Colombia’s El Paujil Reserve Expanded

Header photo courtesy of Fundación ProAves.

Central Colombia’s Magdalena Valley is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Centered around the 700-mile Magdalena River, this lowland rainforest is a biological melting pot with flora and fauna from both the Amazon and the Chocó.

But the valley also has astounding levels of endemism, a result of its relative isolation. The Magdelena rainforest provides vital habitat for many threatened species that live nowhere else, like the Critically Endangered Blue-billed Curassow and the Magdalena Spider Monkey. Researchers consider the latter to be one of Earth’s rarest primates. The area is also home to populations of the Jaguar, Spectacled Bear and Magdalena Lowland Tapir (a Critically Endangered subspecies).

Unfortunately, almost the entire Magdalena rainforest is already gone. Only 85 miles north of Bogotá, the region is under intense pressure for logging, cattle ranching and illicit coca plantations. Deforestation has destroyed over 16.1 million acres (98 percent) of the region’s lowland rainforests.

The Critically Endangered Blue-billed Currasow. Photo courtesy of Fundación ProAves.

But, as of this month, 1,178 more acres of the remaining forest are now safe from threats. After years of negotiations, Rainforest Trust and partner Fundación ProAves made a strategic purchase that blocks access to and expands the only strict-protected area in Colombia’s Magdalena Valley, El Paujil Reserve.

“The loss of all but a fraction of this incredible ecosystem is a devastating blow to so many irreplaceable species,”

said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “And though it has taken us more than 10 years to protect this last stand of lowland Magdalena rainforest next to El Paujil, we rest assured that this purchase blocks development access and provides a buffer to this critically-placed reserve.”

The main focus of the El Paujil Reserve is species recovery and ecological restoration, in collaboration with nearby communities. The protected area offers environmental education activities for children and adults, including a long-running annual festival celebrating the Critically Endangered Blue-billed Curassow.

This project was made possible by the SAVES Challenge and donors to the Conservation Action Fund, with a special note of thanks to Terry and Soni Baltimore, the Doolin Foundation for Biodiversity, the Felburn Foundation, Larry Thompson and the Quick Response Biodiversity Fund.

New Malaysian State Park Tripled in Size Through the Support of Rainforest Trust

In 2018, Rainforest Trust helped establish and then expand Malaysia’s new Kenyir State Park. A designation of an additional 48,466 acres, combined with another logging concession we protected last May, bring the new park to 74,140 rainforest acres — nearly three times the size of San Francisco and three times the park’s original size! The creation and management of this new protected area is a collaborative effort involving the Terengganu State Government and the local nonprofit organization Rimba, in partnership with Rainforest Trust, Panthera and the Woodland Park Zoo.

The Kenyir State Park is the first ever state park for the State of Terengganu and the first state park to be gazetted in Peninsular Malaysia since 2007. The park is phase one of a much larger conservation project that will encompass 250,000 acres that lie within a globally important Tiger Conservation Landscape and critical wildlife corridor.

“Rainforest Trust is thrilled that the Terengganu State Government is taking action to overturn a logging concession and strengthen protection of imperiled rainforests,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “The new park provides an unparalleled opportunity to safeguard habitat for one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring predators – the Malayan Tiger — as well as protect a vital watershed for Malaysians.”

The Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger is a subspecies that lives only on the Malay Peninsula and in the southern tip of Thailand. They face tremendous pressure from poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, with their numbers in Malaysia estimated to be less than 250 individuals as of 2018. But happily, a sizeable number of Malayan Tigers are found to be living within Kenyir State Park, as documented through camera traps.



Rainforest Trust is pleased that the national government and the State of Terengganu are recognizing the value of their natural resources, especially in an era of increasing deforestation in Malaysia. The Kenyir State Park is now three times the size it was in May 2018 and, beyond Malayan Tigers, protects the Critically Endangered Sunda Pangolin and the Endangered Asian Elephant, two other species in decline due to poaching and habitat loss.


This project was made possible by the SAVES Challenge and donors to the Conservation Action Fund, with a special note of thanks to Ann Kaupp, Geo Chen and Angela Huang, Jazmyn McDonald, Joan Hero and William Baumgardt for their leadership gifts.
Header photo: A Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger swimming. Photo by Hans Stieglitz.

Historic Conservation Action: Haiti’s First Private Nature Reserve

More than 1,200 acres on Haiti’s Massif de la Hotte received protected status through the creation of Grand Bois Nature Reserve, making this the first private nature reserve on the island nation. The nature reserve, a result of the combined efforts of the international conservation organizations Rainforest Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and their local partners Haiti National Trust (HNT) and Société Audubon Haiti (SAH), protects part of an amphibian diversity hotspot of global importance.

“Since Haiti is one of the most ecologically devastated countries in the world and the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the establishment of the country’s first private nature reserve is a critical, positive turning point,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “In addition to being a haven for biodiversity, this mountain is also a vital watershed for surrounding communities, and its security will allow for the continued provision of fresh water, an incredibly vital resource to a nation that is still battling remnants of a horrific cholera outbreak.”

Morne Grand Bois is found in Haiti’s Massif de la Hotte mountain range, the number one priority conservation area in the country and one of the most important areas for amphibians in the world. Because 19 amphibians here are critically endangered, the Massif de la Hotte is a Key Biodiversity Area, which is an internationally identified region of global significance.

Grand Bois was first identified as a biodiversity hotspot in 2011 during an expedition led by Dr. S. Blair Hedges, Director of the Center for Biodiversity (Temple University) in collaboration with Philippe Bayard, President of SAH. This expedition documented three frog species new to science (likely to be listed as Critically Endangered once described) and led to the rediscovery of the Tiburon Stream Frog, which had last been recorded in 1985. This rare species of frog, now only known from Grand Bois, is unusual in that it made an evolutionary reversal back to an aquatic lifestyle after its ancestors evolved traits for living in the forest.

The rediscovered Tiburon Stream Frog. Photo by Haiti Audubon Society.

“We knew we needed to take action to protect the country’s staggering diversity of unique and threatened species, many of which are found only in Haiti,” said GWC Chief Scientist and CEO Wes Sechrest. “We have partnered with Haiti National Trust to directly protect, manage and restore this high-priority conservation site in an effort to begin to turn the tide of centuries of unregulated environmental destruction.”

Despite its confirmed biodiversity value, Grand Bois had been subjected to logging pressure and slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Fortunately, over 50 percent of the original forest cover on the mountain is still intact above 1,000 meters elevation. In an effort to limit deforestation and preserve the remaining habitat, the government of Haiti declared Grand Bois a national park in 2015, but the land was privately owned and there were no funds allocated for actual protection. HNT and its partners, including Rainforest Trust and GWC, are working to raise support for a network of private nature reserves across Haiti.

“When I first landed on Grand Bois mountain with Professor Hedges, I immediately thought that a new strategy had to be found to protect this rich and important place from degradation,” said Bayard. “This land hosts a rich biodiversity. It will never come back if we lose it.”


This protected area was made possible by supporters of the Conservation Action Fund and the SAVES Challenge.

Header photo: One of the newly discovered species of frogs in the Grand Bois Nature Reserve. Photo by Haiti Audubon Society.


Rainforest Trust Saves 20 Million Acres of Land for Wildlife and Communities

Last month, Rainforest Trust reached the milestone of protecting 20 million acres of rainforest since our founding. We achieved (and exceeded!) this benchmark with the designation of three community forests in the Oku region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We continued to power through the end of the year, permanently protecting several more land parcels in Africa, Latin America and Asia.  

That is how we work at Rainforest Trust. Our mission is to protect habitat before developers, poachers and other forest exploiters can claim its resources. We work closely with in-country organizations to buy land and manage it as protected areas for wildlife. And as soon as we make one purchase or designation, we turn around and do another, often in the farthest reaches of the tropics.

But it is especially fitting that the three concessions that took us over 20 million protected acres are community conservation projects. A fundamental aspect of our approach is collaborating with local communities (often indigenous peoples). Those living closest to reserves have the most to gain — and lose — in managing forest resources.

So we help to create educational and livelihood opportunities for people on the ground. Indeed, Rainforest Trust’s success requires bottom-up participation.

“Our experience tells us that local buy-in and involvement at the community level are critical if land is to be permanently protected,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “Caring for communities is fundamental to our approach, and these forest concessions around Oku Wildlife Reserve are a great example of this.”

Each of the recently protected concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are community forest concessions that buffer the future Oku Wildlife Reserve. Each community will manage their own land and self-establish sustainability practices. These buffer zones and the future Oku Wildlife Reserve offer protection to the Critically Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla. Estimates place 30 percent of this subspecies here; fewer than 3,800 individuals remain in the wild. Endangered Eastern Chimpanzees also make their home in the primary forests of Oku.

These forest concessions, coupled with the the Oku Wildlife Reserve itself, will protect over 1 million acres of habitat for these primates, as well as other endangered species like the Grey Parrot and Okapi. We partnered with Réserve des Gorilles de Punia and Wildlife Conservation Society DRC to save this habitat.


The critically endangered Grauer’s Gorilla (formerly known as Eastern Lowland Gorilla). Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society DRC.


The Oku forest project is supported by Endangered Species Chocolate and the Conservation Action Fund, and all gifts were matched by the SAVES Challenge.

Header photo: Village schoolchildren. Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society DRC.


New Nature Reserve to Protect Globally Unique Forest in Tanzania

Rainforest Trust has helped establish the Magombera Nature Reserve, a 6,463-acre protected area preserving a globally unique forest ecosystem in East Africa. To create this new reserve, Rainforest Trust teamed up with a consortium of stakeholders that includes a theme park, a foundation, two other conservation organizations, four African villages, two universities, and the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania.

“Magombera is a global priority for so many reasons, ranging from its value to endangered primates, to its role as a wildlife corridor, to its phenomenally diverse plant community,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “Knowing of its extraordinary importance, it is a great privilege for us to band together with such a diverse coalition to work for Magombera’s protection and management.”

The nature reserve was identified as a top 10 Priority Primate Area in Tanzania as it hosts rare primates such as the Endangered Udzungwa Red Colobus Monkey, which is found exclusively around this area of Magombera Forest and nearby Udzungwa Mountains. The cooler habitats in these montane forests shelter many other species as well, such as the Udzungwa Dwarf Galago—one of the smallest primates in the world. Large iconic species such as African Elephants and Hippopotamus are also found in the Magombera Forest, as well as a wide variety of smaller fauna, including endemic species such as the Kilombero Reed Frog and Endangered Magombera Chameleon, which was only discovered here in 2009.

Since the 1970s, conservationists have been campaigning for the protection of Magombera Forest in Tanzania, which research showed would disappear by 2018. This area is part of the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya, a mountain chain only slightly larger than Rhode Island but awash with an astounding amount of unique species. With over 1,000 endemic species, the Eastern Arcs are considered the most biodiverse forests of the African continent. Research has found that the Udzungwa Mountains are one of the most important within the Eastern Arcs for protection. However, without this protection, the forest would have remained  threatened through agricultural expansion and illegal activities including tree-cutting for charcoal and poaching of elephants.

The Endangered Magombera Chameleon. Photo by Andrew Marshall.

Despite the consortium facing significant struggles in the beginning, new financial support from Rainforest Trust, World Land Trust and the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation allowed it to reach its funding target, which was then used to secure land from a private owner of part of the forest.

Additional funds from Rainforest Trust are now also being used to develop and implement a conservation management plan for the new reserve. This will include extensive community engagement as there are more than 30 tribal groups with more than 10,000 people living near the new reserve. The Magombera Forest is a vitally important place for local communities who depend on the adjacent land for farming. Without the invaluable ecological services provided by the adjacent forest, this important agricultural region would be under serious threat from flood and soil erosion. Rainforest Trust’s local partner Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) is administering ongoing conservation and education programs to these communities. The Magombera Nature Reserve will break boundaries in forest conservation by ensuring that tourist entrance fees will go to both local communities to provide alternative livelihood options and the managing government authority.


With the support of our generous friends around the world, our partners and the SAVES Challenge, this project is a success. A special thank you to Eric Veach and Luanne Lemmer, Harry Amin and Ariel Premium Supply for their leadership support.

Header photo: Magombera landscape. Photo by Tanzania Forest Conservation Group.


Protection for Key Biodiversity Area Expanded in Ecuador

At the end of 2018, Rainforest Trust and Fundación Jocotoco expanded the Buenaventura Tropical Reserve in southwestern Ecuador by 362 acres.

Buenaventura is part of the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena ecoregion. This area, restricted to a narrow strip between the Andes and the Pacific in Colombia and Ecuador, is a biodiversity hotspot. But the region is also one of the world’s most threatened. Here, only patches remain of once sprawling forests. Rainforest Trust and Jocotoco’s ultimate goal is to protect over 12,000 acres with the reserve to preserve the remaining intact forest.

The ecoregion has many microhabitats, a phenomenon stemming from shifting rainfall patterns. While one corner may only see 15 inches of rain per year, another may see upwards of 150 inches. This microhabitat diversity has lead to incredible ecological diversity. This small corner of South America is home to over 11,000 vascular plant species and 900 bird species.

Buenaventura covers both dry and wet microhabitats, thus protecting habitat for many species. The reserve is home to 61 bird species, including 15 globally threatened bird species — the most of any private reserve in Ecuador. It’s also the most important habitat for the Endangered and recently discovered El Oro Parakeet and El Oro Tapaculo.

The Endangered El Oro Parakeet, protected by the Buenaventura Reserve.

Other species in the reserve include nine recently discovered amphibian species. Out of these nine species, five have never been seen outside the reserve. The forest is also habitat for the Critically Endangered Ecuadorian Capuchin Monkey and some rare plant species.

But the real value of the new protected land comes at a landscape level. In such a fragmented forest ecosystem, connecting viable habitat is crucial to conservation. Any hyperdiverse ecosystem such as this requires large reserves to protect species. But in a mountainous region such as this, large reserves play an important role countering the effects of global climate change. As the climate warms, species move up mountain slopes to stay cool. Hence, any reserve without an elevation gradient may be defunct in a few years. Expanding Buenaventura will expand the reserve’s range of elevation, and thus, its conservation potential.

Buenaventura is part a larger conservation vision to protect a 200,000-acre corridor in Ecuador’s El Oro Province. As of now, the reserve is the only reserve in the proposed corridor. But with continued expansions, the dream of a thriving and intact Chocó gets closer and closer.

This project was made possible through the support of the SAVES Challenge and the Conservation Action Fund. A special thanks to the Butler Foundation and Hans and Hildegarde Schaefer for their leadership support.

Establishment of Galápagos Nature Reserve

Rainforest Trust and Fundación Jocotoco worked jointly to purchase a 250-acre property of threatened humid forest in the highlands of San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos. The Galápagos archipelago has an extraordinary concentration of endemic wildlife, and is recognized as an international conservation priority without equal. The property now secured for protection contains key breeding habitat for the Critically Endangered Galápagos Petrel as well as numerous other globally threatened and endemic species.

“As I saw firsthand in my recent visits to the Galápagos, Galápagos wildlife is under tremendous pressure from rapidly spreading invasive species,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “The urgency to protect this unique habitat and the exceptional species that depend on it is very real.”

In 1835, Charles Darwin arrived at the Galápagos Islands and over the course of five weeks discovered an astonishing diversity of unique species found nowhere else in the world. His observations, which began on the island of San Cristóbal, laid the groundwork for what is considered one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of all time — the theory of evolution by natural selection. His insight changed forever the way we perceive the world.

The Critically Endangered Galápagos Petrel. Photo by Lip Kee.

This relatively young island chain, comprised of 128 islands, islets and rocks, was formed millions of years ago by volcanoes – some of which are still active and shifting land masses today. However, only 18 of the islands are considered large and only four are inhabited by humans. While 97 percent of the archipelago’s emerged and uninhabited landmass is protected as a national park, the four islands on which humans reside – including San Cristóbal – are extremely vulnerable to development threats, including invasive species arriving with container ships. With three extinct volcanoes dominating this island, its rich soils and lush montane vegetation have long attracted farming and settlements, such as the capital of the Galápagos province, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The southern highlands of San Cristóbal are dominated by private properties which are used for agriculture, and the remaining habitat is highly threatened by invasive species ranging from plants and livestock to parasites.

“The communities and governmental agencies have done tremendous work on the Galápagos. Fundación Jocotoco is happy to join forces with them on San Cristóbal, the only island where no colony of the Galápagos Petrel is found within the national park. Jointly, we will protect this critically endangered species and other threatened species,” said Dr. Martin Schaefer, President of Fundación Jocotoco.

To protect the vulnerable species on San Cristóbal, Fundación Jocotoco and Rainforest Trust established the Galápagos Nature Reserve. Rainforest Trust is supporting Fundación Jocotoco’s work to protect additional habitat that will combine with this purchase for a total of 568 acres. With these efforts and our subsequent, sustained conservation activities, we will permanently secure one of the most unique, scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on Earth.

This purchase was made possible with the support of the SAVES Challenge and the leadership gifts from the Avaaz Foundation, Global Wildlife Conservation, The Marshall-Reynolds Foundation, Shayde Christian, Spindrift Family Foundation, Emmerson Bowes, Biha Chen and Jackson Loomis and David B. Donsker.


Header photo: The Endangered San Cristóbal Mockingbird. Photo by Rainforest Trust.


New Protected Area Designated to Safeguard Endangered Bats and Rats

The Municipality of Tubajon in the Philippines just announced the designation of a new protected area on Dinagat Island, one of the country’s smaller islands off the north coast of Mindanao. The Tubajon Bat Sanctuary is approximately 3,500 acres and secures habitat for numerous threatened and endemic species such as the Dinagat Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat, the shrew-like Endangered Dinagat Gymnure (also known as the Dinagat Moonrat) and the endemic Dinagat Tarsier, a recently discovered primate distinct from its relatives, the Philippine Tarsier.

A bat roost on Dinagat Island. Photo by Green Mindanao.

Rainforest Trust teamed up with local partner GREEN Mindanao to create this new reserve as the second stage of a much larger project that will establish four new protected areas for a total of more than 16,000 acres — an area larger than Manhattan — in order to save the island’s unique and endangered fauna and flora. Dinagat Island is home to 400 plant species and more than 100 bird species.

“This designation by the Tubajon government will help provide a permanent safe haven for many unique species on Dinagat,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “It is an important step in protecting this vital habitat from mining and other threats.”

Community engagement and involvement in the creation and management of the new protected areas are integral components of the project. Led by teachers, church workers and local indigenous groups, there is a palpable desire for conservation and sustainable development on Dinagat Island, as evidenced by community-led protests against destructive mining companies. A management council composed of representatives from the municipal government and local people will oversee the new protected areas, with forest guards and local police enforcing new regulations

An anti-mining congresswoman native to the island along with local officials are negotiating with mining interests to select where the new protected areas will be established. So far, these officials have secured the approval of nine out of 10 participating mining companies. Financial support will be utilized to map and delineate the new protected areas, as well as enable workshops for management and protection training. Patrol equipment, ranger stations, wildlife habitat assessments and policy adoption are key components of this project.

Header photo: The Near Threatened Dinagat Tarsier. Photo by Kok Leng Yeo.


Major Acquisition Campaign to Protect World’s Most Unique Site for Biodiversity

On Colombia’s Caribbean shores stands the highest coastal mountain on earth. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a corrugated pyramid of rock that rises almost four miles high. This ancient massif dates back to the Jurassic period and contains a microcosm of the entire planet from deserts to rainforests to glaciers, with an extraordinary diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else. It is regarded as the planet’s single most important site for threatened and endemic biodiversity as it boasts the highest concentration of endemic bird species in the world. As a result, the prestigious journal Science dubbed the area the “Most Irreplaceable Site on Earth” and a major priority for biodiversity conservation.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Photo courtesy of ProAves.

Located on the Sierra Nevada’s most vulnerable northwestern flank – less than ten miles from the city of Santa Marta – is perhaps the world’s most important nature reserve – El Dorado. Established in 2006 with Rainforest Trust support, we have helped our Colombian partner Fundacion ProAves greatly expand the reserve’s protected area over the past decade, safeguarding habitat for threatened species such as the Critically Endangered Santa Marta Toro and the Santa Marta Harlequin Frog. Only one individual of the Santa Marta Toro has been documented in over 100 years, and it was found in the El Dorado Bird Reserve in 2011 and identified by Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. The elusive species is restricted to the northwest slope of the Santa Marta mountain range, making it exceptionally vulnerable.

The Santa Marta Parakeet. Photo courtesy of ProAves.

Following decades of uncontrolled colonization and agricultural expansion, only 15 percent of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s original vegetation remains unaltered. Principle threats include the expansion of farms, pasturelands and coffee plantations. In addition, the construction of new vacation homes poses a growing danger to the forests.

In a final push to consolidate this crucial reserve, Rainforest Trust is seeking $1,824,957 to strategically acquire key properties and protect 12,179 acres to provide a safe haven for the planet’s most important biodiversity hotspot. With rampant deforestation placing this biodiversity jewel at tremendous risk, our partner has surveyed the landscape to locate the most critical areas for endangered and endemic flora and fauna. These are the areas that will be urgently protected in perpetuity. In addition, a multifaceted conservation program has been implemented that includes reserve protection, eradication of invasive and non-native Mexican pines, a massive habitat restoration program and installing nest-boxes to help the Santa Marta parakeet populations rebound. The ongoing expansion of the reserve is critical to safeguard the area’s wildlife. The new 12,179-acre sanctuary will safeguard the future of countless endangered species that depend on this unique area for their survival.

Header photo:

Landscape view of El Dorado. Photo courtesy of ProAves.


Strategic Land Purchases Continue in Guatemala’s Cerro Amay Cloud Forest

In 2018, Rainforest Trust helped purchase multiple properties including a 119-acre parcel — about the size of Vatican City — to expand the Cerro Amay-Chimel Cloud Forest Preserve in Guatemala. The preserve was just created last year, when Rainforest Trust and local partner Fundación para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación (FUNDAECO) purchased six properties totaling 995 acres within the Cerro Amay Cloud Forest, which is among the largest areas of intact forest left in Central America.

“This new land purchase in Cerro Amay is another critical step in our efforts to halt the threats to this unique habitat,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “This project will also benefit local communities as it will help promote ecotourism and implement sustainability initiatives in the surrounding indigenous villages.”

As a tropical montane cloud forest that sits atop a limestone plateau, the Cerro Amay Cloud Forest yields a spectacular and biodiverse refuge for native wildlife and flora. The preserve safeguards threatened species such as the Critically Endangered Guatemala Spikethumb Frog, Yucatán Black Howler Monkey and the Endangered Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey. Several salamanders new to science have also been discovered in this region.

The Critically Endangered Guatemala Spikethumb Frog. Photo by Josiah H. Townsend.

Despite this ecosystem holding significant biodiversity value, extensive road building and deforestation have occurred since protection efforts began in 2008. Loggers currently extract cloud forest oaks at an estimated rate of three to four truckloads per week on the main access road. To combat this degradation, Rainforest Trust and its local partner will continue to make strategic land purchases to expand the Cerro Amay-Chimel Cloud Forest Preserve through 2019.

This project was made possible through the SAVES Challenge, with special thanks to Harvey and Heidi Bookman for their leadership support.


Main photo: The Endangered Yucatán Black Howler Monkey. Photo by Greg the Busker.