of Tesoro Escondido, leading this site to be regarded as a global priority for the species. These spider monkeys play a critical role in maintaining forest diversity as they disperse the seeds of numerous tree species, and until the creation of the new reserve they had been drastically impacted by loss of their forest habitat, hunting and expanding oil palm pressures that threatened their survival. This summer, infant Brown-headed Spider Monkeys were seen in the reserve, which is a positive sign of the species’ ability to rebound and thrive in the protected area.

In addition to being a stronghold for the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Tesoro Escondido is home to one of the last populations of western Ecuadorian Jaguars and 44 percent of mammal species recorded in Ecuador. Several globally threatened birds have been observed in this area, including the Endangered Great Green Macaw and the Baudo Guan, as well as multiple Endangered amphibians (such as Cochranella mache, Pristimantis colomai and Hyloxalus toachi).

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped with the expansion of the Tesoro Escondido Reserve, including an anonymous donor, the Scott Rasmussen Family Trust and the University of Sussex.

Supporter Spotlight: Dr. Brittany Goldberg

An enthusiastic environmentalist makes a commendable commitment to conservation.

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An environmentalist at heart and keenly aware of her relationship with the world around her, Rainforest Trust supporter Dr. Brittany Goldberg drives a hybrid vehicle and has been a vegetarian since the age of 13. Though she has never traveled to the rainforest, she has donated to protect 344 acres of rainforests worldwide – all the way from Brazil to Sumatra.

In September, Brittany celebrated her one year anniversary as a Rainforest Trust supporter and is now thrilled to be participating in the organization’s new monthly giving program called Roots – particularly because the automatic monthly donations are so simple and fit well into her busy lifestyle.

Like many supporters, Brittany has a full schedule, which for her includes working as a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by day while picking up occasional rotations at the hospital in her spare time. Fortunately, the new Roots program helps her to give back without the time commitment some of her other activities require.

As a network of committed supporters, Roots members donate monthly to ensure Rainforest Trust’s urgent conservation work. In return, they receive quarterly rewards via email of behind-the-scenes photos, videos, stories and project updates about the places they are helping to protect.

After thoroughly researching similar nonprofit organizations, Brittany chose to support Rainforest Trust above the rest because of its high ranking on Guide Star that indicates a great level of transparency, financial efficiency and program effectiveness.

“I’m most interested in a return on investment and having a high impact,” Brittany said. “I decided it was time for me to give back, and I researched some charities with missions that interested me.”

With the click of a button, Brittany was able to register her monthly Roots donation, committing to support Rainforest Trust’s conservation efforts and project sites across the planet. Now she can sit back and help celebrate the victories as national parks and reserves are established worldwide.

Monitoring Wildlife: Eyes on the Ground and in the Sky

Visual technology advances in the conservation field allow researchers to gather information about rare and enigmatic species that were previously inaccessible. These images provide conservationists with invaluable data on the state of these species and the habitats on which they depend for their survival.

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As a video feed streams images of undisturbed foliage, a large shape ambles into the viewing frame. At first it is difficult to make out what creature it could be, until suddenly it becomes clear: a rare and Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros turns its head and stares directly into the camera, locking eyes with the viewer.

Footage from remotely activated camera traps provides opportunities like this to be “up close and personal” with elusive and endangered species, offering a powerful conservation tool that enables the observation of wildlife without the animals being aware of the observer. With less than 100 Sumatran Rhinos surviving in the wild, they are among the most endangered large mammals and are notoriously shy. Being able to witness one in its natural habitat is a rare privilege for both amateur wildlife enthusiasts and researchers. In addition to giving viewers the chance to watch these animals from the comfort of their own computers, camera traps provide critical insight to conservationists who might have access to the field but not directly to the species they are trying to protect.

This technology is aiding in the development of successful conservation strategies that rely on a continued understanding of the range, behavior and habitat requirements of wildlife needing protection. Camera trap photography can aid conservationists in confirming the presence of rare species and is a tool to track populations of endangered animals, draw distribution maps, monitor animal behavior and estimate wildlife populations. The advantages of camera traps are numerous: their setup ease makes them less time consuming than traditional catch-and-release methods used to study animals; they are minimally intrusive, causing no impacts to wildlife; and the images they produce can be reviewed by teams of scientists, reducing the chance of individual subjective errors.

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As part of a species survey, Rainforest Trust’s Cambodian partner, Wildlife Alliance, is using camera traps to collect photos of a variety of animals in the Southern Cardamom National Park, which was newly established this spring through the collaborative efforts of both organizations. Images of marbled cats wandering through the forest undergrowth and clouded leopards traveling in pairs give a glimpse into the lives of these elusive animals, sometimes providing unexpected results. For example, sightings of these rare cat duos may indicate the presence of an abundant prey base since they are usually solitary creatures, according to Wildlife Alliance’s CEO Suwanna Gauntlett.

Another advance in conservation imaging technology is the usage of drones to monitor wildlife movements and habitat change. Rainforest Trust often uses drones equipped with high definition cameras to provide an aerial view of conservation project sites. During a recent site visit in Borneo, Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman maneuvered a drone to inspect forest regeneration inside a newly protected area to ensure that oil palm plantations were not invading the protected forest. He also used the drone to count the number of Borneo Pygmy Elephants that inhabit one of the properties that Rainforest Trust helped to protect.

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While aerial photography is useful to monitor large-scale movements of wildlife, small, non-intrusive cameras that are temporarily attached to animals can provide more localized insight. Rainforest Trust’s partner Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) in Papua New Guinea recently used Crittercams (developed by National Geographic) to learn more about the Matschie’s Tree-kangaroo. In this case, gently fastening a miniature camera to the creature using a collar is preferable to a ground camera trap, as tree-kangaroos spend the majority of their time high in the tree canopy. The visual recording process involves local communities as former hunters use their tracking skills to help TKCP researchers capture, equip and release the elusive tree-kangaroos.

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The attached camera then records short video segments throughout the day and reveals information, such as feeding behaviors, that is otherwise difficult to observe. These images are invaluable for making decisions regarding the ecological composition and size of new protected areas based on the needs of the species.

“Extremely secretive species can now be tracked via camera traps, and drones provide instant information on the true situation on the ground,” said Dr. Bert Harris, Rainforest Trust’s Director of Biodiversity Conservation. “Advances in photographic technology are enabling conservationists to accomplish what was once impossible.”

Historic Rainforest Protection for Endangered Wildlife and Indigenous People in the Philippines

The Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve in Palawan, the largest critical habitat created in the Philippines, safeguards endemic, threatened species such as the Philippine Pangolin, Palawan Bearcat and Palawan Horned Frog, and also protects the forest-dwelling Batak people.

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Rainforest Trust is delighted to announce that over 100,000 acres of rainforest encompassing and surrounding Cleopatra’s Needle, one of Palawan’s highest peaks, were just declared as a Forest Reserve due to the collaborative efforts of Rainforest Trust’s local conservation partner Centre for Sustainability-PH working with the Puerto Princesa city government.

This forest harbors incredible concentrations of endemic and endangered wildlife, and until the recent declaration was one of Palawan’s most threatened ecosystems due to pressures from logging, hunting and rapid urbanization. Of the species that reside only on the island of Palawan and nowhere else in the world, 85 percent are found on and around Cleopatra’s Needle; with that amount of rare species dependent on Palawan’s natural environment, the protection of its rainforest has been a conservation priority of global importance.

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The southern and eastern hills of Cleopatra’s Needle are home to a population of the Endangered Palawan Horned Frog, and nearby creeks contain the largest remaining population of the Vulnerable Philippine Flat-headed Frog. The Endangered Palawan Toadlet was rediscovered in 2015 in Cleopatra’s Needle, after not being observed for over 40 years.

Nearly 60 terrestrial mammal species have been recorded in Palawan, including the Endangered Philippine Pangolin, Vulnerable Palawan Bearcat and Asian Small-clawed Otter. Of 279 bird species found on Palawan, 27 are endemic to the Philippines, such as the Palawan Hornbill whose population is declining due hunting and the loss of lowland forest elsewhere on the island. In total, 31 threatened species inhabit the forests of Cleopatra’s Needle.

In addition to providing a haven for species that are at-risk for extinction, the reserve will also protect territory for a local indigenous group, the Batak tribe. Originally from Papua New Guinea and thought to be among the first humans to settle in the Philippines, the Batak people now reside in small villages and sustainably harvest a variety of forest products such as tree resins and honey.

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“The reserve will protect the Philippine’s last 200 members of the Batak tribe and will safeguard the area from outside logging, maintaining their traditional lands and clean water supply,” said Rainforest Trust’s CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

As part of the declaration process for the Cleopatra’s Needle Forest Reserve, a management plan was created, forest guard training courses were implemented and ecotourism activities are to be introduced to improve the livelihood of the Batak tribe.

This project was made possible thanks to the efforts of our local partner in Palawan as well as the generous support of Luanne Lemmer, Eric Veach, Brett Byers, Leslie Santos and many other friends of Rainforest Trust and in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation.

Rainforest Trust continues to safeguard rainforests in the Philippines through our appeal to save the last critical habitats on Dinagat Island.

Recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area and last stronghold for the Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox and Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat, Dinagat Island is totally unprotected and is under imminent threat from a proposed massive mining operation.

We are urgently seeking your support to create four new protected areas that will secure essential forest and coastal habitat while establishing the first-ever designated conservation protection on this unique island.

Supporter Spotlight: Rainforest Sunglasses

Promoting a culture of environmental sustainability among travelers and adventurers while saving the rainforest.

Rainforest Sunglasses is an eco-friendly company that invests a portion of its profits from its handcrafted eyewear into conservation. It came into existence as an escape from the grind of everyday life.

Patrick Atallah, the company’s founder, first imagined the idea behind the brand while hiking in the forest. He explains, “Nature has a centering effect on us. It is quiet, calm, beautiful and inspiring…and yet with all of its benefits, we realize that it is dwindling at a rapid rate. Because of nature’s importance in our lives, it became the inspiration for Rainforest Sunglasses.”

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Next year for further inspiration, Patrick will travel to the Amazon rainforest for the first time. But for now, his vision is that Rainforest Sunglasses will bring together a group of travelers and adventurers who can share stories of the beautiful places and incredible people they have encountered, all while supporting the natural world they cherish.

As a result, most of the company’s handcrafted wood sunglasses are designed for an active lifestyle and fashioned from bamboo, an extremely reliable and sustainable raw material. Bamboo is a rapid-growing grass that can be harvested every four to five years, as opposed to commercial tree species that can take anywhere from 25-70 years to reach maturity. Bamboo is both resistant to water and a naturally antibacterial fiber, making it an ideal material for manufacturing.

To further support nature and conservation, Patrick has chosen to donate to Rainforest Trust a portion of every purchase made at Rainforest Sunglasses. He explains, “When we were researching conservation organizations, we were immediately drawn to Rainforest Trust because 100 percent of our project donations go to support conservation throughout the world. This was extremely important to us because we wanted to know that the money we were raising was truly going to make a tangible impact.”

Rainforest Sunglasses is collaborating with Rainforest Trust this Cyber Monday, November 28th. With any online order, use the code RainforestTrust and 10 percent of your purchase will go directly to Rainforest Trust’s Pangolin Fund. Donations to this fund will help Rainforest Trust preserve vital forest habitat for several endangered pangolin species that are in urgent need of protection.

Land Purchase Consolidates Critical Cloud Forest Reserve in Ecuador

Over the past 16 years, Rainforest Trust has helped establish and expand Buenaventura Reserve in southern Ecuador. After 15 land acquisitions, a key property to consolidate the most important cloud forest reserve in southern Ecuador has just been secured.

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Rainforest Trust recently received notice from partner Fundación Jocotoco that it has purchased the Guzman property to expand Buenaventura Reserve by an additional 469 acres. The reserve, which now totals 6,266 acres, provides habitat for Endangered birds such as El Oro Parakeets and Ecuadorian Tapaculos.

Discovered 36 years ago by Rainforest Trust’s president, Dr. Robert Ridgely, approximately half the global population of El Oro Parakeets reside entirely within Buenaventura Reserve today. Since the reserve was established in 2000, the El Oro Parakeet population has rebounded by 33 percent. The few dozen remaining Ecuadorian Tapaculos, an Endangered bird species that has lost much of its range due to deforestation, depend on the reserve for their survival.

“After 16 years of purchasing private properties to build this amazing gem of a nature reserve, we are delighted to have helped secure a key parcel and conclude this phase of the reserve’s development,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“We are grateful to the many supporters of our land purchase campaign to create a permanent cloud forest safe haven for the Endangered El Oro Parakeet and other spectacular species.”

In addition to the El Oro Parakeet and Ecuadorian Tapaculo, Buenaventura Reserve also protects a stronghold site for the Endangered Gray-backed Hawk. This species is typically found only in pairs but is commonly observed in greater numbers in the reserve. Other threatened birds include the Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Red-masked Parakeet and Pacific Royal Flycatcher. More than 330 species of birds have been recorded at Buenaventura, of which 34 are local endemics.

Buenaventura Reserve also provides habitat for 33 amphibian species and 29 reptile species, five of which are globally threatened. A new species of nonvenomous snake (Synophis zaheri) was discovered at the Buenaventura Lodge and described in 2015. The Buenaventura Rainfrog (Pristimantis buenaventura) was described at the reserve this year.

Rainforest Trust thanks all of its supporters that helped support Buenaventura, including March Conservation Fund, Dansk Ornitologisk Forening, Fairledge Fund, Martin Schaefer, Robert and Peg Ridgely, The Moses Feldman Family Foundaiton, Weeden Foundation, Bihua Chen and Jackson Loomis, James and Ellen Strauss, George W. Merck Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, J. Milton Harris and Alice Chenault, Emmerson and Sheila Bowes, Sally Davidson, Leo Model Foundation, Roberta Ashkin, Nigel Simpson, Bert Harris, and an anonymous supporter.

Progressive Protection for Pangolins

What happens when the scaly armor that is supposed to protect pangolins leads to them becoming the most trafficked mammals in the world?

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A shy pangolin has tough outer scales and curls into a tight ball when frightened– but these defenses are useless against threats such as poaching and habitat loss that are pushing the creatures closer to extinction.

All eight species of pangolin are illegally hunted because of the extremely high demand for their scales that are used in some traditional medicines, and for their meat. Today, all four of the Asian species – the Chinese, Sunda, Indian and Philippine – are listed as either Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The four African species – the White-bellied, Black-bellied, Giant Ground and Temminck’s Ground – are all listed as Vulnerable. Recently, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) delegates voted to ban all international commercial trade in pangolins.

While the CITES decision is mostly a symbolic action, it is helping to raise awareness about pangolins. Unfortunately, these unique creatures still face the threat of habitat loss and rely on protected areas for safety from illegal hunting. Pangolins have found refuge in a number of protected areas that Rainforest Trust supports, including current projects in India, Nepal, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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Rainforest Trust is working with Applied Environmental Research Foundation in India’s North Western Ghats to protect critical habitat for Indian Pangolins. The new Prachitgad Community Reserve will prohibit unsustainable clearing of forest and hunting, providing a much-needed haven for the threatened pangolins.

In Nepal, Rainforest Trust is partnering with Red Panda Network to create a reserve that will help safeguard Critically Endangered Chinese Pangolins and other rare Himalayan species.

White-bellied Pangolins have a range that spans West and Central Africa and are found within the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve in Cameroon. Rainforest Trust is working with Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society to elevate the protected status of the reserve to a national park while expanding it so that it will safeguard a total of 741,000 acres.

The proposed Balanga Forest Reserve that Rainforest Trust and Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation are helping to establish in the DRC is home to White-bellied, Black-bellied and Giant Ground pangolins. This reserve in addition to the adjacent Lomami National Park will provide nearly 3.4 million acres of protected habitat – a massive area almost the size of Connecticut – that is necessary for the continued survival of vulnerable animals in the region such as pangolins.

“I was very lucky to see a Sunda Pangolin when I was in Borneo this past summer, and it was truly a moving experience witnessing a mother with a baby hanging onto it in one of the reserves Rainforest Trust helped establish,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman.

“This proves to us that despite the enormous pressure on the species, the protected area approach works – and we will continue to expand safe havens for pangolins across Africa and Asia.”

Take action and help protect these unique creatures: for the price of a pumpkin pie, you can help save an acre of habitat for pangolins.

Tropic Topics: Pangolins in Asia

As we gear up to celebrate pangolins for Giving Tuesday, listen to Rainforest Trust’s Asia Conservation Officer tell more about what makes this species so unique and how we can ensure a brighter future for the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Photo by Chien Lee/ wildborneo.com