From the First to the Largest Species Naming Auction: Rainforest Trust Leads the Way

Rainforest Trust is hosting the largest ever public auction of species naming rights with this fall’s Species Legacy Auction. The strategy of selling the naming rights of newly discovered species to raise funds for conservation is common, but it was Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman that started the trend 25 years ago.

In the summer of 1991, Salaman led an expedition of Colombian and British students to a remote and isolated region of the Chocó rainforests in southwestern Colombia. His expedition discovered one of the world’s greatest concentrations of endemic species at a site called Río Ñambí, where Salaman discovered a never before recorded species of songbird. The distinctive new bird was a member of the Vireo family.

New member of the Vireo family discovered by Dr. Paul Salaman. Photo by Carlos Gustavo.

Colombia in the early 90s was in the grip of horrific civil strife with drug cartels controlling cities and guerrilla groups battling the government across the country. The expedition stayed at a former cocaine processing plant in the Río Ñambí forest and the area was at risk for illicit coca plantations. With the habitat of this vireo and countless other species threatened, Salaman was desperate to raise funds to buy the forests for the local indigenous population and establish a community reserve. With the new-to-science bird as yet unnamed, Salaman thought up an innovative fundraiser — to auction off the right to name the beautiful new vireo in an effort to raise the funds needed to create a reserve.

Dr. Paul Salaman posing with drawing of the bird he discovered in 1991.

Traditionally, the right to decide the second part of a scientific name of a species lies with the discoverer. “However, I broke this tradition for an exciting, if a bit crazy, new idea to underpin the conservation of the Río Ñambí,” said Salaman. “The idea of selling a bird’s name shocked some, but the general reaction was of eager anticipation and speculation as to who would win the honor of naming the bird and helping save its habitat!” The winning bid raised $75,000 that helped create the Río Ñambí and Pangan Reserves and saved countless species and buffers several indigenous communities from deforestation.

Rainforest destruction has not slowed in the past quarter century, and indigenous communities are increasingly negatively impacted. The preservation of rainforests and the people that rely on them is all the more critical. Salaman is applying the auction strategy now at Rainforest Trust, with the names of 12 new-to-science species being auctioned on December 8th. Pre-bidding is already underway. All Proceeds will be matched and will go directly towards protecting the ecologically rich homes of the flora and fauna being named, areas where there are likely other unknown species that enrich our planet and could have immense benefits to mankind.

Conservation Basics: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Rainforest Trust’s work to protect habitats for threatened species is grounded in cutting-edge conservation science. But in this series, we explore the basics of conservation science and how they inform Rainforest Trust’s scientists.

We know why the chicken crossed the road: to get to the other side. But what was on the other side?

The proverbial chicken crossed the road, motivated by its desire to get to the proverbial “other side.” We assume the chicken made this decision of its own volition and made it with purpose. Like all heroes, The Great Explorer Chicken had a choice: stay put or face the unknown. And, like all heroes, the chicken chose the unknown, battling dangers of the road to seek the dream of the other side’s brighter tomorrow. To remember this inspiring feat, we’ve etched the chicken’s infamous bravery into the annals of history.

I first reflected on the motivations of the iconic chicken after witnessing a Helmeted Guineafowl cross a road between Mto wa Mbu and Arusha in northern Tanzania. A Helmeted Guineafowl, while not a chicken, is chickenesque. I was zipping along the road in a car. The guineafowl was in the roadside brush until, like a scene out of Frogger, it ignored the oncoming hazards moving perpendicular to its trajectory and bolted.

The Helmeted Guineafowl: A Chickenesque Species

But why?

On the north side of the road were buildings, homes and a sufficiency of cows: a human-dominated landscape. On the south side was a private ranch, managed for both wildlife and cattle. Cattle grazing occurred on the outskirts of the property and wildlife abounded in the center, including guineafowl.

As the guineafowl crossed from protected area to unprotected area, it passed from one habitat to another habitat. It did not cross from habitat to “not habitat.” Habitat is the space where living things live, so everywhere is habitat because living things live everywhere. Just as the Serengeti is habitat, the tracks of the New York City subway are habitat. In fact, subway tracks are suitable habitat for the Brown Rat.


But the Brown Rat did not evolve on subway tracks. Nevertheless, it still finds those rails a reliable place to settle down after a long day of pizza-nabbing. Each species relies on a unique combination of habitat factors to live, with some species more discerning than others. The Brown Rat, we might conclude, is not a picky creature. Some species of tropical montane hummingbirds, who only live on a few isolated mountaintops in Central America, are perhaps more choosy.

Habitat types differ in geology, climate (including temperature and precipitation), geographic location, water chemistry and soil properties. Different communities of plants and animals can also create different habitats; some species may rely on another species to survive. Some wasps only lay eggs in fig trees, some ants rely on Acacia trees to colonize and some people just, like, can’t live without their dogs. There is no fixed number of habitat types, only a lengthy list of factors to describe habitat. Each combination (cold, wet and mountainous; warm, dry and mountainous; temperate, marine and sea-level; etc.) is a unique habitat. If you add another factor to the list, the differentiation grows.

The species-habitat relationship is a major tenet of Rainforest Trust’s work to help protect the specific habitats endangered species rely on to survive. Take, for example, Rainforest Trust’s project with the Critically Endangered Palawan Forest Turtle. The entire species relies on lowland swamp forest habitat in one corner of the Philippines. Without this habitat in this location, the entire species will go extinct. If you want to protect gorillas, you need to understand where gorillas thrive. If you want to protect Leafcutter ants, you need to understand where Leafcutter ants thrive. Same goes for pythons, tuna, sugar maples and every other species on the planet.

The Palawan Forest Turtle. Photo courtesty of N. Cegalerba and J. Szwemberg.

As Jeff Goldblum said in my favorite movie: “Life, uh, finds a way.” While terse, Michael Crichton’s punchy take is a decent one-line description of the entire field of biology. Life is everywhere and, uh, finds a way. There are microbes that rely on the salty water of the Dead Sea and spiders that only live on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Anywhere on Earth, we should ask, “What lives here?” not, “Can anything live here?”

So why, dare I ask, did the Helmeted Guineafowl cross the road?

Guineafowl rely on habitat traits to survive, and we can assume that both sides of the road, being adjacent, contained the necessities of guineafowl life. The south side was managed for wildlife, ensuring food availability and nesting space, while the north side was not. On the south side of the road, the guineafowl would compete with other guineafowl for resources; on the north side of the road, the guineafowl might compete with domestic chickens. Due to differences in anthropogenic influence, the plant communities, insect communities and soil properties might be different on either side. Two places on Earth, the south side and the north side of one road, vary only in minutiae, but important minutiae.

But the guineafowl and I had different knowledge of the situation. I knew which side might be empirically better for the guineafowl. The guineafowl understood the situation on the ground. Maybe there wasn’t enough food in its immediate vicinity. Maybe another guineafowl scared it. Maybe a Bat-eared Fox was trying to eat it. Maybe it was venturing off to live somewhere new. Maybe it was training for the Guineafowl Olympics. The guineafowl didn’t know the other side held, statistically, fewer opportunities for success. The guineafowl only knew what it knew in that definitive moment and, unlike me, knows what happened in the seconds, hours, days, months and years afterwards.

Our hero must make a decision.

So why did the guineafowl cross the road? After putting the pieces together, we can determine that the scientific, definitive answer is: Who knows? As much as we try to understand the species-habitat relationship, we’ll never be able to predict everything. For conservation, we do the best we can to understand every detail of each side of the equation (species and habitat) and plan for what we know, hoping the wildlife go along with the plan. I don’t know why a guineafowl runs across a road, risking its life.

Maybe the guineafowl just wanted to get to the other side.

Rainforest Trust Supports Effort to Rescue Snared African Leopard

Tokoloshe should have died within three weeks. That is the lifespan of other African Leopards caught in snares around their abdomen in South Africa’s Soutpansberg Mountains. Although an illegal practice in South Africa, snares are popular in the region, used by landowners to trap bushmeat and eliminate predators.

But this apex predator has made it six months. Tokoloshe is surviving with a metal snare wrapped around her belly, surprising wildlife researchers and those hoping to rescue her. A camera trap spotted her in an unprotected area as recently as October 11. Currently, only 1 percent of the Soutpansberg Mountains are formally conserved, meaning that leopards and other endemic species must continually traverse private farms and other properties.

Tokoloshe captured on a game camera in May 2018. Photo by the Primate & Predator Project.

Rainforest Trust is working with one of our local South African partners, Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to purchase such properties and convert them to reserves. Establishing the Soutpansberg Protected Area will give vulnerable wildlife space to roam without the threat of snares and conflict with humans. Conservation biologist and manager of the Soutpansberg Protected Area Oldrich van Schalkwyk shares that, unfortunately, snaring is on the rise in this region of South Africa. The growing human population is encroaching on leopard habitat, and “the economy is in a recession at the moment, increasing the need for bushmeat. Leopards caught in snares on the western Soutpansberg seem to be bycatch from the bushmeat trade, although the body parts such as skin, bones, canine teeth and dewclaws will be traded opportunistically.” These strained circumstances led to Tokoloshe’s snaring. But she’s lived with her body parts intact.

Durham University’s Primate and Predator Project (PPP) is tracking Tokoloshe with the intent to humanely trap her, remove the snare and treat her wounds. But Tokoloshe – named after an evasive sprite in Zulu mythology – never stays in one place long enough for traps to be set. Not surprisingly, capturing leopards is dangerous for both the animal and people involved. The PPP team also wants to cause as little disruption to other wildlife as possible while helping the snared leopard. “Although it’s emotional to see such a majestic animal suffer at the hand of man, and we would like to relieve her suffering by removing the snare and treat her wound immediately,” states van Schalkwyk, “we are always mindful not to accidently trap non-target leopards.” Van Schalkwyk was asked to assist PPP with rescuing Tokoloshe because of his seven years of experience trapping leopards via a non-invasive process. As part of the partnership with EWT, Rainforest Trust is sponsoring van Schalkwyk in this rescue effort and his role as manager of the Soutpansberg Protected Area.

Tokoloshe has been spotted in trail camera footage just occasionally. According to the project, her condition is deteriorated but stable. The snare is cutting into subcutaneous tissue and superficial abdominal muscles, but is not so tight as to tear deep into her belly. Theoretically, she could survive in this compromised state for a while, but the PPP and its supporters are anxious to remove the snare. Last month, PPP’s camera grid photos indicated Tokoloshe is traveling with a male leopard. If she becomes pregnant, the snare will quickly slice through her growing abdomen, slowly killing both the developing cub and Tokoloshe in the process.

EWT Field Ranger de-snaring a land parcel belonging to the Ndouvhada clan. As part of South Africa’s Land Reform Programme, this clan was repatriated ancestral communal land neighboring EWT’s Medike Nature Reserve, which is a newly formed reserve forming part of the Soutpansberg Protected Area Programme. Photo by Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Along with the potential of pregnancy, rescuers are worried because tracking information show Tokoloshe spending a lot of time on the farm where she likely picked up the snare in the first place. Rainforest Trust has already made funds available for EWT to purchase this property and other threatened land parcels to expand the Soutpansberg Protected Area. Negotiations for purchasing these properties is underway, but in the meantime, van Schalkwyk is organizing an Anti-Poaching Unit to perform community outreach. They educate the public on the dangers of using snares (valuable domesticated animals on farms are just as likely to be snared as wildlife) and spend much of their time de-snaring properties where leopards and other vulnerable wildlife live.

Rainforest Trust hopes to share good news about Tokoloshe soon. If she is freed from her snare, she will one day enjoy a new protected area in South Africa’s threatened Soutpansberg Mountains.

Snares gathered from one property by the Anti-Poaching Unit funded by Rainforest Trust. Photo by Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Conservation Basics: An Elephant in the Forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Rainforest Trust’s work to protect habitats for threatened species is grounded in cutting-edge conservation science. But in this series, we explore the basics of conservation science and how they inform Rainforest Trust’s scientists.

Here at Rainforest Trust, we use data – a lot of data – to conserve habitats for endangered species. We need to know where the species lives, how many of them there are and how best to conserve said species.

But that knowledge is always changing. Our Rainforest Trust scientists are constantly reflecting on the central question: How do we determine the most effective strategies for conservation when we can’t be certain of everything that might affect those strategies?

We use the power of collective knowledge to overcome uncertainty. A vague concept, I know. But let me explain. Take, for example, the case of the Congo’s elephants.

Somewhere in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is an elephant. At the moment I write this piece, the elephant – the specific individual – might be sleeping. It might be eating, drinking, cavorting with another elephant or partaking in whatever other activity a wild elephant in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo might partake in.

I don’t know where, exactly, the elephant is at this precise moment or if any other elephants are nearby. I don’t know if the elephant is sick, well-fed, hungry, stressed or relaxed. I know nothing about this specific elephant. But I know an elephant is somewhere in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

African Forest Elephants. Photo by Caroline Granycome/Flickr

As a society, we know elephants are somewhere in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since we, as a species (humans), know an elephant exists somewhere in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I, as an individual, know an elephant exists somewhere in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And now I’ve told you. So now you know.

We can infer facts about the elephant based on general trends, but with less certainty. We know what it (probably) eats. We know how big it will (probably) become. We know how old it will (probably) grow to be. We know the individual is an African Forest Elephant, as opposed to an African Bush Elephant (although African Bush Elephants live in the DRC, too, we’ll assume I’m writing about an African Forest Elephant), but we aren’t sure if that distinction is between a species or a subspecies.

There are other tidbits of information we probably don’t know. We probably don’t know where this elephant was born. We probably don’t know what other elephants this elephant has encountered. We probably don’t know how far this elephant has travelled in the past two weeks. We may know these things, but we probably don’t.

Finally, there are some details we definitely don’t know. We don’t know if this elephant has a recurring itch on its left ear. We don’t know where this elephant will go tomorrow. We don’t know when or how this elephant will die.

Science is both fueled and limited by uncertainty. Science discovers the undiscovered, sees the unseen and recognizes the unrecognizable. But science requires certainty to move forward, state assumptions and take the next step. In conservation, science necessitates action and action necessitates science. But if we don’t know everything, how can we do anything useful? Uncertainty can be paralyzing, but paralysis is unacceptable because conservation inaction leads to extinction.

I couldn’t find any photographs of the Dodo. Because extinction is permanent.

And extinction is permanent.

As conservation grew – from a pastime to a field of study to an industry – the science and conversation around it only grew more and more complicated. This was good! The sharing of ideas, knowledge and inquiries, discussions at conferences, community meetings and camping trips, newly published papers, books and films, and policy, law, economics, biology, chemistry, geology, geography and fashion all add to the field of conservation. Every one of these methods is useful and inspiring, but not always global or continuous.

But these developments also meant that conservation science became more and more complicated. So as conservation grew – from a pastime to a field of study to an industry – fewer and fewer people were fully in the know.

We’re going to change that.

It’s completely understandable if you don’t understand the nuances of the science and policy of wildlife conservation. But I bet you know animals exist. You probably know some species are endangered and some species are not. You probably don’t know every step in the decision-making process, or who decides what is Endangered or Vulnerable or of Least Concern. You definitely don’t know how to save every species. But we need to find the solutions to protect every species on the planet. Not only pandas, lions and bees, but every moth, tree, fungus, protozoan, sea cucumber and anglerfish needs our help. Every. Single. Species.

And you (that’s right, you) play an important role in getting that done.

The conservation community can’t save the planet on our own. We don’t have the necessary time or capacity to protect every species of spider, let alone every species. So you have two options. You can take the route leading to a hilarious yet meaningful memoir the New York Times Book Review will call “surprisingly refreshing and heartfelt” and quit your job, move to Alaska and hand-rear orphaned caribou to release to the wild. If you think that’s your calling, by all means, please do so. But you don’t need to and I actually encourage you not to.

We need bankers, writers, factory workers, farmers, lawyers, politicians, air traffic control officers, grocery store clerks, retirees, students, actors, Olympic speed skaters, plumbers, recreational golfers, Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, people who don’t like baseball, people who’ve never heard of baseball, people who have heard of baseball but don’t feel one way or the other about baseball and everyone else to be aboard the Biodiversity Express. Stay where you are, keep doing what you’re doing and keep conservation in mind. By learning a little more about how conservation works, you might end up with a bigger appreciation of how important conservation is.

Look at all those potential conservationists!

I’m going to help you start doing that by unraveling some of the nitty-gritty. This series will explore how Rainforest Trust uses conservation science and everything it entails. We have big plans for conservation and want you all to understand exactly why our work is vital. I, on your behalf, will ask little questions to get to the bottom of the big questions: Who does the research? What information do we need to assess species status? Where does the Black-bellied Pangolin live? When did the Yangtze River Dolphin become functionally extinct? Why is the Giant Panda no longer listed as Endangered? Why should you care? How are we at Rainforest Trust using this information to protect our planet’s species?

Science is about uncertainty, but uncertainty does not consume science, nor does it immobilize it. (See Appendix I of the official IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, titled “Uncertainty.”) We need not know every detail to save our planet. We only need to keep learning.

We need you to be an advocate for conservation. But that starts with a foundation of understanding. So let’s begin with the knowledge that somewhere in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is an elephant.

Bugs, Bugs Everywhere

Rainforest Trust is currently in production on a series of documentary films centered around stories of tropical conservation. But here on the blog, we’ll provide some of the behind-the-scenes anecdotes of film production.

I’m two inches above the water in a hollowed-out canoe. It’s an hour before sunset. The canoe is zipping into a giant lake dotted with tree trunks that will become invisible to us after the sun sets and the new-moon sky provides no light to this light-pollution-free corner of the Peruvian Amazon. The water is filled to the brim with piranhas and caimans. I have $5,000 worth of camera equipment in my lap. And we have one chance to film a giant, silver fish with a habit of leaping out of the water called the arowana.

So, needless to say, I’m feeling some pressure to make sure everything goes well.

It’s our first full day in Wuicungo, a small town on the Tapiche River in an expansive and isolated corner of the Peruvian Amazon. The town’s chief, Roberto Tafur, is the main character for our first film. Roberto has been leading this community, its fisherman’s association and a federation of all the communities along the Tapiche and Blanco (nearby river) basins in their fight to protect the surrounding forest from outsiders coming in to log and fish.

Because in Wuicungo, fishing isn’t only about food. Fishing is about being the start of an international supply chain worth millions of dollars.

Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) are prized as aquarium fish in East Asia. The fish is a status symbol — often selling for hundreds of dollars per fish. People used to keep Asian Arowana (Scleropages formosus), but authorities banned Asian Arowana trade in the 1980s due to declining wild populations in their native Borneo. So people turned to the not-banned, still-impressively huge Silver Arowana.

A Silver Arowana

But Silver Arowana don’t live in Borneo, or anywhere near East Asia. They live in South America. So, during the 1990s, trade in Silver Arowana increased around tributaries of the Amazon.

Neglected and ignored for decades, indigenous communities in the far corners of Peru’s Amazon Rainforest have had to find innovative ways of supporting themselves and their families in the modern, global economy. Many communities turned to farming and some to cattle ranching. Some communities even became part of logging or mining operations, because despite these operations destroying the forests, they provide needed income. But Wuicungo, while in the depth of the rainforest, is surrounded for miles by wetlands and lakes. So farming and ranching are off the table.

But the lakes are filled with hundreds of species of fish. And one of those species happens to be worth hundreds of dollars a piece for millions of people thousands of miles away. So for Wuicungo, the arowana is more than an opportunity to make a little money — it’s an opportunity for stability and economic self-determination. Now, thanks to management plans developed by the community along with Rainforest Trust and our Peruvian partner, the Center for the Development of an Indigenous Amazon, Wuicungo’s arowana harvest is ecologically and economically sustainable.

So as I sit in that canoe, I know that to tell this story well on film we need to get good footage of the arowana.

We’re heading out at night because the arowana are easier to spot at night — both for photography and for the fishermen. So Katie Schuler, our film’s director, will film with our low-light capable camera while I run the LED light panels.

The author (right), and Katie Schuler, the film’s director, on the way to film arowana

The sun sets on the lake and the nighttime ecosystem springs into action. Nighthawks and bats soar low over the water, nabbing the insects that are chewing up our arms, faces and ankles. The caimans peek above the water, their eyes reflecting orange from our headlamps. Small fish ride the wake of our canoe and fall into our laps.

After a while we reach the shallows where arowana are abundant. The peki-peki motor shuts down and a canoe paddle takes over. The sounds of lake, no longer drowned out by engine noise, hum around us.

And then we spot one! An arowana!

I throw on the lights, the camera rolls and we move the canoes around to get a good look at it. Everything is going right according to plan.

Except for an itching on my shoulder. And another on my shin. And a few itchy spots on my neck. I crane my neck to inspect myself — and then sit frozen in fear.

Now, the lake is more of a wetland. And we all know wetlands are full of insects. And what do insects love more than life itself (often quite literally)?


And what do I have in my hand?

The brightest light for miles in this moonless, light-pollution free corner of the Amazon Rainforest.

So every insect around has spotted me and decided to enjoy this light. And I am covered in them. Moths, katydids, flies, crickets and gnats cover our canoe, myself and Katie. But the worst are the cicadas.

Now before you laugh at the wildlife conservationist who’s afraid of insects, I have to tell you a story about cicadas.

In Eastern North America, some cicada populations live in a 17-year cycle. Every 17 years, millions, if not billions, of the insects come out of the ground over a few counties, buzz everywhere, cover every surface, devour trees and over-satiate the raccoons and birds who eat them. Ecologically, it’s called “masting,” whereby a population will multiply all at once to increase the individual’s chance of survival. With so many cicadas, it’s impossible for the predators to eat them all. After the few weeks, the news eggs are in the ground, all the cicadas die and 17 years later those eggs will repeat the same macabre dance.

A cicada – potentially one of many, many cicadas.

From a scientific perspective, it’s magnificent. For a nine-year-old kid out camping in the middle of it, it’s a nightmare.

Yes, ever since that ill-fated camping trip I’ve had whatever the opposite of a penchant is for our winged, exoskeleton-adorned friends. It’s not personal — well, actually, it’s personal. My point is that I understand the trivial irrationality of a phobia of flying, hefty insects. But that’s what a phobia is: a trivial irrationality.

So there I am: in the middle of a lake, in charge of manning a light panel, needing to make sure we get the footage we have one chance to capture while covered in the nemesis of the part of my brain controls disgust.

Maintaining my cool, I tried first to kick one of the nastiest cicadas away from me. This turned out to worsen the situation. This cicada screamed when I kicked it. Yes, screamed. Like a human. It sounded like a small human screaming.

I would not do that again.

But as I debated other options for removing said cicadas, a new emotion fell over me. It was the calm that comes from complete, total and inescapable inevitability.

There was nothing I could do to eliminate the arthropods crawling on my person.

Calm from inevitability is a strange sensation. I looked at the cicadas and surmised, “They should worry me. But I don’t care.” When it came down to it, I had no options but let the cicadas make a home on my legs, arms and back. So I did.

But my self-reflection didn’t last long. We had spotted another arowana, a big one, and I was back in action as we filmed. This feeling lingered for the rest of the night — through the caiman scrambling in one of the canoes, through the arowana jumping up and into Katie’s lap and through the long, dark journey out of the lake complete with barely dodging tree trunks and careening sideways from hidden sandbars. We got great footage, the camera equipment made it back safe and no boats or filmmakers were harmed in the making of said movie.

A new dawn was upon me — a world where my childhood-induced phobia of winged insects was to become a thing of the past. Oh, the wonders that awaited me in this upcoming, freer reality!

But that night, as I reached for my tent zipper, I spotted, mere inches from my hand, a 4-inch long creature known as a mole cricket. With a name like “mole cricket,” I hope I don‘t need to explain how grotesque these fellas are.

“Yikes!” I cried, leaping back.

Ah, well. Maybe I’ll find that new reality next time.

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.

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”!

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 Awards First Young Conservation Award

Rainforest Trust recently honored one of its many young supporters with the organization’s first Young Conservation Award. Evelyn Lepsch – an 8th grader at the Peabody School, an independent school in Charlottesville, VA – was tasked with coming up with a project that would make an impact on her local community. She chose to highlight Rainforest Trust’s work.

“All of our students are required to undertake a project when they reach 8th grade, and we do our best to partner the children with local organizations so that they can see just how big of an impact they can have,” said Victoria Young, Evelyn’s teacher and supervisor on this project.

“Evelyn expressed to me that she wanted to focus her project on big cats and conservation, so we sat down and did a bit of research on conservation organizations in Virginia, and that is when we stumbled upon Rainforest Trust,”

she explained.

Evelyn saw our logo and a photo of a Jaguar from one of our projects and knew that Rainforest Trust would be a perfect partner. A few email exchanges later and Evelyn and her grandparents were at our Warrenton, VA headquarters outlining her plan. As an artist, Evelyn knew she wanted to combine her passions, and so she chose to create a mural depicting big cats and our conservation efforts. Over the next few months, Evelyn worked on her masterpiece that would hang in the main entrance of the Peabody School, so that it would inspire students for years to come.

Once complete, Rainforest Trust was invited to attend a presentation being held by the 8th grade class, showcasing all of the students’ projects. We were honored to have the opportunity to support such a passionate young conservationist, and after Evelyn gave a talk about her project, we were able to give a presentation about the importance of conservation work around the world.

It was during this presentation that Evelyn received her Young Conservation Award, and according to her mother, Nicole, she was both surprised and thrilled to receive it.

“Evelyn was so nervous to present her painting as it means a lot to her… ever since she was a small child, Evelyn has had an immense love for big cats and was so happy to be supported by an organization like Rainforest Trust,” she said.

The event was a huge success for the 90 students that participated, and we here at Rainforest Trust could not be more proud to have someone so talented and passionate about conservation as a supporter!

Climate Change Series Part 5: Rainforest Protection Is Most Efficient Tool in Fight Against Climate Change

In our first installment of this series, we explained that the protection of rainforests and the regrowth that is able to take place because of this security is more cost-efficient than any other currently available method for pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“The protection of millions of acres of degraded rainforest and their subsequent natural regrowth would result in massive absorption of carbon as the trees grow,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “The reality is that stopping rainforest destruction can immediately and cost-effectively buy us a crucially needed breathing space to allow us time to transition away from the use of fossil fuels.”

As we continue to deforest our tropical habitats at unsustainable rates, there will remain a need to actively restore high-risk and heavy impacted areas so they recover to a certain level of biodiversity as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, humans will never be able to do as good of a job recreating habitats as Earth’s natural processes. To create and sustain a rainforest for hundreds of years, the right conditions must exist, and they are almost all interdependent. For example, plants require certain temperatures and precipitation levels to thrive, and yet the local climate is very much dependent on the flora and the amount of oxygen and water vapor they release during photosynthesis (for more information, read our third and fourth installments in this series).

Plants are also highly dependent upon varying types of seed dispersal vectors, including many wildlife species that are native to forested habitats. There is also an interconnection among natural life cycles, nutrient levels in soils provided from decaying matter, plant absorption rates and thousands of species that shape their environments. These are just a few in a very long list.

Active restoration does have its place as an emergency measure, but cannot replicate this complex and delicate web. This is exactly why, when time permits, natural regeneration is the better option.

According to new research released in November 2017, “Natural regeneration surpasses active restoration in achieving tropical forest restoration success for all three biodiversity groups (plants, birds, and invertebrates) and five measures of vegetation structure (cover, density, litter, biomass, and height) tested.”

The report, “Ecological restoration success is higher for natural regeneration than for active restoration in tropical forests,” analyzed 133 studies across the tropics, finding that natural regeneration has up to a 56 percent higher restoration success rate for the above data sets when compared to active restoration.

But what’s even more effective than natural regeneration? Protecting the original forested landscape.

Rainforest Trust focuses its conservation efforts on purchasing and protecting intact tropical forests as the most sustainable and efficient way to protect our entire planet. It has safeguarded over 18 million acres in its 30-year history, with plans to more than double this to 50 million acres by 2020 through the SAVES Challenge.

When Rainforest Trust supports the protection of a threatened landscape, it does so for an average of just $2 per acre. When compared to purchasing an acre of deforested land that is likely privately owned and in agricultural use (meaning the cost is significantly greater with an average of $500 per acre), plus estimated restoration costs of $1,500 an acre, saving an acre of healthy rainforest is the better option.

“Basically, [active] restoration is a highly inefficient use of conservation money compared to securing and protecting areas recently cleared or at risk of clearance! Not only is saving existing forested areas at risk more efficient for the limited financial resources we have, but it is better for climate protection,”

Dr. Salaman said.

The amount of carbon dioxide equivalent safeguarded by preventing the deforestation and degradation of just one acre of rainforest is equal to the emissions of 40 cars in the U.S. Deforestation is currently estimated to be responsible for approximately 15 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, about as much as the entire global transportation sector.

“While restoration can play an integral role in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, we must first halt the carbon emissions coming from deforestation,” Dr. Salaman said.

If you would like to help in this mission to conserve rainforests and halt deforestation emissions, please visit the Conservation Action Fund, where donations directly support Rainforest Trust’s most urgent projects.