Voices from the Rainforest: Messias Gomes da Silva, Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardian

To celebrate this World Ranger Day, Rainforest Trust would like to honor the important conservation work of Messias Gomes da Silva and his nephew Matheus, Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardians. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Land and Family

Matheus Gomes da Silva. Photo by REGUA.

The Lagoinha Valley in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state is lush with Atlantic Forest, unique to South America. For generations, Messias Gomes da Silva’s family owned the entirety of the valley, inexorably linking the family’s ancestry with the rainforest. Over time, they sold the majority of the land, which they referred to as the Lagoinha Farm, to sharecroppers. When the family’s deep connection with the land was severed, the rainforest began to suffer. Cattle pastures and housing developments caused immense deforestation in the region. Messias’ family was able to keep a small portion of the land to live on. This is where he spent his childhood, learning the rich history of the property from his family. 

Adulthood brought him to the city for better career opportunities, but he eventually returned to the rainforest of his youth to care for his elderly parents. Messias began farming and regularly hunting nearby animals. Brazilian conservation organization and Rainforest Trust partner Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) took notice of his activities and offered him a position as a ranger. They hoped he would use the skills he developed hunting to monitor their protected areas.  Through his work as a ranger, Messias witnessed firsthand the devastating impact poaching has on an ecosystem, which ultimately inspired him to study protected area management. 

A few years later, by pure coincidence, REGUA was offered one of the sharecropper-owned parcels of land from the Lagoinha Farm. Because of his rich family history in the area, Messias was able to provide valuable information regarding the geographical limits of the property and teach REGUA about the intricate nature of the land. This brought REGUA to focus on mapping and acquiring the remaining properties of the Lagoinha farm. Messias sold them a section of the land that his family still owned, and they sought out other owners to convince them to sell their portions. 

Eventually, REGUA successfully purchased 1,062 acres of the sharecroppers’ land, which decreased anthropogenic threats to the region. REGUA partnered with Rainforest Trust in 2018 to complete two additional purchases, expanding the protected area by 225 acres. REGUA now protects the vast majority of the 2,350-acre Lagoinha Valley ecosystem, now named the REGUA reserve. The organization continues to make land purchases within the region to safeguard vital rainforest. They have installed fencing around the property and have plans to implement proven ecological restoration techniques on areas that have suffered from deforestation. 

Messias currently resides outside of the Lagoinha property and still contributes to the protection of its unique habitat. He understands the importance of properly maintaining the rainforest to protect its biodiversity and ensure clean water access. The Guapiaçu watershed, which offers abundant streams of fresh water, flows within the reserve. This makes the protected area essential in guaranteeing sustainable water resources for the future. The communities of Lagoinha are beginning to understand REGUA’s objectives and are helping to secure the property. 

This monumental chain of conservation efforts occurred because of Messias’ willingness to change his way of life and learn to protect the land he was raised on. He has passed down his knowledge and passion for conservation to future generations. His nephew, Matheus Gomes da Silva, is a young REGUA park ranger in the Guapiaçu Valley and Rainforest Trust Guardian. The history of the da Silva family and Lagoinha rainforest are forever intertwined. The family once owned the land, helped to fight for its protection and will now continue to ensure its survival in perpetuity. 

Header image: The Lagoinha landscape. Photo by REGUA. 

Voices from the Rainforest: Walter Elías Vicente Barrondo, Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardian

Leading up to World Ranger Day on July 31, Rainforest Trust would like to honor the important conservation work of Walter Elías Vicente Barrondo, a Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardian. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Logger to Conservationist

Walter working in the Cerro Amay-Chimel Cloud Forest Reserve. Photo by Stephanie Wester/Rainforest Trust.

Born into a successful logging family in Guatemala, Walter Elías Vicente Barrondo understood since childhood that logging was essential for the survival of his family. Each day growing up, Walter accompanied his father on logging expeditions in the montane forest, and witnessed the fallen trees transforming into wood, then into ash. And after years of watching his father’s success, Walter was determined to become the most accomplished logger in his community. His dreams came to fruition — at just 15 years old, he was able to use a chainsaw perfectly and became renowned for his skill.  

Years later during a village meeting in Chimel, community leaders selected Walter to lead a group of tourists on a field trip through a local reserve that protected cloud forests. They invited him to visit the protected area before the trip and gave him full access to the grounds. Upon his first visit, Walter was amazed by the richness of life within an undisturbed rainforest. The expansive variety of animals and plants forced him to acknowledge nature in a way he never had before. What stood out most prominently to him were the enormous trees looming overhead, acting as guardians to the fragile ecosystem. 

While leading the excursion, Walter was genuinely surprised by the eco-tourists’ interest and appreciation for the remote cloud forests. He had the opportunity to learn from them about the unique biodiversity and the important role trees play in the habitat. He was also educated on the many threats they face from deforestation, including logging. This recognition was an alarming wake-up call for Walter. He felt partially responsible for some of this damage, and was compelled to play a part of protecting the remaining forest. 

Motivated by the same drive that made him one of the most successful loggers in his community, Walter shifted his career focus to forest conservation. He worked with forest technicians to develop management plans and learned how to use Global Positioning Systems to monitor protected areas. He was eventually recommended to work as a park guard for Fundación para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación (FUNDAECO). He is currently stationed at Cerro Amay-Chimel Cloud Forest Reserve, a Rainforest Trust-supported protected area that safeguards one of the largest areas of intact cloud forest left in Central America. As a Rainforest Trust Guardian, Walter is now able to spend his life monitoring and protecting the forest ecosystems that he once took for granted.

Walter and FUNDAECO staff in the reserve. Photo by Stephanie Wester/Rainforest Trust.

Header image: Walter Elías Vicente Barrondo. Photo by Stephanie Wester/Rainforest Trust.

Voices from the Rainforest: Samuel Ngueping, Rainforest Trust Conservation Fellow

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Using Social Media as a Conservation Tool

Samuel Ngueping is a Protected Area Manager with Rainforest Trust Partner Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) in Cameroon. He began working at the ERuDeF Institute in 2013 as Program Development Officer and since, has worked there for many years in several different capacities. Since April 2018, he has been stationed at the ERuDeF head office in Buea, Southwest Region, working as the Director of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management in the Conservation department.

Samuel (holding sign) participating in a sensitization meeting in Bechati. Photo by ERuDeF.

Why did you become a conservationist?

Since childhood, I have had a passion for nature. While attending primary and secondary school in the Western Region of Cameroon, I found through my studies that in the 1940s there were many local, threatened wildlife species, including African Forest Elephants, Lions and Leopards. I discovered that the Santchou Game Reserve was an important elephant hotspot in the region around that time. But unfortunately, I have realized that there are no more elephants in the reserve and no more large mammal species in the entire Western Region of Cameroon.

Because of my dream to see the charismatic African Forest Elephant, I decided to become a conservationist. This motivation prompted me to register in an undergraduate program in Botany at the University of Buea where there are many elephant ranges. I also earned my Master’s Degree in Protected Area Management. All these trainings have enabled me to acquire practical skills in the field of conservation in order to better contribute to the sustainable management of biodiversity as a whole.

What inspires you most or makes you proud about being a Fellow?

Being a Rainforest Trust Fellow connects me with renowned conservationists and allows me to exchange field experiences in diverse conservation specialties with other experts in the field. This lets me contribute the little I know with peers to promote a safe environment where man can live in harmony with nature.

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

The time I felt I have made a difference in conservation was when I created my Facebook page promoting wildlife conservation. I frequently publish articles there promoting biodiversity conservation.

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

Insufficient funding to tackle issues related to conservation in different landscapes; insufficient skill in GIS, wildlife survey and data analysis; insufficient working equipment like cameras, laptops, GPS and bikes.

Tell us about a conservation success.

I have succeeded in reaching millions of people through an awareness campaign for conservation during school and community environmental education and with my Facebook page.

I also engaged many stakeholders (community members, council, civil society organizations, NGOs and government ministries) in the process of the creation and management of the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary and the proposed Njoagwi-Fotabong III-Essoh Attah Wildlife Sanctuary.

I participated in many landscape restoration projects and planted more than 5,000 agroforestry trees through the collaboration of students and community members. In addition, I successfully coordinated the research project for the management of human-elephant conflict in Mount Cameroon National Park in 2012.

Conservation helps us manage the natural resources we have in a sustainable way without compromising the benefits of future generations. It also helps me protect my own life because I can equally be affected by climate change if I don’t act now. Conservation helps me to live in harmony with other living creatures around me.

What has surprised you the most in the field?

I went to the village of Bechati in the Wabane Subdivision, Lebialem Division for environmental education and noticed that children were going to school without shoes and yet still managed to earn good grades. This made me realize that what matters in life is not the amount of wealth you have, but managing what you do have the best way you can.

Header image: Samuel (center, orange shirt) working with local students on a landscape restoration project at a local nursery. Photo by ERuDeF.

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

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Protecting the Sanctuary He Calls Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voices from the Rainforest: Gunwant Mahajan, Rainforest Trust Conservation Fellow

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Discovering the Smithsonia viridiflora

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

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

Floral Pearl of Prachitgad Community Reserve

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

Gunwant working in the field. Photo by AERF.

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

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

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

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

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

Smithsonia viridiflora on the Prachitgad reserve. Photo by AERF.

 

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

Voices from the Rainforest: Rendra Bayu, Rainforest Trust Conservation Fellow

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Educating Future Conservationists 

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

Rendra leading a community meeting. Photo by RASI.

Why did you become a conservationist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the hardest part of your job?

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

Tell us about a conservation success.

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

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

What has surprised you the most in the field?

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

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

Voices from the Rainforest: Herman Michael Lyatuu, Conservation Fellow

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Bringing Technology and Conservation Together

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

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

Why did you become a conservationist?

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

 

What inspires you most about being a Conservation Fellow?

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

 

Tell us about a conservation success.

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

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

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

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

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

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

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

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

Voices From the Rainforest: Hassan Issa, Conservation Fellow

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Calling Protected Areas Home

Hassan Issa is a wildlife and environmental enthusiast working as field assistant for Hirola Conservation Program (HCP) within the Bura East Conservancy in Kenya. Hassan is motivated by field-based conservation and is particularly interested in finding solutions that improve human-wildlife relations. He is particularly keen on saving endangered species such as the Hirola, Reticulated Giraffes and Grevy’s Zebra.

Hassan has an excellent understanding of the local environment and communities as he hails from the larger Garissa County. This has enhanced his capabilities and motivation to work with wildlife and the local community. One of his passions is photographing wildlife, which he says is one of the most effective ways of telling wildlife stories.

Hassan in the field. Photo by Hirola Conservation Program.

Why did you become a conservationist?

It is actually a coincidence because I had originally set out to be a humanitarian worker and a peace ambassador. This was informed by the unfortunate violent extremism that was affecting my home area and the neighboring counties. After graduating high school, I chose to study Development Studies for my undergraduate program. When I completed my coursework in 2017 I had to look for an internship, that is where I met with Dr. Abdullahi Ali who was the mentor I needed. He introduced me to conservation.

After going to the field and interacting with wildlife and seeing the positive impact it had on the society, I immediately knew it was the career path I wanted to take. I was impressed by the impact the HCP and their international partners had on our poor rural society. This inspired me to see the bigger picture of conservation. In turn, I now mentor several younger rangers that I have recruited to be future leaders of conservation for our region.

 

What inspires you most about being a Conservation Fellow?

The most inspiring thing is the fact that I know there are young people out there who are like-minded and are working on the same goal: to protect endangered wildlife and the environment. Robert Swan, the first person in history to walk to both the North and South Poles once said “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it,” so I am inspired by my colleagues’ work to make this planet a better place than they found it.

“Conservation is important because it helps in protecting earth’s resources including air, water, soil and living things from exploitative human impacts. Conservation will ensure these resources benefit the current and future generations to come.”

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

In October 2018, we started implementing the second phase of the Hirola habitat restoration program at the Ishaqbini Conservancy and the Bura East Conservancy. We planted different species of grasses such as Cenchrus ciliaris, Eragrostis superba and Enteropogon macrostachyus, which we identified would do best in that environment and also have significant nutritional values for Hirola.

I was in charge of the field operations. I established grass islands where we worked together with over 50 local people to get rid of Acacia reficiens, an invasive species that makes it hard for native grass to grow. Over a period of 40 days, we planted the grasses on 60-acre plots in each conservancy. I feel like this is my greatest achievement as a conservationist to date because I have not only changed the face of the landscape, but I have also improved the habitat for Hirola and other wildlife species in the sense that there will be an abundance of pasture in the area.

 

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

One of the major challenges we face is poaching, especially for giraffes. The poachers mainly use wire snares which they attach to trees in the hopes that it sticks in the giraffe’s neck or foot. We have been able to rescue a good number by collaborating with mobile veterinary units from Kenya Wildlife Service.

“Leaving my family and friends at home and going to live in the wilderness is the hardest part for me, although ironically, there is nothing I enjoy more than sleeping in the open sky night while staring at the stars and waking up to the chirping of the birds.”

Tell us about a conservation success.

A conservation success story for the organization is the increased protection of Hirola habitat by establishing new conservancies and subsequently the gradual recovery of the Hirola population. This has brought pride to the neighboring community which has seen the media attention and created renewed interest for conservation by the County Government of Gaissa.

Another success story is definitely the reduced number of poaching incidents that we have witnessed over the past two years. This has been possible because of increased patrols and our recent campaign of educating the community that lives around the conservancy. More importantly, our team also documented new populations of poorly understood populations of endangered mammals, such as African wild dogs, Haggard’s Oribi and Grevy’s Zebra.

 

Header image: Critically Endangered Hirola. Photo by Hirola Conservation Program. 

Voices from the Rainforest: Oldrich Van Schalkwyk, Conservation Fellow

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Conservation and Kinship with Animals

Oldrich Van Schalkwyk was born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa. He joined Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) in September 2017 as the manager of the Soutpansberg Protected Area. In his current position, Oldrich is tasked with establishing an inclusive conservation-oriented protected area that offers sustainable livelihood options to local communities. His mandate also includes the protection of threatened wildlife and important ecosystems, many of which are endemic to the western Soutpansberg. Rainforest Trust helped to form the Medike Nature Reserve, which is a part of the Soutpansberg Protected Area.

Oldrich fitting leopard “BB” with a tracking collar. Photo by Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Why did you become a conservationist?

Since I can remember, I’ve always had a love for the natural world. I spend most of my free time in the outdoors. However, from the onset of national television in 1976 in South Africa, it became quite clear to me as a young boy, that our planet was in trouble. It upset me greatly to see documentaries, broadcasted so nonchalantly about logging of tropical jungles or whaling. For instance, it propagated the prosperity which came with the industrial revolution, but with no regard for the amazing species and ecosystems which it destroys. I decided early on that I wanted to live a life which made a difference and stand up for the defenseless, whether man, beast or the habitat we share.

 

“Being a Fellow allows me to fulfill my dream of living a purpose driven life. Rainforest Trust offers us a great support structure, and allows us to expand and conserve new critically important biodiverse areas.”

 

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

The 17th of September 2008 marks the date on which I first captured a leopard on a trail camera in the Soutpansberg Mountain of South Africa. It was a young territorial female, named CC, due to a unique “cc” pattern on her right flank. I was to closely follow her life over the next four years as she raised her cubs and just do what leopards do, until she was sadly killed in mid July 2012, by a poacher’s snare which caught her around her left front paw. This devastating event made me even more determined to rid the Mountain of snares and lobby for the creation of a large protected area.

About a year after CC’s death, I fitted a satellite collar to her adult son, BB. This allowed us to follow his movements over the next 15 months to give us a better insight into the ecology of these elusive apex predators. Around four months later, we received a call from a neighbouring community informing us that a cattle farmer renting grazing from them wanted to poison a cattle calf carcase. The calf was killed the previous night by a leopard. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to talk to the farmer, and convinced him not to kill the leopard and that we would assist him in fortifying his cattle enclosure.

A camera trap was placed at the enclosure and revealed it was BB who killed the calf. This all took place about a mile south of where his mother was killed. I’m happy to report that BB walked the full term of 450 days with his collar until it automatically dropped off and was retrieved. His data gave us valuable insight into the secret life of leopards in the rugged Soutpansberg. BB is still thriving today as a territorial male on the far western Soutpansberg and EWT has since placed several guardian dogs, protecting the livestock farmers’ animals against any stock losses.

 

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

In South Africa, it seems that we have less and less federal support in protecting our natural environment. However, I suppose that’s why you have non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and we will continue to fight the good fight alongside other passionate NGOs like Rainforest Trust.

 

What has surprised you the most in the field?

The dedication of men and woman I share my occupation with. They have to make so many personal sacrifices and sometimes face insurmountable odds, even risking their very lives for the sake of saving a species.

 

“Humanity’s very existence depends on conservation. We are really saving ourselves. Not just in terms of our livelihoods, through the ecosystem services that our natural environment provides, but it is also for good mental health.”

 

What is the hardest part of your job?

Over the years I had the privilege to personally get to know the wildlife under my custodianship. For years, I have shared the life of individual animals I research, even feeling a leopard’s heartbeat in the palm of my hand when fitting a satellite collar, or intimately getting to know each rhino’s unique character while guarding them against poachers. Then one day having to stand at the dead body of one of “your” leopards caught in a poacher’s snare or having to witness a gruesome scene of the senseless slaughtering of a rhino. To me, they are more than animals, they are my friends.

 

Voices from the Rainforest: Esther Kagoya, Conservation Fellow

Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.

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Educating Communities in Conservation

Esther Kagoya is a Ugandan conservationist with over five years of experience in natural resources and freshwater fisheries research. She holds a Masters in Fisheries Science from Pukyong National University in South Korea. Currently, Esther is working as a research scientist for Uganda’s National Fisheries Resource Research Institute (NaFIRRI) in fish stock assessment, capture fisheries management and biodiversity conservation.

She worked as a field officer during the Safeguarding a Global Freshwater Fish Hotspot project. A collaboration between Rainforest Trust, NaFIRRI and local stakeholders that safeguarded 10,448 acres on Lake Nyaguo with two fishing exclusion zones and a wetland buffer around the whole lake.

Esther (Bottom Right) with other Rainforest Trust Conservation Fellows and community members.

 

Why did you become a conservationist?

A combination of my education and field experience have inspired me to become a conservationist. I chose to earn my bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Economics because of my passion for natural resource related issues. I am primarily interested in sustainable management and conservation. I conducted research for my final BSc project on the effects of fisheries policies on fish production and conservation.

In the final months of school, I worked as an intern with NaFIRRI. During this time I was able to further my knowledge of fisheries conservation and obtain the necessary hands-on skills for field work. Eventually, I became a research assistant for NaFIRRI where I work on biodiversity conservation programs.

 

“The program provides easy access to conservation education and funding opportunities. Plus, reading about the successful protection projects conducted by other Fellows on the Rainforest Trust website inspire me and make me proud to be a part of the Conservation Fellows.”

 

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

Being a young conservationist, I am always involved and interested in managing natural resources for the betterment of the future. During my work on the Lake Nyaguo project, I truly felt that I made a difference in the community. Before Rainforest Trust’s involvement in the project, the site was characterized by cultivated and cleared catchment and vegetation, use of illegal fishing gears and methods, low catch rates and declining fish stocks. I was able to get involved in several parts of the project. I worked with the research and project teams to identify several drivers of resource and species degradation. I also had the opportunity to communicate directly with resource stakeholders through community consultative meetings.

After the project’s inception, the stakeholders and communities are now more aware of the benefits of conservation through change in resource use behavior.  This gave them strength to sensitize other community members who were still using illegal fishing gears. The majority surrendered their destructive fishing gears and have transformed their use of destructive resource into practicing healthier ones. In addition, the project in collaboration with the local government enforced the wetland rules and regulations

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

The main challenge I am currently facing is the lack of political interest in conservation. While riparian communities are willing to abide by the best practices of fishing using the stipulated laws, regulations and policies, politicians are communicating contrary messaging by encouraging people to utilize natural resources at their will. The convoluted messaging has made it difficult for resource use communities, specifically fishermen, who try to abide by the positive conservation practices. They are often misled by their politicians to use the equipment and methods that have a harmful effect.

Poverty among resource users is another challenge. Communities always look for short term gains without being mindful of the long term issues. This is mainly attributed to the high poverty levels in these communities and luck of alternative sources of livelihoods.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Conservation is a process that involves change in the mindset of resource users and other key stakeholders of the resource in question. However, this can be arduous because people are more interested in short-term resources and project gains like increasing resource productivity rather than the long-term gains of conservation.   

Engaging communities in behavior change communication for long-term sustainability is quite challenging given that their mindset is fixed on short term gains. However, I believe that this is a gradual process that requires patience and in-depth understanding of the stakeholders and their interests. It is only a matter of time.

Header image: The Lake Nyaguo project site. Photo by Isabirye Aggrey.