Ghana Lost Over Half of Its Rainforest in 2018, Rainforest Trust Refuge Expansion Combats Further Deforestation

According to a new report on the status of the world’s primary forests, Ghana’s rainforest is rapidly disappearing. In 2018 alone, the country saw an alarming 60% decrease in primary rainforest. This was the highest percentage of rainforest loss of any tropical country.

Although the leading threat is unclear, numerous factors contribute to environmental damage in Ghana. Illegal small scale mining causes a massive amount of deforestation. Land clearing for timber exportation is also rampant and hunting puts pressure on native species of various habitats in Ghana’s once-expansive rainforest.

Togo-Volta Highlands. Photo by Mary Brown.

The Ghanaian rainforest has become a conservation priority because of the tremendous habitat loss that threatens its unique biodiversity. In August 2018, Rainforest Trust worked with local partner Herp Conservation Ghana and nearby local communities to designate the Onepone Endangered Species Refuge in the Togo-Volta Hills. The new protected area received its title from the local people’s traditional name. Local communities continue to work with the partner to ensure this project’s long-term vitality. The 847 acres safeguarded the habitat of many threatened species, including the Critically Endangered Hooded Vulture and Vulnerable Black-bellied and White-bellied Pangolins. The Critically Endangered Togo Slippery Frog and the Endangered Ukami Reed Frog, as well as a variety of endemic plants, butterflies and amphibians call these lush highlands home. 

The Critically Endangered Togo Slippery Frog. Photo by Michael Akrasi.

But forested areas surrounding the refuge continue to degenerate from human influence. Expanding the Onepone Reserve is necessary for the ecosystem to continue to survive. Rainforest Trust and Herp Conservation Ghana seek $339,596 to safeguard 1,319 additional acres to protect some of the last remaining intact forests in the Togo-Volta highlands. This new protection will further safeguard the reserve’s species and allow them to thrive in perpetuity. Overall, the expanded reserve will protect at least 222 species of plants, 152 birds, 24 mammals, 20 amphibians and 76 butterflies.

Local communities will determine this designation’s success. With the site officially protected, the partner will enable the local population to manage wildlife and reduce hunting. Efforts to restore damaged habitats will provide benefits to the species that reside in this forest, as well as the communities that surround it.

The Vulnerable White Bellied Pangolin. Photo by Helene Hoffman.

Header image: Rainforest in the Onepone Endangered Species Refuge. Photo by Michael Akrasi.

Blue-eyed Ground-dove Chick Spotted in Rainforest Trust Reserve

In January 2018, Rainforest Trust worked closely with local partner Sociedade para a Conservação das Aves do Brasil (SAVE Brasil) to protect the Critically Endangered Blue-eyed Ground-dove through designating the 1,466-acre Blue-eyed Ground-dove Reserve in southeastern Brazil. The following July, the Minas Gerias state government designated the Botumirim State Park nearby. The two protected areas have allowed researchers to study the biology of this unique bird and find ways to rehabilitate the species as a whole.

The Critically Endangered Blue-eyed Ground-dove chick (foreground). Photo by SAVE Brasil.

Their hard work is proving to be fruitful, as a new group of doves were recently spotted in the reserve. And last week, a SAVE Brasil staff member captured one of the only existing photographs of a juvenile Blue-eyed Ground-Dove. Researchers estimate that it is two weeks old and will be fledging soon. Evidence of quick population growth is a great ornithological feat, considering the species was thought to be extinct in the wild until they were rediscovered in 2015. The protection provided by the state park and Rainforest Trust reserve — paired with continuing efforts of SAVE Brasil to monitor the species — is essential to the survival of this rare and beautiful bird.

“This sighting inspires a great deal of confidence in the overall future of the Blue-eyed Ground-dove” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “We are confident that the knowledgeable, dedicated staff of SAVE Brasil will be able to nurture the population to a size that ensures the long-term survival of the species.” 

Header image: Two Blue-eyed Ground-doves. Photo by Rafael Bessa.

UN Reports Monumental Rate of Global Biodiversity and Rainforest Loss

This week, the UN released its first comprehensive report on global biodiversity. The findings are alarming, stating that species loss is accelerating at a rate unprecedented in human history — potentially hundreds of times faster than in the past. The 39-page report summarizes drivers of biodiversity loss such as habitat fragmentation, deforestation and pollution. But the rapid, negative effects of climate change are the most dire threat.

The report also notes that not all ecosystems are under the same level of pressure. Some, like rainforests, harbor great biodiversity and an abundance of life. Hence, rainforest deforestation results in immense wildlife loss, more so than some other, less diverse ecosystems. In addition, primary rainforests are the most critical ecosystem for carbon storage — keeping carbon out of the atmosphere — which mitigates the effects of climate change. If rainforest degradation continues at this speed, it will likely result in the extinction of a great number of species. Some of these species will go extinct within mere decades.

Scientists are calling for immediate action. “For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the consortium of scientists that lead the study. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.”

The UN Sustainable Development Goals promote merging both ecological and socioeconomic sustainability, a strategy that Rainforest Trust embraces. Our work preserves the world’s most threatened rainforests and species through collaboration with local partners. We recognize that protecting habitat in perpetuity requires the investment of communities whose livelihoods depends on the rainforest. To date, Rainforest Trust has protected over 20 million acres through these local partnerships.

Learn how you can contribute to global biodiversity protection with Rainforest Trust here.

 

Header image: Deforestation is a leading cause of global biodiversity loss. Photo by Rainforest Trust.

Voices from the Rainforest: Eugène Mibog Diyouke, 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.


From Economist to Conservationist

Eugène Mibog Diyouke works as the program manager for Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society (CWCS) based in Mouanko, Cameroon. He has spent the majority of his conservation career in the field conducting research and educating local communities about the importance of sustainability. Eugène involved with the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve, a key conservation site in Central Africa that safeguards mangrove forests, freshwater and marine habitats that are critical to the overall sustainability of the coastal land and seascape.

Eugène’s position allows him to work in several capacities within CWCS, including performing rural outreach, establishing and monitoring aquatic forest sample plots and mangrove nurseries, and GIS (Geographic Information System) database management.

Eugène performing fieldwork. Photo by Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society.

 

Why did you become a conservationist?

I started my career as an economist. I joined CWCS in 2001 as a socioeconomic assistant, working as a rural development agent. During my studies in the field, I faced many challenges connecting the socioeconomic development of local people to conservation of natural resources. I began working with my biologist and forester colleagues to know more about fauna and flora and the best ways to preserve them. I noticed that it was impossible ignore the connection between the sustainability of the environment as a whole and the well-being of local populations. One of the largest challenges I have faced is working with people who were not yet educated on the sustainable utilization of natural resources. It was also difficult to gain the attention of the the local government because they were primarily focused on the prevention of illegal acts. When I started to face is these challenges is when I realized I wanted to become a conversationalist.

“Conservation is important because it helps to keep the global environments and their biodiversity in a good state in terms of quality and quantity and it allows ecological equilibrium and ecosystem services for today and for future generations.”

 

Tell us about a conservation success in your work.

I participated in all the steps of gazettement (change of status) of the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve into a National Park that lead to the success of the project. It was a difficult process because the local populations did not understand the importance of the project. We had to go through several community meetings in order to find a common understanding and reach an agreement. Another time, I felt that I made a difference as a conservationist when I taught the local population to understand the importance of mangrove restoration and gained their participation in planting activities in 2008.

 

Tell us about a conservation challenge in your work.

The slow adoption of improved smoke ovens for fish and other fishery products by the riverine population of mangrove areas. The new ovens, compared to the traditional ones that local communities use, consume less fuel wood and save more energy. The process has been delayed due to lack of volunteer support that is necessary to construct the ovens and the local population having difficulty accepting the integration process. The hardest part of my job is sensitization, to bring people to change behaviors and adapt to a more sustainable lifestyle.

“What makes me proud to be a Fellow is that my experience as a conservationist will be shared with others.”

 

Header image: Eugène (left) discussing fieldwork plans with colleague. Photo by Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society.

Use Technology to Think Like a Tiny Primate

Conservation and animal rights advocates have always anthropomorphized nonhuman animals to inspire empathy. And for good reason: it’s hard to look into the eyes of a sad pup while Sarah McLachlan sings and not feel a kinship with the creature.

But those clips always seemed shallow, at least for conservation science. As conservationists, we preach the gospel of admiring wildlife for their own sake — not through an anthropocentric lens. That’s why some of us like March of the Penguins more than Happy Feet. For that matter, that’s why some of us like Frozen Planet more than March of the Penguins.

Anthropomorphism is — sometimes — gimmicky. But it works so well to inspire the public. Listen, I’d care about the plight of the Axolotl no matter what it looked like. But looking like a smiling salamander with face wings helps.

An Axolotl, or, a smiling face-winged salamander. Photo via Pixabay.

There has to be a way to inspire commonality with wildlife without resorting to imposing a human perspective on their life history. We need to immerse ourselves in a species’ reality without the pretense of our physiology. I mean this virtually. We need to immerse ourselves in their reality, virtually.

You know… like a virtual reality.

Students at Dartmouth University came up with this exact thing. A team of software designers and evolutionary biologists developed a virtual reality program mimicking the point of view of a tarsier.

Tarsiers are small, nocturnal primates native to Southeast Asia. As an adaptation for moving through the dense rainforest at night, they have massive eyes to see in the dark. And I mean massive eyes.

Oh, hello. A Philippine Tarsier, native to the Philippines. Photo by Klaus Stiefel.

All the better to see you with, indeed.

The paper summarizing this program, published in Evolution: Education and Outreach, mentions that if humans had the same eye-to-brain size ratio, our eyes would be the size of grapefruits.

Tarsiers are also unique because they don’t have the standard ocular physiology of nocturnal mammals. Most nocturnal mammals have a light-reflecting tissue layer which creates a better sense of vision in low-light. But tarsiers don’t have that layer, hence the far-larger-than-average peepers that let in more light.

The program allows users to move through different landscapes such as “Matrix,” “Labyrinth” and “Bornean Rainforest” with a tarsier’s unique, nighttime-ready eyesight. The program also features the ability to switch between human and tarsier eyesight in each virtual environment. The paper’s authors describe the nighttime rainforest environment as “a dark, maze-like space that is practically opaque under human visual conditions.” But, they add that the rainforest is “navigable as a tarsier, demonstrating the advantages of tarsier visual sensitivity.

Some of that dense Bornean rainforest the tarsiers must navigate at night. Photo by Rainforest Trust.

The developers set out to create the virtual reality program as a tool for students to engage with biology and the physics of eyesight. But for conservationists, one potential benefit of this software is the ability to imagine life as a creature with a different physiology. One barrier to empathizing with wildlife without anthropomorphizing them is the barrier between our respective “umwelt.”

The concept of umwelt is a phrase of semioticians, people who study signs and the production of meaning. (More than a little theoretical, I know. But think of it like studying how we comprehend that things mean what they mean. Sort of.) Umwelt is the idea that the way any organism moves through the world depends on its anatomy. Different anatomies = different ways of seeing and interacting with the world.

But if we can break down that barrier and live as another species — even in such an insignificant way — we can empathize without the part of the veil of humanity.

If we’re using virtual reality to engage folks with wildlife and biology, the tarsier will likely be the first of many animals we’ll transmogrify into with the power of technology.

Put on these shoes, and you’ll be able to communicate through the ground like elephants.

Put on these headphones and learn how warblers converse.

Put on this full-body motion capture suit and live as part of Happy Feet 18: Climate Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Well, if it can help us connect with wildlife without anthropomorphizing and learn a bit along the way, it’s a great idea.

Christie’s Will Offer Jonas Wood’s Japanese Garden 3 (2019) Benefitting Rainforest Conservation

New York — On May 15, Christie’s New York Post-War and Contemporary evening sale will commence with the auction of Jonas Wood’s Japanese Garden 3, a large-scale painting to benefit Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC). The proceeds will fund a 600,000-acre reserve of South American rainforest that will aid the area’s biodiversity including protecting several native endangered species and combating climate change. The 2019 work, a large-scale landscape painting measuring 88 x 98 inches, was donated by the artist in a collaboration that was initiated by Art to Acres, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to raising funds for land conservation through art sales. Additionally, GWC and Rainforest Trust have offered a generous 400% match of the hammer price of Japanese Garden 3 to go towards funding the reserve. These organizations will jointly oversee the conservation project, which encompasses an area of land twice the size of Los Angeles.

Jonas Wood, Japanese Garden 3, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2019, Estimate: $500,000 – 700,000.

 

Christie’s has developed an on-going partnership with Art to Acres, which began in September 2018 with the sale of several lots in its Post-War to Present auction that raised over $1.8 million for land conservation. The initiative creates new national reserves and sees the sale of an artwork measuring a few feet in size leading to the conservation of hundreds of acres of land. Founded by artist and conservationist Haley Mellin, Art to Acres raised $10 million in 2018 for wildlands conservation through the combined sale of artwork and support of matching funds.

Vivian Brodie, Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art, said: This partnership represents a powerful new initiative to transform works of art into physical acres of protected tropical forest. The relationship between art and conservation does not get much more direct and tangible than this.

Paul Salaman, CEO, Rainforest Trust, remarked: “Rainforests are the Earth’s life-support system. Without them, carbon ravages the atmosphere, species go extinct and vulnerable people suffer.”

Haley Mellin, Founder, Art to Acres, explained: “Both art and conservation are based in legacy. This painting will conserve over 600,000 acres of land into a national park. Art to Acres connects artists, philanthropists, and collectors with a permanent impact on wildlands.”

Brian Sheth, Chair of the Board, Global Wildlife Conservation, commented: “The relationship between nature and art has existed in ways large and small since our shared journey on this planet began. The proceeds and matching funds from the sale will bolster our important work to conserve the crown jewels of tropical forests around the world — the very lifeblood of our planet.”

Jonas Wood is the subject of his first major museum retrospective organized by the Dallas Museum of Art. Japanese Garden 3 is a striking example of the artist’s ability to infuse a seemingly simple subject with visual intrigue and dynamic presence. The third painting in a series started in 2017, Japanese Garden 3 expands on Wood’s interest exploring nature and architectural exteriors. True to form, the artist has chosen only the most orderly and carefully-curated of outdoor locales by taking the immaculately tended traditional gardens of Japan as his subject. Inundated with masses of green and blue, Japanese Garden 3 exists in several overlapping layers that bring together a patchwork of flattened forms and intricate brushwork.

About Christie’s

Christie’s, the world’s leading art business, had global auction, private and digital sales in 2018 that totalled £5.3 billion / $7 billion. Christie’s is a name and place that speaks of extraordinary art, unparalleled service and international expertise. Christie’s offers around 350 auctions annually in over 80 categories, including all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewellery, photographs, collectibles, wine, and more. Prices range from $200 to over $100 million. Christie’s also has a long and successful history conducting private sales for its clients in all categories, with emphasis on Post-War & Contemporary, Impressionist & Modern, Old Masters and Jewellery.

Alongside regular sales online, Christie’s has a global presence in 46 countries, with 10 salerooms around the world including in London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Dubai, Zürich, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

*Please note when quoting estimates above that other fees will apply in addition to the hammer price – see Section D of the Conditions of Sale at the back of the sale catalogue.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium. Sales totals are hammer price plus buyer’s premium and are reported net of applicable fees.

Peru Map

Private Reserve Expansion in Ecuador Strengthens Protection of Premier National Park

The Nangaritza Valley in southern Ecuador holds the country’s densest concentration of biodiversity. Lush lowlands surrounded by cloud-covered mountains boast diverse habitats and unique wildlife. But human interests such as logging threaten the valley’s foothill forests. So this month, Rainforest Trust and partner Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional purchased 268 acres of rainforest to expand the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve.

The Numabla landscape. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura.

In 1982, the Ecuadorean government created Podocarpus National Park. But they excluded the forests of Numbala in the Nangaritza Valley. Since then, timber extraction and conversion of rainforest to pastureland have threatened the area. These pressures, along with a landowner unwilling to sell, made long-term protection in Numbala unlikely. Despite these ongoing challenges, Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional established the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve next to the park in 2006. This private reserve plays a vital role in connecting some of the largest remaining intact forest blocks in the region.

The newly expanded reserve houses a few of the last stands of Podocarpaceae, a family of giant, native conifers logged for their high-quality wood. The reserve not only protects the Vulnerable Pino Hayuelo and Near Threatened Uncumanu from loggers, but is also a buffer zone for wildlife in Podocarpus National Park. Over 40 mammals, including the Endangered Andean Tapir and Vulnerable Spectacled Bear, and 300 bird species call the reserve home.

Out of all the protected areas in Ecuador, the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve boasts the highest number of endemic plant species. The reserve’s main habitat is montane tropical forest — one of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened habitats. But forests like these are important to more than global biodiversity. Their preservation helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Healthy rainforests keep carbon locked in the ground and out of the atmosphere where it contributes to the climate crisis.

“The mountain cloud forest is one of the most threatened ecosystems in terms of anthropogenic rates of species extinction. Timber extraction is accelerating this threat in Numbala,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “But important buffer lands like this are vital. Without them, the national park’s intact forest would be more accessible to exploitation.”

 

This project was made possible by gifts to the Conservation Action Fund and the SAVES Challenge.
Header photo: A stream in the Numbala Cloud Forest Reserve. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura.

 

Land Purchase Completed for Endangered Parrots in Mexico

The Monte Mojino Reserve, in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, is mainly tropical dry forest. This forest type is one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Only 5% of tropical dry forests anywhere overlap with protected areas — putting this habitat and the species that rely on it in danger of extinction.

Rainforest Trust has worked with local partner Naturaleza y Cultura Sierra Madre since 2004 to protect and expand Monte Mojino. This month, the two organizations purchased 1,299 acres of vital habitat in the area.

The reserve is home to many notable species, including the Endangered Lilac-crowned Amazon. This parrot needs to nest in cavities, which old trees provide. But outside protected areas, such trees are falling prey to wood extraction and deforestation for cattle grazing. Poachers also target Lilac-crowned Amazons for trade. Growing Monte Mojino expands both habitat and anti-poaching safeguards, reducing two threats to this colorful and threatened bird.

The ecosystem also contains the Goode’s Thornscrub Tortoise. Researchers discovered this species in the reserve in 2016 and named it for Rainforest Trust Board Member Eric Goode. Plant-wise, the Virgin’s Palm, a rare and threatened cycad species grows in the area. Only 500-1,000 trees remain in the world, all of them in a small patch in northwestern Mexico. The area also sits on the border between the Nearctic and the Neotropical regions. Hence, it is both unique and important to global biodiversity.

The Monte Mojino landscape. Photo by Naturaleza y Cultura.

Despite its ecological value, the area faces many threats. Wildfires and climate change endanger the ecosystem, but proper management can ease some of these stressors. In addition, cattle ranching is both extensive and an important part of the local economy. Thus, the local partner is engaging with communities to involve them in conservation and recognize its benefits. Besides environmental education and work opportunities, Naturaleza y Cultura is also working with children and creating a local women’s artisan cooperative. These initiatives have created a good working relationship between the partner and many of the communities and ranchers.

“Protecting this unique ecosystem was vitally important,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “From threatened parrots to endemic cycads, this area of Mexico is unlike anywhere else in the world and now safeguarded from growing threats.”

This project was made possible through donations to our Conservation Action Fund.
 
Header photo: The Endangered Lilac-crowned Amazon. Photo by CDest.

 

World’s Tallest Tropical Tree Found in Malaysian Borneo

In the 2018 Tree Yearbook, many of the superlatives went to familiar candidates. A redwood won “Most Imposing,” again. “Most Unpleasant Neighbor” went to a strangler fig. “Best Leaves” went to a banana plant (not technically a tree, but judges allowed it.)

But a new contender in the arboreal retrospective also emerged: “Tallest Tropical Tree.”

Last year, researchers in Malaysian Borneo’s Danum Valley conducted LIDAR (or Light Detecting and Ranging) surveys. Essentially, LIDAR bounces lasers around to get a detailed picture of a landscape’s structure.

The Danum Valley

Among the thick rainforest, they found a unique individual tree. A Yellow Meranti, Shorea faguetiana, looked like it measured over 300 feet tall. But they needed to do more tests. Unding Jami, from Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), one of Rainforest Trust’s partners in Malaysia, ended up climbing the tree with a measuring tape.

Jami said “the view from the top was incredible. I don’t know what to say other than it was very, very, very amazing.”

After finalization, the researchers confirmed that the tree measured 328 feet and surpassed another nearby tree as the tallest in the tropics. To put that in perspective — 328 feet is a 33 story building. It’s over six times the height of your standard Red Maple. It’s taller than the Statue of Liberty.

The researchers nicknamed the tree “Menara,” which means “tower” in Malay. It weighs over 89 tons and may also be the world’s tallest flowering plant. The world’s tallest tree, tropics notwithstanding, is a redwood coming just 50 feet taller at 379 feet.

Rainforest Trust helped protect part of the Danum Valley with SEARRP, the Sabah Foundation and Permian Global with the Sabah Forestry Department and State Government. The forest is home to Critically Endangered wildlife such as Bornean Orangutans and Sunda Pangolins.

“Rainforest Trust is excited to see more research discovering new aspects of the Danum Valley ecosystem,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “This discovery highlights the area’s unique value to world biodiversity.”