2020 Goldman Prize Winners

Nemonte Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

The last time we mentioned a Goldman Prize winner was also the only time we have done so. What explains that? Nothing, really. Just a missed opportunity each year to celebrate things we care about. Today we share the news on one of the six prize winners for 2020:

Guardians of the Amazon Rainforest

Despite its relatively small area, Ecuador is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth. It contains pristine Amazon rainforests with rich wildlife, complex ecosystems, and significant populations of indigenous communities. Long protectors of this territory, the Waorani people are traditional hunter-gatherers organized into small clan settlements. Continue reading

Big Cats Of The South, Present & Future


 A Brazilian soldier swims in the Negro river holding Jiquitaia, a two-year-old jaguar that was adopted by the military command of the Amazon. Jiquitaia was rescued as a cub after hunters killed his mother. Photograph: None Mangueira/AP

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A jaguar in the Yasuni national park, Orellana, Ecuador. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/NPL

Ecuador is mentioned in the title but is not the only country where deforestation is putting at risk the survival of one of the big predator species in the hemisphere. Thanks to Kimberley Brown, writing in the Guardian, for her reporting from our neighborhood to the south on one of the animals we have featured the most in our pages over the years:

Ecuador’s vanishing jaguars: the big cat vital to rainforest survival

Industries such as coffee and cacao have devastated the jaguar’s habitat, but its dwindling numbers leave a delicate ecosystem hanging in the balance

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Jaguars are found across South America. This one was photographed deep inside the Nouragues Natural Reserve, in French Guiana. Photograph: Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF France

Across the American continent, from the north of Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has long been revered for its strength and power. But in some parts of Ecuador, the largest cat in South America is increasingly at risk as roads, mining and agriculture take over the rainforests.

The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to jaguars in Ecuador, particularly along the coast, where more than 70% of the original forest cover has been lost. The vast majority of this destruction has taken place over the last 50 years with the expansion of the logging and agriculture industries, including coffee, cacao, palm oil and bananas, one of the country’s largest agriculture exports. Continue reading

Saving Species With SavingSpecies


GigaPan technology, developed for NASA’s Mars mission, combines dozens of digital images to create high resolution panoramas.Credit Image by Stuart Pimm

saving-species-logo-long-small-1.pngThanks to Kathryn McManus for bringing SavingSpecies to our attention through this excellent review of their work based on the experience that she and her daughter had with its founder, Dr. Pimm:

Saving Hummingbirds Is One Small Step in Saving the Planet

High in the Andes Mountains in Colombia, a reforestation project led by SavingSpecies works to protect one of the world’s most renowned bio hot spots.

merlin_143901342_d0359165-6129-404f-855b-d2d4fb6614dc-superJumboWESTERN ANDES CLOUD FOREST, Colombia — Just before sunrise on a crisp summer morning high in a rain forest in Colombia’s Western Andes, the renowned ecologist Stuart Pimm gathered his research team over breakfast and made final plans for that morning’s journey to install motion-sensor cameras to monitor hummingbirds.

24forests-inyt3-articleLarge.jpgIn just a few hours, the installations would be done by Andrea Kolarova, 20, who was here with other students from Duke University, where Dr. Pimm holds the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation. She was getting some advice from him and from Luis Mazariegos, founder of the Hummingbird Conservancy of Colombia.


Andrea Kolarova, a student from Duke, sets up a camera with help from Alexandra McManus, 11. Michael LaPorte

My daughter, Alexandra, 11, a student at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan, Conn., had also been invited to participate in the Colombia project, which is how I found myself for two weeks this summer living in a cabin in this remote mountainous territory. Although not far from the town of Jardin, which is about two and a half hours from Medellin, it takes a slightly harrowing hourlong ride in an ATV along a dirt switchback road to get here.

Ms. Kolarova’s hummingbird research will be used by Dr. Pimm’s organization, SavingSpecies, which he founded in 2007 to combat global warming using money he was awarded as a recipient of the Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences a year earlier. SavingSpecies works with local organizations around the world to buy land with the goal of restoring forests that have been destroyed, often because of logging, agricultural expansion, mining and oil extraction, and protecting the species that are under threat as a result.


The ecologist Stuart Pimm describes the dangers of deforestation as a warming climate drives species like hummingbirds to move to higher land.Credit Image by Duke University

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Moving Slowly & Avoiding Breakage


Panthera onca. The jaguar is the king of neotropical forests, where it is the largest of the cats. Its presence at the White City indicates an extensive, thriving ecosystem. © Washington State University, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zamorano University, Honduran Forest Conservation Institute, Travis King, John Polisar, Manfredo Turcios

When the journalist Douglas Preston shared this story, I was in the process of closing up shop in India, where we had been in residence since 2010. Kipling-induced daydreaming notwithstanding, Amie and Milo (whose photos may be the most tangible representations of the dreaminess of those years) and I never had the illusion that there were lost civilizations or any such thing in India.

movefast (1)We did have the nonstop motivation of feline-fueled conservation initiatives, and some close encounters. Those provided us a perfect counterpoint to the seemingly irresistible catchphrase that described progress in the form of disruptive technology. Haste really does make waste when it comes to ecology, anthropology, and realms of life other than economic forward-marching.

When I read Mr. Preston’s story on the first day of last year I realized that our relocation to Central America, oddly enough since it is in the hemisphere called the New World, was full of potential for all kinds of discovery of “lost” things. And my own discoveries further sensitized me to the importance of moving slowly and avoiding breakage. My posts on this platform from February through July, 2017 are evidence of the richest ecological and anthropological observations of my lifetime (so far), and that makes Mr. Preston’s update post yesterday all the more wonderful to read:

Deep in the Honduran Rain Forest, an Ecological SWAT Team Explores a Lost World


Sachatamia albomaculata. The inner organs of glass frogs are visible through their translucent bodies. Photograph by Trond Larsen / Conservation International

A little more than three years ago, I joined a team of archeologists on an expedition to La Mosquitia, a remote mountain wilderness in eastern Honduras. For centuries, the region had been rumored to contain a lost city, known as the City of the Monkey God or the White City, and now, thanks to a combination of luck and modern technology, an ancient settlement had been found. Although it was probably not the lost city of legend, it was a very real place, built by a mysterious civilization that flourished long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Hidden in a densely forested valley, it had never been explored. Continue reading

The Indonesian Forests May Breathe Now

Loss of forest habitat through pulp and paper logging and palm oil plantations has pushed endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, elephants and the orangutan closer to extinction. PHOTO: Greenpeace

Loss of forest habitat through pulp and paper logging and palm oil plantations has pushed endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, elephants and the orangutan closer to extinction. PHOTO: Greenpeace

Indonesia has the third largest tropical rainforest in the world. The country is also the world’s largest producer of palm oil, fifth largest of coal, and tenth largest producer of pulp and paper. To say these industries are tied to resources of the land is to state the obvious. But to say that the activities are fast eating into forest cover is a matter of concern. Which is precisely why when a company like Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) – the country’s second largest paper and pulp company – announces that it will completely eliminate deforestation in its operations, the world takes notice.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific said the “good news” came after more than 40,000 Australians emailed Australian paper supplier Office Brands asking it to stop buying from APRIL because its paper was sourced from Indonesia’s old-growth rainforests. The announcement comes after rival Indonesian company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) announced in 2013 it would cease logging in natural forests. This followed a decade-long Greenpeace campaign that cost APP more than 130 corporate customers including Disney, Mattel and Hasbro.

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When New Roads Signal Nothing But Danger Ahead

 A newly constructed road goes through the Amazon rainforest outside Rio Branco, the capital of Acre province, Brazil. For every 40 meters or road created, around 600 sq km of forest is lost. Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Corbis

A newly constructed road goes through the Amazon rainforest outside Rio Branco, the capital of Acre province, Brazil. For every 40 meters or road created, around 600 sq km of forest is lost. Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Corbis

Thanks to the Guardian for keeping us up to date with news, no matter how dismal, which in this case raises red flags about the future of our earth’s lungs:

Roads are encroaching deeper into the Amazon rainforest, study says

Oil and gas access roads in western Amazon could open up ‘Pandora’s box’ of environmental impacts

Oil and gas roads are encroaching deeper into the western Amazon, one of the world’s last wildernesses and biodiversity hotspots, according to a new study.

Roads across Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and western Brazil could open up a ‘Pandora’s box’ of negative environmental impacts and trigger new deforestation fronts, the study published in Environmental Research Letters finds.

“The hydrocarbon frontier keeps pushing deeper into the Amazon and there needs to be a strategic plan for how future development takes place in regards to roads,” said the report’s lead author, Matt Finer, of the Amazon Conservation Association.

Continue reading

A Minor Detraction From Aging’s Major Detractors


Thanks to Roberta Kwok for her ever-concise summaries of remarkable scientific findings on Conservation‘s website, this one following the theme of a companion post with regard to aging organisms:


Aging is generally associated with slowing down. But scientists have found that trees actually grow faster as they get older, making them star players in a forest’s carbon storage. In fact, one old tree can fix as much carbon in a year as the total amount of carbon in a “middle-aged” tree. Continue reading

Saving Rainforest One Pop-Tart At A Time

An access road is constructed in a peatland forest being cleared for a palm oil plantation on Indonesia's Sumatra island in 2013. Chaideer. Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

An access road is constructed in a peatland forest being cleared for a palm oil plantation on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in 2013. Chaideer. Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to National Public Radio in the USA for this story of palm oil, Pop-Tarts and ethics, wrapped up in the clothing of an entrepreneurial conservation case study among multinational corporations:

If you think a small shareholder can’t get the attention of the multibillion-dollar palm oil industry, think again.

Lucia von Reusner lives half a world away from the palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia that have become notorious for environmental, labor and human rights abuses.

So, how did she nudge for change? She couldn’t tell palm oil plantations in Indonesia to clean up their act. But, as a Kellogg shareholder, she figured out how to put pressure on the company to use its leverage to push for change.

Palm oil, of course, is the fat that lubricates so many of our packaged snacks today, from Pop-Tarts and Eggo waffles to soaps and other personal products. And global demand for palm oil has grown quickly.

The clear-cutting of precious forests in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia to grow the oil palm trees has been well-documented. More recently, an investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek into human rights abuses on Indonesian palm oil plantations and an Accenture analysis that described the use of child labor have raised more awareness about other unsavory realities in the industry. Continue reading

“Buy a Fish, Save a Tree”

A fisherman on the Rio Negro Photo courtesy of Discover Magazine

A fisherman on the Rio Negro – Photo courtesy of Discover Magazine

One would normally associate conservation with protecting the natural environment and the animals in it, but this Discovery Magazine article shows a new, almost counter-intuitive, way the local people are helping conserve and protect the Amazon Rainforest.

At sunrise on a September day in 1991, as Scott Dowd’s riverboat floated up the Rio Negro in Brazil, flocks of shrieking macaws streaked the sky red and gold. Otherwise, “my full field of vision was filled with jungle,” he remembers.

Best of all for the self-described “fish nerd” from Weymouth, Massachusetts, the dark waters beneath his boat teemed with beautiful fish—species he’d kept in aquarium tanks since he was 10. Now he was headed to the place they’d come from: Barcelos, a town of 20,000 in the heart of the Amazon.

But when he got there, he was horrified.

The riverfront was jammed with men in dugout canoes. They had come from the surrounding municipality, a rainforested area the size of Pennsylvania, bringing hand-woven baskets lined with plastic, now brimming with tiny, colorful fish. Tubs of the fish they caught would fill the entire bottom floor of an 80-foot ferryboat headed to Manaus, 280 miles to the south.

The fish were bound for exporters supplying home aquaria around the world. The estimated catch of tropical fish leaving the area, Dowd discovered, was more than 40 million fish per year. “My kneejerk reaction to this was, this was out of control!” he says.

But now, 22 years later, he eagerly admits: “I could not have been more wrong.” Continue reading

Swept Away

The “Three C’s” on our banner are more than words. They solidify into reality and action when people with similar views and interests reach out to us after reading them. This is what happened recently when Jennifer Harrington, a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer introduced herself to us. Her collaboration with illustrator Michael Arnott on an eBook and animated short film versions of the The Spirit Bear and other stories is aimed at educating children about conservation while entertaining them at the same time.

Although sounding like a character out of Native American legend, the ghost or spirit bear actually

come from a small community of bears called Kermodes, which are a subspecies of black bears. Kermode bears may be black or white, but they all carry the recessive gene for white fur. 10% of Kermodes will fully express the recessive gene, and will be born with white or cream-coloured fur. Continue reading

Zombie Architecture & Rainforest Creatures

In the New York Times, the great science-explaining journalist Carl Zimmer writes about a mystery most of us would never otherwise encounter:

In the rain forests of Costa Rica lives Anelosimus octaviusa species of spider that sometimes displays a strange and ghoulish habit.

From time to time these spiders abandon their own web and build a radically different one, a home not for the spider but for a parasitic wasp that has been living inside it. Then the spider dies — a zombie architect, its brain hijacked by its parasitic invader — and out of its body crawls the wasp’s larva, which has been growing inside it all this time. Continue reading

Canopy Capture

Click the image above to go to a story covered in Wired about a novel approach to mapping threatened rainforest, using existing technology in an innovative manner:

A small, twin-propeller plane flies over the Amazon rainforest in eastern Peru. The scale of the vegetation is extraordinary. The tree canopy stretches as far as the eye can see — an endless array of broccoli florets bounded only by haze and horizon. Greg Asner, 43, has seen the rainforest from this vantage point many times before, but he still stares out of the window in rapt fascination.

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