Urban and suburban residents usually have little or no contact with rural forest cultures. For example, 84% of Brazilians live in urban areas and rarely travel to places without tourism infrastructure. As a Brazilian who has visited an indigenous tribe in one of the world’s most precious sources of natural wealth —the Amazon — I am unfortunately an exception in my country.
Back in December, my husband and I traveled to Xingu National Park and spent a week in a Kamaiurá aldeia (indigenous village). We got this opportunity through a friend who works with the Kamaiurá, an indigenous group numbering fewer than 500 people.
This visit was a bigger gift than I was expecting; it gave me an understanding of what life should be about. In many ways, these people’s lives are calmer, slower and healthier than what we are used to in the cities. Rather than trying to control their environment, they respect and understand its power. I am not an anthropologist or a specialist in indigenous culture; this story is based purely on my observations.
Elephant photographed at TEAM’s site in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. (Photos courtesy of the TEAM Network)
For more than five years, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has been collecting camera-trap images of animals in tropical forests. TEAM started in Brazil and has now collected data on trees, terrestrial vertebrates and climate in 16 tropical forests in 14 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. This year, TEAM reached an exciting milestone: its millionth camera-trap image!
A gigantic African elephant, a family of chimpanzees, an elusive jaguar — these make for beautiful photographs, but what else can we learn from these images?
China recently reformed its collective forest policy, allowing forest owners to grant management rights to outside enterprises. In a letter published last week in the journal Science, Li (Aster) Zhang and other CI scientists propose that “eco-compensation” would bring more income to local communities while protecting habitat for the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
In early spring of 2010, my colleagues Russ Mittermeier, Biao Yang and I visited Changqing National Nature Reserve, one of the famous panda protected areas in Shanxi Province. There, we saw a young male panda in the wild. He was so shy, just showing his black-and-white coat for a couple of seconds before disappearing into the dense bamboo forest in front of us.
Beloved by the world for centuries, the panda once lived across large areas of China as well as parts of Vietnam and Myanmar. However, this magnificent creature is now confined to just 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) in a few isolated mountain forests in southwest China — an area smaller than El Salvador or the state of New Hampshire.
Today, the government of Timor-Leste announced the establishment of seven no-take zones in the country’s coastal waters. This development follows the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey carried out by CI and partner scientists last year, which confirmed the community-identified zones as being biologically significant. Coral scientist and guest blogger Dr. Lyndon DeVantier shares his experience.
In August of last year, I joined Mark Erdmann, Gerry Allen, Emre Turak and local scientists in Timor-Leste to participate in a CI RAP marine survey. At the request of the government, we set out to record the marine biodiversity of corals and fishes and assess the overall health of the reefs to help identify areas of importance for conservation and marine tourism.
To their great credit, the Timor-Leste government has already established a large national park on the eastern tip of the country, covering both land and sea. The park was established in 2007 — after the country had spent only five years as an independent nation — and named in honour of Nino Konis Santana, a Timorese freedom fighter in the 1990s.
If you’re an American football fan, you already know the big game is just around the corner! To help out those of you who might be more familiar with nature than the details of this sport, I present to you the Wildlife Primer for American Football.
Role of offensive lineman: Protect the quarterback and block for the running back.
Role of elephant: Disperse seeds that grow into plants that provide food for herbivores, sequester carbon, produce oxygen and help regulate our climate.
The commonality here is size, which offensive linemen use to their advantage when protecting the quarterback. They also use their understanding of opposing defenses to communicate with each other down the line when a last-second change is made to a play.
Elephants are the largest land animal. They travel in family groups for protection, which sounds pretty similar to how the offensive line works to protect its quarterback. In addition, elephants — just like offensive linemen — eat a lot; they can eat a couple hundred pounds of vegetation every day.
Late last month, CI’s Cambodian Pangolin Conservation Program opened the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center (PRC) near Phnom Penh. Today, Annette Olsson, the scientific technical advisor of CI’s Greater Mekong program, reflects on her six years working with pangolins.
Pangolins are amazing animals — very cool and strange, gentle and yet incredibly strong. Also known as scaly anteaters, they are covered with protective, overlapping scales, and can quickly roll up into a tight ball when threatened.
In 2006, I began working with the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), the only pangolin found in Cambodia. At that time, very little research had been conducted on this species, especially compared with other more widely known animals, and the growing threat to its future was only just being realized. Since then, we have discovered that these pangolins have become very rare or locally extinct in some areas.
To change this situation, we first needed to know the status and threats pangolins face throughout Cambodia. To do so, we carried out interview surveys across the country with villagers living in areas known to be inhabited by pangolins. These surveys found that pangolins are now rare in many places where they previously were common, mainly due to hunting for the illegal wildlife trade.
Last year, CI’s visual storytelling team traveled to Colombia to document graffiti artists in Bogotá. Street art is a popular and powerful mode of expression in the Colombian capital; recently, prominent street artists partnered with CI and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation to raise awareness about environmental issues while trying to steer young people away from drugs and crime. Today on the blog, one of them shares his most recent conservation-themed mural with us.
David “Wap” Suarez (top right) poses with his mural-painting team. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
My name is David Suarez, and I am 29 years old. I have spent 13 of those years painting art on the streets of Bogotá under the pseudonym “Wap.”
I started drawing during childhood; probably due to the amount of anime and cartoons that I watched and collected, I started to lean toward illustration and art. I saw graffiti in videos and movies that I watched at that time (1997-98), and I was struck by the letters, colors, culture — and above all, the fact that it could be painted on the street where everyone could see it.
Some time went by before I got access to my first spray-paint cans to make my first piece, which was a total disaster. But I kept trying, learning from various painting and drawing techniques, color theory, etc. Finally in 2004, I and another street artist founded a group called “dot exe crew” — one of the most important in the history of graffiti in Bogotá.
David “Wap” Suarez working on a mural in Bogotá. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
We started painting murals not only thinking about the stylistic letters and use of color, but we also began to experiment with illustration of narrative and story, taking our graffiti concepts to a more professional and artistic level. This technique became popular among other taggers/artists during that time. This is how I came to paint the first mural on biodiversity, as well as work for corporate brands.
Parallel to this, in the eastern hills of Bogotá’s Chapinero neighborhood where I live, I helped to found Artes Urbanas (Urban Arts) with friends and local school districts that were involved in various manifestations of hip-hop culture. Artes Urbanas was a youth club that provided young people with a space to be creative and avoid getting involved in drugs and crime. There, I taught screening, airbrushing and drawing.
This project was very successful, and we were immediately exposed to many institutions and foundations that wanted to support us — including CI, with whom we began painting murals under the water ecosystem restoration project in Chapinero. These themes began to interest me more and more, so I started to do murals on these subjects independently.
After seven years of work with Artes Urbanas, due to some differences with members of the youth club, I left and the project died. It left me with great experiences and precedents, as art is my life. I continued painting murals on wildlife trafficking, on the Amazon, on the eastern hills of Bogotá, and other issues that don’t have anything to do with the environment but are part of the reality of my city.
Recently, I received the news that CI wanted to provide a grant to Artes Urbanas to paint a mural on the primates of Colombia. As Artes Urbanas was no longer, the solution was to divide the grant between two people for the preparation of two murals on endemic species of primates.
David “Wap” Suarez and his team working on a mural depicting the primates of Colombia in Bogotá. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
For issues of conflicting interests and limited time and budget, I was not able to go to the Amazon to meet my primate brothers in person. However, I received my half of the grant and did my best to maximize the resources I had to paint the mural. I researched everything about Colombia’s primates on the Internet. CI provided me with a copy of their scientific book “Primates of Colombia” and other sources of information. And so I painted a huge mural of nearly 10 feet in height and about 100 feet in length in a busy area of Bogotá. My team and I are very grateful to CI for believing in and supporting our art.
The completed primate mural, which includes depictions of spider, howler and saki monkeys. Click on the photo to zoom in. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)
My newest project, called “Factory of Ideas” has to do with restoring public spaces and taking up some of the projects developed with Artes Urbanas. I’m painting murals continuously; since the primates of Colombia mural, I have made two more and I hope to continue painting for much longer.
As for people who took the time to read this humble street story, my message to you is to care for the environment and support the arts — if not financially, then at least by respecting their importance. We should focus on making our environment something positive for everyone, just as I’ve been trying to do all this time.
David “Wap” Suarez is a street artist in Bogotá, Colombia.
For the last four years I’ve managed CI’s Green Wall project in Indonesia. This project is located in the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, a forested, mountainous landscape that is one of the last havens for biodiversity on the island of Java. It is home to rare species found nowhere else, such as the silvery Javan gibbon(Hylobates moloch) and Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas).
What many people don’t know is that these mountains are also essential for local people. They serve as the primary water catchment area for over 30 million people living in five cities — including Jakarta, Indonesia’s bustling capital. Water filtered from this forest is so clean and pure that over 20 water bottling companies have situated themselves downstream. These forests also help to prevent floods and droughts for the millions of people in these cities.
Sadly, the forest is struggling. In the past few decades, much of it has been converted to farmland and residential areas. Illegal logging continues in the remaining forested areas, largely carried out by local people simply trying to make ends meet.
The Green Wall project involves replanting trees on the fringes of deforestation. It also includes a tree adoption program, agroforestry, community education and public outreach activities across the island. The project is described as a “green wall” as it lies on the boundaries of the national park — separating natural and degraded areas — and will protect against encroachment of critical ecosystem services.
In the last four years, we’ve managed to restore 200 hectares (almost 500 acres) of green wall — but with thousands of hectares of degraded landscape remaining, our work is far from done.
I work closely with the communities in this landscape to educate them on the importance of preserving the forest for future generations. It takes patience and commitment to shift the practices of local people from exploitation to sustainable management.
Part of that process involves offering the community direct benefits for supporting conservation, such as tools for agroforestry, livestock, fisheries and health services. In return, they must agree to actively support conservation efforts and refrain from contributing to deforestation in the park.
Sometimes these benefits can radically change the lives of rural residents in a single day. Last year, we installed piped water for over 500 families here, as well as electrical power for a village of six families. It was really satisfying to see the joy that the families gained from these basic services so many of us take for granted. (Learn more in the video below.)
When we talk about conservation, many people — both here in Indonesia and around the world — often think it’s about saving species. In reality, conservation is about changing people’s behavior in a way that benefits them, too.
We need to understand what’s important for these people, and then try to design a program that will change their behavior but also meet their needs. We need to be concerned about the state of the local population’s livelihoods, health care and food security because assisting with these factors is absolutely critical to gain local support for conservation. Only by addressing those issues can we get conservation going.
This project is made possible through a donation from Daikin Industries, a Japanese company that manufactures air conditioners. In addition to directly improving the lives of over 500 families, their investment has indirectly helped 30 million people living downstream in this watershed. For so long, humans have taken nature’s gifts for granted, so it’s great to see companies or individuals give back to support conservation.
Looking ahead, we would like to continue to help local communities (who have committed to protecting the forest) with their daily needs, such as improved health through proper sanitation. We also need to raise our level of engagement with the general public and stakeholders in Java on the importance of this watershed and our conservation activities. We hope these next steps will allow us to help more people understand that protecting nature is for all of our benefit.
Anton Ario is CI-Indonesia’s Gedepahala program manager. Special thanks to Lynn Tang, communications manager for CI’s Asia-Pacific Field Division, for her help with this blog.
Farmers searching out ripe cocoa pods in the center of one cooperative’s forest farmland in Madagascar. (photo courtesy of Madécasse Chocolate)
Madagascar takes your breath away. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. And it breaks your heart, because it’s also one of the poorest countries in the world.
After spending several years living in Madagascar as Peace Corps Volunteers, some friends and I wanted to change this. So, in 2008, we started Madécasse Chocolate.
Our mission? Make the best chocolate in the world and do it entirely in Madagascar, from scratch. The concept is simple; the execution is anything but.
Although at least 65% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, less than 1% of chocolate is made there — a situation that limits the economic benefit for the communities responsible for growing the crop. By making chocolate in Madagascar, we generate income and skilled labor for villagers in a country where they would otherwise have none.
Whole Foods Market stocks its shelves with Madécasse chocolate. Due to its high quality, people come back to buy it again and again.
The business cycle is complete. Poverty is reduced through the sustainable production of fine chocolate. This could be the end of a good story — but there is more to Madagascar.
From bean to bar, production of Madécasse chocolate takes place entirely in Madagascar. (photo courtesy of Madécasse Chocolate)
Eighty-five percent of the flora and fauna in Madagascar’s celebrated forests is endemic — it exists nowhere else on Earth. And 90% of the country’s original forest has been burnt to the ground, slowly and steadily, over the past thousand years.
The culprit is not international logging — instead, it’s indigenous people trying to stay alive one more day. Indigenous farmers don’t clear-cut for timber; they simply live a poor existence. A branch to make charcoal here, a little plot of land to grow crops there. Simply put, the forest provides life — but if its destruction doesn’t stop, there will soon be no more forest left to provide these resources for local people.
On a recent trip to Madagascar, I was surprised to witness a conservation effort I hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t planned. It was accidental. And it was being led by rural cocoa farmers for whom the Western concept of “conservation” does not exist.
Lalitiana is one such farmer. He’s a mild-mannered father of two whose family has been farming the same plot for four generations.
Like many farmers in Madagascar, Lalatiana grows a little bit of everything — rice, bananas, coffee, cocoa, manioc — whatever the local environment supports. But recently he’s been planting more cocoa trees.
Three cocoa trees, one hardwood. Three cocoa trees, one hardwood. This planting ratio is repeated across a hillside. Farmers are effectively reforesting their lands — lands that haven’t been forested in living memory.
Cocoa trees are fragile. They depend on a forest canopy to protect them. Exposed to direct sunlight, cocoa trees will fry and fail to produce fruit. And farmers, like Lalatiana, won’t make money.
Why are farmers planting more cocoa trees? Because farmers earn 60% more income from cocoa than they do from farming other crops.
Rural cocoa farmers in Madagascar are no different than Americans or any other people on the planet: They want a better life for themselves. Income generation for locals has been the missing piece in many historic conservation efforts in poor countries. Solve that problem, and conservation works. Ignore it, and conservation is a tough proposition in poor countries.
As I spoke with farmer after farmer in Madagascar, I realized that not only do cocoa farmers like Lalatiana rely on the hardwood forest to protect their cocoa trees, they also rely on it to protect their income.
Include the local people (the entire village, not just one or two people), and conservation works. Specifically, give locals an alternative that generates more income than depleting the forest and conservation not only works, it starts to work on its own. (Learn more about Madécasse in the video below.)
We started Madécasse with the goal of changing the economic status quo in Madagascar. In doing so, we’ve accidentally discovered the enormous potential to change the status quo in the conservation of its critical resources.
This is important considering the country’s political instability. Madagascar is about to enter its fourth year without an internationally recognized government. Businesses and market-based solutions have an important role to play. They have an opportunity to take action where the government can’t, or won’t.
To that end, Madécasse Chocolate has recently partnered with CI to expand our operations in Madagascar with a loan from Verde Ventures, an investment fund founded by CI to provide capital and technical assistance to conservation-minded businesses like Madécasse.
In the spirit of partnership, Madécasse has created a special CI Madagascar chocolate and vanilla gift set. When you buy this gift set or any other products in our web store between now and Valentine’s Day, 25% of your purchase will be donated to CI to support conservation efforts like those in Madagascar. Just click on this special store link or write “CI” in the comment box during checkout.
We look to CI and the Verde Ventures team’s professional conservation experience to help us make the most of our accidental conservation success.
Tim McCollum is a co-founder of Madécasse Chocolate. In 2011, Madécasse was recognized by Fast Company Magazine as one of “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” Madécasse Chocolate is available online and nationwide at Whole Foods Market.
From the Inuit of the Arctic to Amazonian Indians to the diverse peoples of New Guinea, traditional societies constitute “thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society,” according to Dr. Jared Diamond.
An exploration of cultural aspects of these societies — and how they contrast with the modern, industrialized world — is the subject of Diamond’s new book, “The World Until Yesterday.” Last week, the ornithologist, geographer, best-selling author and CI board member gave a lecture on this subject at National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Having been a fan of his work since reading “Guns, Germs and Steel” in college, I was excited to attend and learn about his newest publication.
Diamond has called “The World Until Yesterday” his most personal book; although he references societies from across the globe, he relies heavily on examples of cultures from the island of New Guinea, where he has conducted field work for almost 50 years.
The book covers a range of subjects, from child-rearing to attitudes toward strangers. Using the well-researched, accessible language that his books are known for, Diamond provides fascinating examples which invite us to think not only about the ways Westernized society might have advantages over some traditional practices (such as infanticide), but also how we might emulate certain aspects of traditional societies that could prove more beneficial for us as individuals, or for society as a whole.
One example that especially resonated with me — and one that seems especially relevant to conservation — is a story Diamond told during his lecture, which he expands upon in the book. He was discussing the varying treatment of the elderly in different cultures.
While conducting an environmental survey on an island in the South Pacific in 1976, Diamond became intrigued when his local guides referred to eating certain plants on the island “only after the hungi kengi.”
When he asked for details, the islanders brought him to the hut of a very old woman. They explained that hungi kengi was the local term for a massive cyclone that had hit the island around 1910, destroying forests and gardens and forcing people to turn to wild plants not normally eaten in order to survive. This old woman was the only one who had been alive at the time of the event, and therefore the only person who could pass down this information.
“Now, this old woman was the last person alive in her village with that inherited experience and knowledge. If another big cyclone were to strike Rennell [Island], her encyclopedic memory of which wild fruits to eat would be all that stood between her fellow villagers and starvation.”
Diamond explains that elders are often highly esteemed in countries with oral traditions because they remain the primary source of historical knowledge (as opposed to written records). Indeed, the phenomenon he describes — a few old people holding the collective knowledge of their peoples — is a challenge facing many indigenous communities struggling to modernize without losing their cultural identities.
This is a tragic reality for the world’s traditional peoples. It’s also a genuine concern when you consider that with the death of these individuals, much of the traditional knowledge of the geographies where their ancestors have often lived for millennia is lost, along with its potential to help provide solutions to current and future environmental challenges.
As climate change continues to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, the “world until yesterday” could provide us with some valuable lessons for tomorrow — if, that is, we make an effort to remember it.