International Women’s Day

Ednah Nyambu, Kenya

Ednah works with our partner Nature Kenya’s Saving the Taita Apalis Program, protecting a Critically Endangered endemic bird species in the future Taita Apalis Forest Reserve.

What is a typical day like for you in the forest?

My day begins with an early morning hike to one of the largest refuges for the Critically Endangered Taita Apalis. Inside the forest, I patrol to assess forest disturbance in the form of grazing, fuelwood fetching and logging. I also carry out bird monitoring through identifying and recording birds species both heard and seen to assess abundance in the forest.

What surprises you about your job?

I was surprised about how willing and eager the local community is in wanting to learn more about the endemic species of the Taita Hills forest. Most importantly, they want to see the small bird, the Taita Apalis. I have seen the values of science through fieldwork and its contribution towards decision making and knowledge generation, especially here in the Taita Hills.

What do you like most about working in conservation?

Informing the community of the uniqueness and endemism of the Taita Hills forests and the need to protect and conserve the forests is one of the activities I enjoy doing most in this job. Taita Hills is my home, and as a young, upcoming conservation leader, I feel honored to contribute whatever I can to sustainable conservation of forests for myself and future generations.


Ndelle Lizett Messame, Cameroon

As a project assistant with our partner Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society, Lizett plans and implements field activities and species inventories. Here she is pictured (center) visiting with a baby chimpanzee in rehabilitation at the Douala-Edea National Park.

What would you like to share about your work?

As a woman conservationist, I feel very special because so many women shy away from this kind of job and consider it to be a dirty job. But they don’t know what it feels like conserving nature and ensuring sustainability of our natural resources. In addition, ever since I started working as a conservationist, I noticed that the interest I have in protecting nature is adding to my capacity as a mother to protect every person around me.

What is a typical day like in the forest?

A typical day in the forest is tedious, especially when I have to make my way through a dense forest of twisted trees. But in the end, you find yourself happy for having contributed to the promotion of nature conservation.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is to get the support of a village that has never been sensitized about conservation activities.


Kamala Rai, Nepal

Kamala Rai is a social mobilizer assisting with our partner KTK-BELT’s empowerment and conflict transformation programs. She is seated (center), documenting local traditions with community members in the future Lumbasumba Conservation Area.

Why did you choose this job?

As I got to know about the Lumbasumba Conservation Project, I thought this was my best opportunity to make locals aware of threats and conservation issues, educate them and serve my village by protecting ecosystems, habitats and species through community-based landscape conservation.

What do you like most about working in conservation?

Conservation provides long-term benefits for the locals by protecting unique habitats, forests, plants, butterflies, animals and wetlands. I think conservation supports sustainable development goals rather than promoting short-term benefits.

What is the hardest part of your job?

I think the work we are doing teaches us how to work further. I feel attached to every part of the project and feel proud for serving my village and the conservation of surrounding nature. Thus, I don’t feel anything is hard about this job and assigned responsibilities.


Petga Feukeu Emilie Laure, Cameroon

As a field assistant for our partner Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society, Petga supports eco-health education and outreach activities associated with Douala-Edea National Park.

What do you like most about working in conservation?

What I like most about this work is participating in the protection of the environment, nature, animal species, plants and rare resources. I appreciate the opportunity to sensitize and integrate the community into conservation projects, thus making it possible to shift their value to the biodiversity of a region.

What is a typical day like for you in the forest?

A typical day in the forest is full of emotions and excitement to discover new surprises, but it is also a moment of escape from the daily grind of the city and a rest for the spirit.

What has surprised you about your work?

In the course of my work, I was surprised by the hospitality of the communities bordering the national park which facilitates the completion of the teams on the ground in an area where there are no accommodation facilities.


Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. The 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.

Voices from the Rainforest: Jone Niukula, Rainforest Trust 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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Inspiring Iguana Conservation in Fiji

Jone Niukula. Photo by National Trust of Fiji.

Jone Niukula has experience managing the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park and Yadua Taba Wildlife Sanctuary, both natural heritage sites in Fiji. He has contributed to endangered species conservation programs for the Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel and endemic iguanas. Since 2002, Jone has worked for the National Trust of Fiji.

Why did you become a conservationist?

After studying Geography and Geology at the University of the South Pacific, I was quite excited about finding work in the environmental field. I lived close to the National Trust Director’s home at that time, and she invited me to apply for a job at the Trust. When I applied, I learned that the Trust’s main purpose was not only to protect nature, but our cultural heritage as well.

 

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

I like to believe that my strength lies in communicating and working with the traditional landowners and the native community. My work includes overlooking the iguana conservation program in Fiji and achieving positive relationships with the community that helps run the programs through their support and involvement.

What has surprised you the most in the field?

The existence of different kinds of species in a relatively small country like Fiji. In addition, the species are endemic or at least a sub-species or race special to an area and found nowhere else in the world.

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

I believe I’m one of the few, if not the only, Fellow from a Pacific Island country this year. So my participation in this program shows the significance of our fauna and flora in the Pacific and the conservation work that is currently being carried out.

I’m also happy to participate because I have the opportunity to be a part of the protection of a unique iguana species that occurs only in the Pacific that’s also a delicacy for the traditional landowners. Tell us about a conservation challenge in your job.

Tell us about a conservation challenge.

A major conservation challenge in Fiji is convincing landowners to surrender their land or resources to save a species. Fijians have come to realize in the past few decades the value of natural resources and that they can receive money if they surrender land or resources. Fortunately, for a few programs, some species of concern have cultural value that will certainly support the need to save them.

Tell us about a conservation success.

Monuriki Island was identified in the Iguana Specialist Group meeting in 2004 as a priority site for conservation of the Fijian Crested Iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis). However, before 2004 and until 2009, there have been numerous requests made to the landowners to remove goats that were introduced to the island in the 1970s and were a major cause of degradation on the island.

In 2010, a team from the National Trust visited the landowners to request for the removal of iguanas for a captive breeding program. This was well received by a newly installed chief who also stated that he would order the removal of that goats, which surprised and excited the visiting conservation team.

And in 2015, the first 32 captive-bred Crested Iguanas were released back on Monuriki Island. In 2017, the captive breeding program was brought to an end when 16 of the original 20 iguana founders, and an additional 32 captive bred offspring, were released. Only a few young iguanas remain in captivity at the moment and are set for release in June.

Between February and June 2017, 35 wild iguanas (not passing through captivity) were caught and marked. Many of these were young animals that would have hatched after the goat and rat eradication was completed in late 2011. This sample of iguanas revealed that, within five years, the small remaining population of iguanas is reproducing and recruiting back into the recovering habitat.

Why is conservation important?

This question can have different answers depending on which stakeholder you are in the program. But the most important answer is to save species and ecosystems from being lost forever from this world.

 

Header image: The Fijian Crested Iguana. Photo by Benjamin T.

World Lion Day: The Role of CGI in Conservation

Disney’s The Lion King reboot has made quite an impact. Everything in the film — from the vast African savannas down to the dung beetles — is created from computer generated imagery (CGI), making for an unparalleled visual experience. While filmmakers and critics are discussing how the technological advancements will change the way that movies are made, The Lion King also brings about a new question: Could advanced animation play a role in the future of conservation? 

The wide variety of surreally life-like animals in the opening ballad “Circle of Life” almost fools audiences into believing that Africa is filled with an abundance of thriving species, living together in the same fantastical ecosystem. The sad truth is that the immense landscapes and unique species featured throughout the film face serious danger from human influence, habitat loss and the climate crisis.

Animals gathering for “Circle of Life.” Photo by Disney, via Associated Press.

Lions like Simba and his family, the brave rulers of the grasslands in the film, often fall prey to big game trophy hunters. In fact, their population numbers have been cut in half since the debut of the original animated film in 1994. Supporting character species are also in danger. Mandrills like Rafiki are over-hunted for the bushmeat trade. A recent study estimates that climate change may wipeout meerkats, like Timon, within the next 50 years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed Giraffes as Vulnerable in 2016 and the Black Rhinoceros Critically Endangered in 2011. Even the worst characters in the movie, the Spotted Hyenas, are suffering from population decline. Not to mention, more than 20,000 African Elephants are poached each year for their ivory. And with the ban lifted on importing sport-hunted elephant trophies into the U.S. from certain African countries, the film’s elephant graveyard is a looming reality.   

But while the utopia of biodiversity The Lion King portrays may not be in sync with reality, the technology used to create it could be beneficial. The morphology of animals on the brink of extinction could be “saved” for future scientific analysis, not just entertainment. CGI could create the virtual simulations necessary to study vulnerable species and habitat in a way that does not disturb delicate ecosystems. In these ways, the perfection of CGI technology can serve as a form of preservation. These advancements could make it possible to not only learn about vulnerable species and their habitat, but see them through digital recreation. This could be incredibly beneficial for the future of conservation and conservation education. 

The central theme in The Lion King is understanding our place in the ‘circle of life.’ Since humans are the main threat to these species and their habitats, it’s our job to protect those that remain. If we don’t take immediate conservation action to mitigate anthropogenic threats and the negative effects of climate change, the only route for preservation may be a virtual one. 

Simba with Timon and Pumbaa. Photo by Disney, via Associated Press.

 

Header image: A male lion. Photo by Pieter.

Rainforest Trust Statement on IPCC Climate Change and Land Report

Today, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that protecting the world’s forests to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and prevent greenhouse gas emissions plays a critical role in climate action. 

While reducing fossil fuel use is vital to mitigating the climate crisis, emissions reduction alone will not halt global warming. The report primarily focuses on land conservation and discussed the drastic effects of deforestation and agriculture on the planet. “Land plays an important role in the climate system. Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “At the same time natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry.” 

Land conservation is crucial to the planet’s sustainability and protecting it will play a key role in mitigating climate change. But to conserve land successfully, we need to overhaul agriculture. There is a direct correlation between the climate crisis and global ecological stability. Deforestation both releases carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere and destroys forests that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, making it a double threat to the climate crisis. “Deforestation is a significant part of the problem, but better management of the forests is an even bigger part of the solution,” said Francis Seymour, a senior fellow for World Resources Institute. “It’s not just the carbon spewed into the air when a forest is converted into something else, it’s that lost opportunity to keep that natural carbon-capture-and-storage factory up and running.” 

Rainforest Trust’s mission is identifying and protecting the world’s most vulnerable species and ecosystems. We collaborate with local partners to help communities self-develop the tools necessary to use their land sustainably. This UN IPCC report confirms that our 30-year-strong conservation model — saving rainforests with the people closest to them — is inherent to climate action. 

Amphibians and Trees Further Protected in Puerto Rico

The Sierra de Cayey, in the southeast corner of Puerto Rico’s Central Mountain Range, houses some of the island’s most important ecosystems. The site is crucial to Puerto Rico’s endemic amphibians and plants, as well as local birds. But expanding agricultural development threatens to destroy the region’s forests. The growing specter of climate change could also upend these fragile, climate-dependent ecosystems.

In light of these threats, Rainforest Trust and local partner Para la Naturaleza (PLN) have worked to protect these forests. And this summer, the two organizations purchased 112 acres of critical habitat in the area. The acquired property sits next to the Carite State Forest and expands the Ulpiano Casal Natural Protected Area, helping to grow this vital network of protected areas.

The Sierra de Cayey. Photo courtesy of Para la Naturaleza.

The Sierra de Cayey is home to 15 of Puerto Rico’s 18 endemic amphibian species. Amphibians like these often require precise microhabitats with specific climates to survive. But as development continues and the climate crisis upends ecosystems around the world, these microhabitats disappear. Protecting large tracts of forest is necessary to buffer the worst effects of climate change on amphibians.

These threats haven’t spared the secluded island amphibian populations of Puerto Rico. In fact, three of the area’s endemic species, the Villalba Robber Frog, Karl’s Robber Frog and Eleutherodactylus jasperi, are already likely extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists all three as Critically Endangered, but scientists have not observed any of these species in at least 30 years. By expanding the reserve network, this new purchase reduces habitat fragmentation and prevents development. This protection will help reduce the cumulative impact of climate change and fragmented habitat for amphibians and other wildlife in Sierra de Cayey.

Eleutherodactylus wightmanae, an Endangered frog native to Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of Para la Naturaleza.

But amphibians aren’t the only species to benefit from this new protection. The area is a Key Biodiversity Area and has some of the highest tree species diversity and endemism in Puerto Rico. Resident species include communities of ferns and lycophytes, as well as the Critically Endangered Palo de Jazmin, one of Puerto Rico’s rarest endemic trees. Human communities will also benefit from this protection, since these forests contain the headwaters of the Río Grande de Loíza, which provides water to over half of the people living in Puerto Rico’s capital.

Para la Naturaleza, who already protects 33,000 acres across the island, will integrate this property into the Ulpiano Casal Natural Protected Area and develop a management plan. Immediate management steps include marking boundaries, inventorying biodiversity and restoring degraded habitat.

“Expanding protections in Sierra de Cayey is vital to the future of Puerto Rico’s biodiversity,” said Angela Yang, Rainforest Trust’s Chief Conservation Officer. “Only through safeguarding these forests for wildlife and people can we secure a sustainable future for the island.”

Header photo courtesy of Para la Naturaleza.

This project was made possible through the generous support of our partner, Para la Naturaleza, donors to this project and the Conservation Action Fund, and the SAVES Challenge.

Increased Protection for Orchids and Birds in Ecuador

Ecuador’s Chocó forests are some of the world’s most biodiverse and endemic-rich ecosystems. But they are also some of the most threatened — Ecuador has one of the highest deforestation rates in South America. Rainforest Trust and local partner Fundación EcoMinga have been working to protect this region for years.

And once again, these efforts have paid off. Recently, the project around and in the Dracula Reserve acquired two more properties for a total of 153 acres. These properties expand the reserve and offer even more protection to this unique corner of the rainforest.

The Dracula Reserve derives its name from the “Dracula” orchids, or those in the genus Dracula. They’re named as such due to their doom-inspiring flowers, which often have long “fangs” and come in deep purples and oranges. The entire Chocó, stretching between both Ecuador and Colombia, is an orchid diversity hotspot — with new species discovered regularly. In fact, 30% percent of all known orchid species live in Ecuador and Colombia.

But the region has more than just flowers. Threatened birds such as the Endangered Chocó Vireo call the Dracula Reserve home, as does the Vulnerable Long-wattled Umbrellabird and Endangered Banded Ground-cuckoo. Researchers recently discovered a new frog species in the reserve and donated the naming rights to Rainforest Trust’s Species Legacy Auction last year.

The Dracula Reserve. Photo by Tatiana Jaramillo.

“Further protecting this incredibly diverse forest is an amazing and much needed protection for species, both known and unknown,” said Angela Yang, Rainforest Trust’s Chief Conservation Officer. “It’s incredible that in this area alone, researchers keep discovering new orchid species ranging from the size of a pinhead to the size of a baseball.”

These new protected properties offer more hope to the incredible and imperiled wildlife of Ecuador’s Chocó. Rainforest Trust and Fundación EcoMinga look forward to continuing their work protecting this magnificent ecosystem. In time, Fundación EcoMinga plans to connect each protected corner of the forests to create a large, united reserve for these species.

Header photo by Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

This project is made possible by gifts to the Rainforest Trust Conservation Action Fund and the SAVES Challenge. We would like to thank the Orchid Conservation Alliance, Maria Flowers, George and Cathy Ledec, Bihua Chen and Jackson Loomis and Bojan Ninic for their leadership support.

New Desert Refuge in Mexico to Provide Critical Habitat for Wildlife

Rare tortoises, nesting and migratory birds, unique lizards and a variety of mammals are set to benefit from the recent purchase of a 18,850-acre former cattle ranch, Rancho Guimbalete, in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert. Rainforest Trust, Turtle Conservancy and its local affiliate HABIO, A.C. and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) partnered on a deal to purchase the ranch, which will be converted into a desert wildlife refuge. 

Rancho Guimbalete, which is in the state of Coahuila on the northern edge of the Bolsón de Mapimí Biosphere Reserve, covers a large tract of mostly undamaged Chihuahuan desert vegetation and is home to a range of resident and migratory wildlife. This includes the Critically Endangered Bolson Tortoise, which “was recently uplisted from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” said Stephanie Wester, Latin America Conservation Officer at Rainforest Trust. “It is incredible that over 18,000 acres are now protected for this species and other wildlife.”

Critically Endangered Bolson Tortoise. Photo by Maurice Rodrigues/Turtle Conservancy.

Rancho Guimbalete is also home to lizards that live only in the local sand dunes, nesting birds and migratory birds that stop to feed and rest at the seasonal wetlands and a variety of resident mammals, such as kangaroo rats, Mule Deer and Pumas. The ranch is also home to an incredible diversity of cacti, herbs and shrub species. 

“Wild desert landscapes all over northern Mexico are being lost to overgrazing and, even worse, conversion to irrigated crop agriculture,” said Eric Goode, president of Turtle Conservancy. “These drylands cannot sustain agriculture for very long. But when exploiting them, native plants and animals are lost, and the landscape is forever changed for the worse. We lose wilderness, and we can never replace that.” 

Under the leadership of HABIO, A.C., a Mexican NGO dedicated to biodiversity conservation in the country’s northern deserts, the ranch will now be managed primarily to protect the biodiversity found there. The ranch will also serve as a buffer zone for the neighboring Bolsón de Mapimí Biosphere Reserve, which the Mexican government established in 1977 and is a candidate Key Biodiversity Area. The site of global importance for the persistence of biodiversity. 

“We are particularly grateful to the previous owners of the ranch, who used it to raise cattle but did it in an environmentally sensitive way,” said Peter Paul van Dijk, a senior associate scientist with GWC. “They prevented overgrazing and resisted the temptation to introduce damaging non-native grass species as fodder for their cows. Their care for the land safeguarded its biodiversity.”

In addition to putting an end to cattle grazing — which will help spur the recovery of grasslands habitat — HABIO, A.C. will implement management strategies that minimize erosion, encourage vegetation recovery, increase water availability for native wildlife and prevent agricultural land use.

“The purchase of Rancho Guimbalete by HABIO, so that it can be managed in the future for biodiversity conservation, represents a significant step forward for the conservation of the Bolsón de Mapimi’s unique biology and landscape,” said Judith Rios, treasurer of HABIO, A.C.

As many as 200 bird species, 70 mammal species, and 50 reptile and amphibian species potentially live in or use the ranch habitat, though future surveys will confirm the exact number of species that will benefit from the protection of the ranch. Habitat destruction and poaching are the biggest threats to the wildlife that live here, in addition to more severe droughts that result from climate change. 

This purchase was made possible through the generous support of the Rainforest Trust Conservation Action Fund and SAVES Challenge, the Turtle Conservancy and Global Wildlife Conservation. 

Header image: The Guimbalete Ranch covers extensive areas of Chihuahuan desert vegetation backing up to the foothills of the Sierra Mojada. Photo by Peter Paul van Dijk, Global Wildlife Conservation and Turtle Conservancy. 

 

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. 

New Marine Protected Area in Bay of Bengal

Rainforest Trust and local partner Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) recently worked together to establish the Nijhum Dwip Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the northern Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. The new protected area encompasses 1,222 miles of brackish water habitat at the mouth of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers, which come together to create the world’s third largest river system. The MPA will play an important role in connecting marine conservation in the region to productive fisheries and other offshore protected areas. 

According to a recent at-sea survey conducted by WCS, the waters of Nijhum Dwip are a biodiversity hotspot home to an array of iconic marine wildlife. Some of the world’s largest populations of endangered dolphins, porpoises, sharks, rays and marine turtles can be found in the MPA. 

Citizen scientists releasing the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtle. Photo by WCS.

The new protected area will safeguard at least 15 threatened marine species, including the Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin, Olive Ridley turtle and Scalloped Hammerhead shark. The habitat will also serve as key spawning grounds and provide migration routes for the Hilsa shad, Bangladesh’s most treasured species of fish. Known locally as the “King of Fish,” the Hilsa shad is considered a delicacy due to its soft and oily texture. The sustainable catching and consumption of this fish is critical to Bangladesh and its communities. The Hilsa fishery employs about 2.5 million people and generates over 1.3 billion dollars for the national economy. 

“Declaration of the Nijhum Dwip MPA is a huge opportunity for marine conservation in Bangladesh,” said Dr. Wahab Md Abdul, Team Leader for the USAID supported EcoFish Project. “This is due to its location that covers habitat vital to the spawning and migration of the economically valuable Hilsa shad and for protecting of threatened marine biodiversity, including charismatic wildlife such as dolphins and hammerhead sharks.”

Bottlenose Dolphin and survey vessel. Photo by WCS.

Marine species are not the only wildlife that are set to benefit from Nijhum Dwip. The intertidal mudflats shared by the MPA and the Nijhum Dwip National Park serve as critical migratory feeding habitat for a variety of threatened shorebirds, including the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

The new MPA is a critical step in creating an effectively managed network of marine protected areas in Bangladesh. The protection of this habitat will provide safety for marine biodiversity at global risk of extinction, and sustain fisheries vital to food security, local livelihoods and the national economy. 

 

Header image: Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins leaping. Photo by WCS.

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.

Giant Creatures Make Homes for Tiny Creatures

Elephants are, to state the obvious, very big. I mean, have you ever stopped and looked at one of them? They’re huge, massive, enormous creatures. They’re so big, their hearts only beat every two seconds—that’s 30 beats per minute. Count it out—it’s a long time between beats in their giant, oversized, gargantuan hearts. A low human heart rate is 60 beats per minute. Mouse hearts can beat up to 840 times per minute.

But the elephant—just once every two interminable seconds.

Their size helps them become what ecologists call “ecosystem engineers.” That means that they can alter the landscape drastically enough to affect ecosystem function. For example, elephants can turn wooded areas into grasslands by trampling and knocking down vegetation. By doing so, they create space for grassland species to thrive. Elephant dung fertilizes and seeds these grasslands and their digging for water opens up watering holes for other, less bulldozer-like species.

Many species have places to live, eat and drink thanks to elephants. And a recent paper found more of those species.

Researchers in Myanmar studied flooded elephant footprints and found frog eggs and tadpoles living in them. They determined that the footprints were an important breeding habitat for the frogs. They may even be “stepping stone” habitat for frogs between larger habitats such as ponds or wetlands.

Apartment construction for frogs.

These footprints can last—and I’m serious here—for more than a year. Groundwater apparently helps these pools persist throughout the dry season. These footprint in-ground pools are clearly more than temporary housing for their amphibian tenants.

The paper also included this gem of a quote: “Water-filled elephant tracks are in effect small lentic waterbodies created when elephants walk across a substrate unable to support their great bulk without being modified.” Meaning: Elephants make these footprints when the mud is real squishy.

“Elephant tracks are virtual condominiums for frogs,” said Steven Platt, the study’s lead author. “This study underscores the critical role wildlife play in ecosystems in sometimes unexpected ways.”

This isn’t the first time researchers have found a link between elephant ecosystem engineering and amphibians. A few years ago, scientists found a positive correlation between amphibian diversity and the level of elephant activity in study plots in Tanzania.

So let’s recap: Giant creatures step all over squishy dirt, making tiny pools. Tiny creatures then live in those tiny foot-pools.

What a magical planet we live on.

Header photo by Wildlife Alliance.