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.

Business in Key Biodiversity Areas: Minimizing the Risk to Nature

Gland, Switzerland, 17 April 2018 (IUCN) – A roadmap for businesses operating in some of the most biologically significant places on the planet has been issued today by the Key Biodiversity Area Partnership involving 12 of the world’s leading conservation organisations – including IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The report, Guidelines on Business and KBAs: Managing Risk to Biodiversity, outlines steps that businesses can take to actively safeguard biodiversity and avoid contributing to its loss. It recommends businesses of all sizes and across all sectors to adopt 15 guidelines to better manage their direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on places deemed critical for the conservation of species and ecosystems worldwide, known as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).

The report addresses issues such as avoidance of impacts, limits to biodiversity offsets, as well as financial guarantees and corporate reporting. It guides businesses in managing the potential losses and other risks associated with their negative impact on biodiversity, including potential impacts on access to financing and increased company exposure to negative press.

“These new guidelines will help businesses protect the most important natural places on our planet, and so preserve the natural resources they so strongly depend on,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “By managing their impacts on nature, businesses deliver positive conservation results, helping address the escalating crisis of biodiversity loss.”

The report and associated website aim to help businesses demonstrate good environmental practice and compliance with voluntary sustainability standards or certification schemes. It also explains how companies operating in KBAs can make a positive contribution to biodiversity by investing in conservation actions and sharing relevant information about the KBAs, including data collected in Environmental Impact Assessments, baseline studies and monitoring activities, with the KBA Partners. Its aim is to assist governments in authorization decisions related to business operations.

“It is our hope that companies and governments will embed these guidelines into their environmental policies, voluntary sustainable standards, financial safeguards and regulations,” says Patricia Zurtita, CEO of Birdlife International. “But we also need other actors – local communities and policy makers, civil society and scientists – to hold business accountable and ensure that the unique biodiversity that defines Key Biodiversity Areas is safeguarded for all”.

Following the adoption in 2016 of a global standard for the identification of KBAs, the KBA Partnership was created to map, monitor and conserve the areas. More than 15,000 KBAs have been identified so far, many of which currently support commercial activities, such as farming, fisheries, forestry and mining. Although the global KBA network does not yet cover all geographical regions or species groups, the KBA Partnership is working to fill these gaps.

“For the first time the conservation community has come together to use standard criteria to identify the most important sites for conservation of species and habitats on the planet,” says Dr Andrew Plumptre, Head of the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat. “Ideally, businesses and governments should avoid any harmful activities at these sites. However, if developments are to go ahead, then this report provides crucial advice on how to minimise negative impacts on the species and habitats for which KBAs are important.”

“The Tiffany & Co. Foundation is proud to support IUCN in this important effort to protect some of the world’s most biologically rich and diverse places,” says Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chairman and President of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, which funded the project. “These guidelines provide an important roadmap for businesses committed to advancing the long-term preservation and stewardship of the Earth’s natural resources, which all of society depends on.”

Notes to editors

Guidelines on Business and KBAs builds on input provided at an end user consultation workshop held in Gland, Switzerland, from 4 to 5 July 2016, and during a public consultation from 2 December 2016 to 17 March 2017.

A Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas was adopted by IUCN in April 2016 and launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September of that year. It comprises a set of globally standardised criteria for the identification of KBAs worldwide. It establishes a consultative, science-based process for KBA identification, founded on the consistent application of global criteria with quantitative thresholds that have been developed through an extensive consultation exercise spanning several years.

About the KBA Partnership

The KBA Partnership is made up of 12 of the world’s leading international nature conservation organisations. In addition to IUCN and Birdlife International, this includes: Amphibian Survival Alliance, Conservation International,Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Global Environment Facility, Global Wildlife Conservation, NatureServe, Rainforest Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF.

The KBA Partnership aims to enhance global conservation efforts by systematically mapping internationally important sites and ensuring that scarce resources are directed to the most important places for nature. The impact of this vital conservation work will be enhanced by promoting targeted investment in conservation action at priority sites.


For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, Ewa.Magiera@iucn.org, +41765053378

Supporter Spotlight: Cindy Starr

Here at Rainforest Trust we are preparing to celebrate Earth Day, and as a lead-up we would like to highlight a supporter who, inspired by this day, has been involved in protecting the rainforest in many ways. Cindy Starr can trace her love for the environment all the way back to the very first Earth Day at the University of Michigan in 1970. It was there that she heard a speech by a leader in the field of ecology that moved her to one day take action.

Fast forward to 2009, and still inspired by her first Earth Day all those years ago, Cindy set out to find an environmental nonprofit to support.

“I was first introduced to Rainforest Trust by a friend, but back then it was relatively small and called World Land Trust US,” she said. “Though small, I continued my support as I felt [the organization] had an immediate impact on climate, species diversity, preservation of land for indigenous peoples and the employment of local residents as patrols… It was essentially a home run nonprofit that covered all the bases.”

Since then Cindy has focused her philanthropy through the lens of “think globally, act locally” but tweaked it to fit her own personal style, as she both supports organizations in her hometown of Cincinnati as well as globally focused nonprofits like Rainforest Trust.

Through Rainforest Trust, Cindy has been able to reach her goal by acting locally through groups like her employer sanctioned “Green Team” and her own personal philanthropy to address the global issues of habitat loss and climate change.

“We started recycling and energy conservation projects at our various office locations, and we began our Earth Week collection of dollars and loose change in our lunch rooms in 2009,” she said. “I recommended Rainforest Trust to the Green Team because I knew that our gift, which would be relatively small, would purchase at least a few acres… Rainforest Trust offered [us] the most bang for the buck.”

Cindy is committed to saving rainforest and protecting the planet, and she finds different ways to work this commitment into her life and the lives of those around her. Besides making regular contributions and encouraging others at her office to do the same, Cindy has included Rainforest Trust in her will. And in 2016, when her daughter was married, she shared her passion with guests.

“The wedding was very eco-minded… It was held in a botanical garden, and the food was vegetarian,” Cindy said. “Because guests depart wedding receptions with their own gift nowadays, my daughter and I wanted the gift to be something that wouldn’t end up in a wastebasket, so we purchased ten acres of Red Panda Forest Reserve habitat in Nepal for every guest.”

All told, through her various channels of giving, Cindy has protected over 1,500 acres of rainforest that not only save species but also support local communities and protect our one and only planet. So this Earth Day, take a page out of the Cindy Starr playbook and get involved so that we can ensure that in another 30 years there will be an Earth left to celebrate!

Camera Traps Provide Insight into Spectacled Bear Populations in Ecuador

Conservationists and researchers working with Rainforest Trust’s partner Fundación Jocotoco installed 20 camera traps in the Antisanilla, Yanancocha and Tapichalaca Reserves in Ecuador as part of a Spectacled Bear study to document the species’ population. Sponsored by Rainforest Trust, this study aims to create a targeted monitoring system that will enable the partner to estimate the amount of bears residing within and passing through these reserves.

This data is crucial to collect, as it is expected that the global species’ population is decreasing due to habitat fragmentation as well as poaching. Rainforest Trust is supporting this study because gathering bear population estimates will enable its partner to better understand how to manage activities within and around the reserves that affect the species. The camera installations could also help monitor changes in the altitudinal distributions of the bears, as well as potentially uncover illegal hunting.

Eight Spectacled Bears have been identified through camera trap evidence in the Tapichalaca Reserve since 2015, and four have been registered in the Yanacocha Reserve. Seven individual bears – including a female and its cub – have been documented in the Antisanilla Reserve, although this data was not gathered during this specific study.

The partner is currently sorting the bear images so they can better identify the individuals by their face markings. In addition to confirming the species’ presence in the reserves, the results of this ongoing study have provided unexpected insights. In some camera trap images, instead of the distinctive black and white facial markings of a Spectacled Bear, researchers saw the piercing caramel eyes of a Puma staring intensely at something just below the camera lens.

Pumas are some of the most widely distributed mammals, as they have a geographic range from Canada down to Chile. Although they are found in numerous countries, these large cats are threatened by the fragmentation of their habitat. They are also challenged by the poaching of their prey, as well as retaliatory hunting if they disturb livestock populations.

A Thriving Sanctuary for Bird Watchers in the Bolivian Amazon

Thanks to support from Douglas Wilson, this Rainforest Trust-site provides protection for highly threatened birds, empowers a local community and prevents logging that would have decimated a vital rainforest habitat.

For centuries, the small village of San Jose de Uchupiamonas, nestled in the Sadiri Mountain of Bolivia, sat isolated in the vast rainforest, surrounded by one of the most mega biodiverse protected areas on the planet. The rainforest supports over 400 bird species, including the Vulnerable Military Macaw. Groups of Vulnerable White-lipped Peccaries are frequently seen in the area, as are Jaguars and Pumas. The jungle breathes life with the symphony of owls, tanagers, tyrannulets, macaws and many others, making it a paradise for bird watchers.

In the late 1990s, the Bolivian government created a 60-mile road through this lush rainforest habitat of Sadiri to the village. Early on in its existence, the road through the rainforest and foothill forest of the mountain put enormous pressure on the delicate forest ecosystem and spurred a rise in the unsustainable logging of the area’s large and valuable Mahogany trees.

In an effort to avert this crisis, Rainforest Trust partnered with the Bolivian organization Pueblo Nuevo to investigate options with the community. The area’s spectacular natural beauty and abundance of biodiversity led the groups to determine that ecotourism was a feasible long-term strategy for conservation in this region.

In 2008, the Uchupiamonas community conceived an idea for Sadiri Lodge to create a touristic sanctuary, with the aim to save the forest and prevent proposed logging projects. The name Sadiri is a derivation from the word S’adiri, which means in the local indigenous language Tacana “the old resting place,” making reference to its location at 2,953 feet, just at the boundary between the Andean highlands and the Amazonian flatlands.

Rainforest Trust’s partner began the tourism development project, and in 2010 the indigenous village of San Jose de Uchupiamonas voted overwhelmingly in favor of a final plan to protect a wide swath of the forest they control by creating a Tourist Refuge (a strict protected area). Rainforest Trust’s partner completed Sadiri Lodge in 2013 and saved over 62,000 acres of rainforest from logging.

Since its establishment, guests and bird watchers have been flocking to Sadiri Lodge from all corners of the world. Some of the most popular wildlife to observe are six different species of macaws, including colorful Blue-and-yellow Macaws, rare Scarlet Macaws and noisy Military Macaws. Visitors can see nine owl species, such as the majestic Rufescent Screech-owl, Subtropical Pygmy-owl and Amazonian Pygmy-owl. There is also a rich variety of endemic birds such as the Rufous-crested Coquette, Yungas Tyrannulet and Emerald Toucanet.

Rainforest Trust President and avid bird watcher, Dr. Robert S. Ridgely, had the privilege of visiting Sadiri Lodge and explained, “If you are fortunate enough to have found your way to Sadiri, it´s safe to say you are in for a fabulous time in some of the most beautiful and pristine lower foothill forest anywhere. The place abounds with birds, from minuscule coquettes to huge and noisy macaws…If you are not a birder, you may become one!…They have created the mecca, and all for the benefit of the indigenous San Jose de Uchupiamonas Community.”

To learn how to support areas that are vital for threatened species and communities, please visit the Conservation Action Fund.