International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate four women who serve as Rainforest Trust Conservation Guardians. Our Guardians are the reserve guards and rangers on the front lines of conservation monitoring. They work to safeguard biodiversity in protected areas through maintenance, patrols and community education.

These women share their work with you, in their own words.


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.

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.

Conservation Basics: Saving Frogs at the Deli

Sometimes I find myself telling people I encounter only every once in a while — like cab drivers, friend’s friends, the guy at the deli counter — what I do for a living.

“I work on protecting threatened wildlife in the tropics, like in rainforests,” I say.

“So what kind of animals are we talkin’ ‘bout here?” Sal asks as he daubs more spicy brown mustard on my pastrami sandwich.

“Oh, all sorts of stuff,” I say. “You know, elephants, monkeys, frogs…”

“Frogs!” Sal exclaims, mustard flying across the kitchen as his knife swings up with his full-body motion of disbelief. “Watcha tryna save a frog for?”

The deli. Home base of so many great conversations.

I get questions like this all the time. Which prompts the question: What are we tryna save frogs for?

In fact, let’s continue that line of questioning. What are we trying to save spiders for? What are we trying to save sharks for? What are we trying to save chimpanzees for?

For goodness sake, what are we trying to save elephants for?

Sal’s question, despite my facetiousness, isn’t a bad one. In fact, it’s a good one. It dives at a deeper question of conservation’s purpose and mindset.

Public attitudes about conservation, and, in a lot of ways, the actual work of conservation in the past century have focused on the big species. The iconic ones. Jaguars. Whales. Pandas.

Two reasons for that. Number one: Everyone knows a whale. You see a whale, the average guy on the street says “That’s a whale.” You see a Terrestrial Arboreal Alligator Lizard? Average guy on the street says “I don’t know, Iguana?”

The Terrestrial Arboreal Alligator Lizard. Or, I don’t know, an iguana? Photo by Luis Canseco Márquez.

Number two: They’re all mammals. Humans gravitate more towards species that look like us. So conservationists focus on these classic animals — pandas, whales, etc. — to keep people interested. But are these species more important?

We could get into a whole conversation (or, this is only me talking, so let’s say… a personal diatribe) on the philosophy of evolution, environmental ethics and the inherent value of organisms. But let’s talk about this with some measure of empirical evaluation.

Let’s define “ecological value” for now as relative value to ecosystem stability. As in, which species are more important to keep an ecosystem intact? Different researchers have had different theories on which species hold together an ecosystem. Plant-life is the obvious first thought, right? Every ecosystem needs a flow of nutrients, and where do nutrients always start? In plants. Photosynthesis takes sunlight (available in some quantity pretty much everywhere except cave ecosystems) and turns it into sustenance. Every species that doesn’t photosynthesize eats something that does, or eats something that eats something that does or eats something that eats something that eats something that does. You get my point. Without plants — life has nothing to stand on.

But in the later 20th century, a group of scientists made a series of discoveries that pointed to a much different reality. One scientist, a guy named Robert Paine, spent a lot of time knee deep in a patch of the Pacific Northwest coast. He, one by one, removed every individual of a predatory starfish species from one location over time. In another location, he left everything untouched.

Pisaster ochraceus, the deadly predator starfish Robert Paine focused his studies on. Look at its deadly… purple things. Ok, I don’t know that much about starfish anatomy. CC 2.0/Photo by Jerry Kirkhart.

The micro-ecosystem in the location without the predatory starfish ended up collapsing. Which led Dr. Paine — and plenty of other scientists, in what is now a widespread belief because of repeated studies in other ecosystems with other criteria — to theorize that predators, often apex predators, stabilize ecosystems.

Let’s look at a theoretical example to understand why.

If an apex predator, such as a Lion, disappears or drops in population, the dominant prey species, such as an Impala, will see population growth. Fewer Lions = Fewer Dead Impala. Impala eat plants. With more Impala, they’ll be consuming more plants. If the Impala population grows out of control, they would eat all the plants. So now, by removing the Lions, we’ve killed all the plants. And once all the plants are dead, so will be the Impala.

But you could say the same about the Impala, right? If you removed the Impala, wouldn’t you have the same impact? Not quite.

Based on how food chains (or, to be more exact, food webs) work, an ecosystem will usually have more prey species than predator species. In that Lion-Impala ecosystem, you might also have Thompson’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Topi, Ostrich, Reedbuck, a few species of Duiker, Eland, African Buffalo, Zebra and Giraffe. Those are all prey species. And I didn’t even list smaller mammals or birds, let alone lizard and fish species. Predator species other than Lions might include Cheetahs, Leopards, Painted Dogs, Crocodiles, two or three Jackal species and two Hyena species. Maybe some Bat-eared Fox and Honey Badger to eat the smaller stuff.

Remove one prey species — an ecosystem has more to fall back on. Remove one predator species — the ecosystem has a lot less wiggle room.

The Bat-eared Fox, who could eat the smaller stuff. CC 2.0/Photo by Derek Keats.

We know that apex predators play an outsize role in ecosystem regulation. But sometimes other species carry a lot of weight as well. Elephants, while not eating anyone else, topple so many trees, some researchers believe they keep grasslands from becoming forests. Parrotfish eat and excrete so much coral, they make much of the sand you find on the beach near a reef.

These are what Robert Paine called “keystone species.” Like the keystone in an arch, if you take these species out of the equation, the whole structure is a lot more likely to collapse than if you take out some other random stone. A lot of keystone species are predators. Some are not. A lot of the time, keystone species are also the species conservationists tend to focus public attention on — like tigers, jaguars and elephants. These species garner public attention and help regulate ecosystem stability more than other species. It’s a win-win for conservationists.

Hold on, wait a second. What about those frogs? Weren’t we going into this whole thing to learn about why saving some random frog is important?

Yes, we were. And I’m not done.

Some species make more of an individual difference. But all those other species add up. One by one, as they go extinct, you’ll have the same impact as losing a predator species: ecosystem collapse.

Imagine, from my earlier thought experiment, instead of the Lions, the Impala (and most of the other prey species I listed) went extinct. Now the predators have nothing to eat, and they’ll die, too. Only the plants would remain — and even then, not for long. I’d bet all the Impala and Zebra dung helped fertilize the soil. Or, the herbivores ate a few species enough to prevent them from overtaking the whole ecosystem. I don’t even know what all the ramifications might be.

The mighty Impala.

Neither do conservation scientists. Yes folks, despite all we understand about how ecosystems work, we don’t understand everything. And we never will. But there’s one thing we know for certain: If we let those little species, the ones who couldn’t possibly mean anything, go extinct, we might not witness any immediate crises.

But right now, scientists say we’re experiencing extinction at 1,000 times the normal rate. If all those species play some role in their ecosystems and die off one by one, wouldn’t that mean that eventually…?

Yup. Definitely trouble.

And if our theoretical ecosystem of plants, Impalas and Lions collapses, it’s not as if everything else nearby will be fine. Every ecosystem, from the poles to the rainforest, connects to another ecosystem. Mess one up, you mess up the one next door. Which affects the one next to that, and the one next to that, and so on and so forth.

You live in one of those ecosystems. Your food comes from one or a few of them, too. So does your water. One species, any species anywhere, going extinct puts us one step closer to global ecosystem collapse. I’m not trying to be an alarmist — it’ll take plenty of extinction to collapse life as we know it. But we’re on a path toward plenty of extinction.

That’s one reason saving every single species, no matter how obscure, unheard-off, freaky-looking, isolated or unimportant it might seem to be, is vital to the survival of life on Earth. Yeah, I said it.

Life. On. Earth.

So one reason we’re tryna save frogs ‘round here, is ‘cause they’s worth it, ya know? For everyone. Saving that frog is part of the difference between a world we can live in and one we can’t.

Sal, I’ll take that pastrami to go. We have a lot of work to do.

Voices from the Rainforest: Guardian Spotlight on Walter Gaona

Walter Gaona works as a forest guardian in the Copalinga Nature Reserve in southern Ecuador. Rainforest Trust and our local partner Fundación Jocotoco founded Copalinga in 2018, with an ecolodge for tourists already in place. Walter spends much of his time maintaining trails for visitors to enjoy and “learning how life unfolds in the reserve.”

But the more trying aspect of Walter’s role is monitoring the 370-acre property for harmful activities. Rainforest Trust Guardians strive to safeguard the protected areas we help create across the tropics. They are essential in this region of Ecuador, where premontane forests hold the greatest concentration of biodiversity in the country. Logging, mining, agriculture and human settlements threaten the region.

Part of the forest that Walter Gaona patrols. Photo by Doug Wechsler.

Walter receives his honorary inspector’s license. Photo by Fundación Jocotoco.

“In a healthy forest, you can find many things, among which I like to find very rare bird nests,” Walter shared. At least 432 bird species have been recorded in Copalinga, along with monkeys, endangered frogs and butterflies. But the illegal wildlife trade threatens animals there, and Walter said the most difficult part of his job is blocking poachers and their dogs from entering the reserve.

But Walter is now armed with more skills in combating illicit activities, along with the authority to take legal action against forest exploiters in Copalinga. In January, Walter attended a two-day training session to become an honorary inspector by the Ecuadorean Ministry of the Environment.

“Being an honorary inspector means that I can act in cases of extraction and/or transport of wild species in the reserve and other places,” Walter said. “After the training, I have legal tools to prevent these activities from happening.” He learned tactics to handle poachers and other threats, and received a license that underpins his work in Copalinga.

Walter shared his appreciation of being recognized for his work to protect the rainforest: “For me it is an honor to have been taken into account in this space. I am also grateful for this designation because I can contribute to taking better care of our ecosystems.”

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.

Header image: The Vulnerable Military Macaw, found in Copalinga. Photo by Michell Leon.

Latin America – Planet

The Pangolin, Unscienced

You might have heard of a pangolin. Or you might not have.

But Rainforest Trust’s Outreach & Communications Team wanted to show you the pangolin’s true anatomy. We hope that learning more about this animal found in Africa and Asia will lead you to learning to love the eight species of pangolin as much as we do. And, of course, we hope you’ll help protect them from extinction.

Original photo of Critically Endangered Sunda Pangolin by David Brossard.

This shy mammal has the distinction of being the one of the least known and most trafficked animals in the illegal wildlife trade. The pangolin’s Armoured Floof is attractive to many across Asia, as the scales are thought to hold major medicinal properties. And with a Chonk Level of 100, the interest in hunting pangolins for meat is a prominent problem.

While the pangolin’s main defense against poachers and other threats is curling into a tight protective ball, it does have Legs for Zooming if it needs to enter PanGOlin mode.

The pangolin subsists on ants and other insects, using T-Rex Hands to dig into termite mounds, and its Snack Sniffer to root out savory larvae. Some folks refer to pangolins as scaly anteaters, but a more apt title is “Artichoke with Legs,” considering its armored adorability. The pangolin’s Honestly Too Cute Face is enhanced by its Cuteness Extension on the other end.

It is estimated that 2.7 million pangolins are poached each year, so this World Pangolin Day, consider donating to save pangolin habitat in Nepal. All of your gift will go directly to conservation action at our project site, including being used to hire forest guards who ward off the biggest threat to pangolin survival: Us.

Click here to learn more about the plight of the pangolin.

Conservation Basics: Attack of the Pizzly Bears

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

What is a species?

No, I’m serious — let’s come up with a definition.

Alright, well, we know specific species, like Polar Bears. A Polar Bear is a species of bear, which is a mammal, which is an animal, which is a living thing. (For more on taxonomy, see my article on spaghetti.)

A different species of bear would be the Brown Bear (AKA the Grizzly Bear). The Polar Bear’s scientific name is Ursus maritumus. The Brown Bear’s is Ursus arctos. They have different species names — making them different species.

But how did we decide this?

There’s got to be a standard system for determining where one species ends and another begins. Right?

Wrong.

Turns out, there are three systems for determining where one species ends and another begins. We have our physiological species concept where species differ by physical traits. We also have our ecological species concept where species differ by geography and which ecosystems they occupy. Finally, we have our genetic species concept where species differ by differences in their DNA.

“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” you might be thinking. “Isn’t evolution like a tree, where each species is the end of a branch? Shouldn’t it be simple to tell the difference? How could we disagree over where one species ends and another begins?”

A Polar Bear, which is definitely not a Brown Bear.

My copy of Dictionary of Ecology by Herbert C. Hanson, published in 1962 by Philosophical Library and picked up by me for free in 2015 at a give-away by the Cleveland Park Library in Washington, D.C., defines a species as:

“A unit of classification of plants and animals, consisting of the largest and most inclusive array of sexual reproducing and cross-fertilizing individuals which share a common gene pool.”

Nature, the infamous science journal, defines a species a little differently in their online learning resource:

“A biological species is a group of organisms that can reproduce with one another in nature and produce fertile offspring. Species are characterized by the fact that they are reproductively isolated from other groups, which means that the organisms in one species are incapable of reproducing with organisms in another species.”

Neither of these definitions are (entirely) correct. (Cue: gasp)

Both come down to a few ideas.

1 – Members of a species can reproduce with another in nature.

2 – Offspring must be fertile

3 – They must be reproductively isolated from other groups — one species cannot reproduce with another species (“largest and most inclusive array of sexual reproducing and cross-fertilizing individuals”)

Here, I found two definitions of a species: one from a world-renowned scientific journal and one from some random book I got for free on the sidewalk once. But they both miss something big, gnarly and strange.

The Pizzly Bear. That’s what happens when a Polar Bear and a Brown (Grizzly) Bear mate. They create a Pizzly Bear. Otherwise known as a Grolar Bear.

As we established before, Polar Bears and Brown Bears are different species. They have different names! But let’s break them down into the three species concepts:

The aforementioned Pizzly Bear, in a zoo. Photo by Corradox/CC 3.0

Physiological Species Concept

Polar Bears have white fur and adult males usually weigh somewhere around 1000 lbs. Brown Bears have brown fur and adult males usually weigh somewhere around 500 lbs.

The two species differ in other, more specific ways, but physiologically, they look like different species.

Ecological Species Concept

Polar Bears live in oceanic, arctic climates, in Northern Canada and Alaska, through Russia and Norway. Brown Bears live in the Northern Hemisphere also but in terrestrial environments and range much further south than the Polar Bear.

Ecologically, they seem like different species.

Genetic Species Concept

I don’t have the DNA results on hand, but we can probably assume there‘s some DNA differentiation.

Hence, genetically they (probably) seem like different species.

But let’s go back to the two species definitions and their caveats. They both came down to species differing from one another by the ability to reproduce and create fertile offspring. Here’s where Polar Bears and Brown Bears miss that mark.

Where the two species overlap, people have documented the rare but definitely occuring-in-nature Pizzly Bear. The Pizzly was first discovered in 2006, with a few more discovered since then. Theories speculate that all the bears are descendants of one female, making this a unique case. In fact, some ecologists believe this never would have occurred without the impact of climate change — a warmer climate pushed Brown Bears further north and into more of the Polar Bear’s range, increasing the likelihood of contact.

But no matter what the cause, the two species could reproduce. What’s more, researchers believe some of the Pizzly bears found are descendants of a Brown Bear and a Pizzly Bear! Meaning, not only could they reproduce, but the offspring can be fertile!

This isn’t the only instance of hybridization occuring in the wild. Narwhals have mated with Beluga Whales. Dozens of bird species hybridize, often proving an identification challenge for birdwatchers. Napolean Dynamite’s pretty-much-favorite animal, the Liger, however, does not exist in the wild as Lions and Tigers have no overlapping range. But it does exist in captivity. That big cat actually has a thorny ethical reality.

A Brewster’s Warbler, a common hybrid of Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers in North America. Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren/ CC 2.0

Yet Brown Bears and a Polar Bears are so clearly different species. Where does this leave our species definitions?

Neither is right. But neither is wrong. If I were to ask a random grouping of 1,000 ecologists, evolutionary biologists and taxonomists their definition of a species, I doubt I’d get two of the same answers. It’s not that no two would be worded the same — it’s that no two would be the same in their caveats. I’d likely get a few pages-long essays. I’d likely get a couple of laughs and a “No, thank you.”

Biologists debate this topic all the time. They also debate whether species are best divided physiologically, ecologically or genetically. A lot is up for debate. And that’s great! You know, scientific discourse and all that.

Sometimes scientific progress prompts us to revise species boundaries to divide two groups, but sometimes we merge two groups. Sometimes one species living on two different islands or mountains are actually two species. Sometimes two species living on two different islands or mountains are actually one species.

It’s always changing. But that’s part of the fun.

I wrote this to give you more answers. I’m realizing I may not have been entirely successful. Sorry. But now you know how weird, complicated and nebulous some elements of taxonomy can be. I guess that’s an answer to something, maybe.

Point is — if you ever see a dusty white/brown bear, somewhere way up in the taiga, take a closer look.

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.