March 6th, 2014 by mongabay
By Gregory McCann, Habitat ID
Ecotourism is a popular growing trend, and this is especially true in tropical countries that have a wealth of biodiversity to offer the interested trekker. Cambodia is no exception. I have been visiting Virachey National Park in northeastern Cambodia for the past five years, but my most recent trip involved a special purpose: setting up 14 motion-triggered camera-traps throughout the park. Without giving away the GPS coordinates, let me say that they are strategically placed in areas where we have a great chance of capturing wildlife images. Sounds like a wonderful plan, right? But there is a problem –how do we check up on the cameras, change memory cards, batteries, clear away foliage that threatens to block the sensors and lenses? Send in the rangers, right? Not so simple.
Pre-trek camera and equipment check. Photo by Greg McCann.
In Cambodia—and in other countries throughout Southeast Asia—national park rangers are in many cases given no budget to go on a multi-day patrol in the forest to fight poachers, let alone to check cameras. These patrols and camera-checks usually have to be paid for by someone else, like a wildlife conservation NGO.
Ranger setting up a camera. Photo by Greg McCann.
The new NGO that I helped start, Habitat ID, sets up camera-traps in neglected “paper parks” in an attempt to prove—using photographs of wildlife—that these parks deserve being treated like “real” parks that receive adequate protection. However, even NGOs have limited budgets, as we do as a new organization. And so we must find a creative way to have the cameras maintained on a sustainable basis. Our answer: ecotourism.
We would like to have ecotourists who trek to Virachey’s beautiful and popular Veal Thom Grasslands essentially pay for the camera-checks. These hearty trekkers (it’s a 6-7 night trek, depending on one’s fitness level and the amount of time they have) would trek to the tourist camp as usual, but with the added bonus of being taken to our camera-trap sites to service the cameras. Not only will these camera-trap ecotourists be able to have a look at what kind of animals are roaming the park when no one is around, but they would also be allowed to download some of the camera-trap photos to keep for themselves and share with friends and family. Best of all, they will know that their participation in this activity furthered the conservation cause in the park, because if it wasn’t for them, those cameras wouldn’t be getting checked for some time.
Having serviced camera-traps in Thailand and Cambodia, I can tell you that checking on these devices in the middle of the jungle is thrilling. Keys come out, camera comes down, memory card is slipped into a device with a monitor, and everyone—rangers, porters, and NGO workers— huddles around brimming with excitement. Except it’s not a group of school kids crowding around the guy with a new comic book but people who have been to the forest many times yet still feel excited to see what kind of animals are prowling around.
We want ecotourists to experience this feeling, and they can do it in the Veal Thom Grasslands and also at the D’darr Poom Chop waterfall camp in the forests north of the grasslands, a location that offers spectacular swimming and the chance to service yet another camera on the upper Gan Yu River. To my knowledge only three Western people have ever seen this place (D’darr), myself included.
Wild pig skull. Photo by Greg McCann.
Ecotourists who trek to the Veal Thom Grasslands will therefore be helping the conservation cause in Virachey. There are other cameras that have been placed in a highly remote area near the Laos border and those take extra days to reach, but we imagine that ecotourists, as hearty as some are, probably don’t want to spend 2 weeks in the jungle. To get those distant cameras checked Habitat ID will raise the money to pay for the ranger’s Daily Supply Allowance (DSA) for the long trek to the international border, a very wild area of spirit mountains, carnivores, and, so they say, the Annamite Mountain Yeti, known locally as the “tek-tek.”
If we obtain photos of tigers or rhinoceros these will be deemed sensitive images and publicity will not be possible. Instead, other NGOs and the Ministry of Environment will be notified. However, we feel that sharing pictures of more common—but equally exciting—animals such as elephants, leopards, clouded leopards, sun bears, and other species is permissible. The fact is that local people know (and have long known) what kind of animals live in the park, approximately where they are, and about how many are still there. NGOs may like to think that they have insider knowledge with their camera-trap images, but the fact is that local people who are in the forest all year round have an excellent idea of what is still out there in terms of wildlife, and we aren’t really telling them something they don’t already know (as much as we might like to think so).
Camera-trap Ecotourism is not something we are trying to patent (indeed, maybe people elsewhere are already doing it). On the contrary, we hope that this can be something that under-funded national parks all around the world can replicate. Creative ways are desperately needed to fund conservation in today’s world, and we hope that ecotourism can be used to pay for various initiatives.
On a final note, not only are the cameras being checked with this ecotourism scheme, but ecotourists are simultaneously paying for rangers to patrol deep into the jungle, which, due to budget constraints, rarely happens. We hope to be reporting back with good news in the future –satisfied ecotourists, serviced cameras, patrolling rangers, and wild animals smiling for the camera.
Our cameras are ready and waiting. Photo by Greg McCann.
Ecotourists can really contribute to conservation. Photo by Greg McCann.
GPS check shows we were just 400 meters from Laos. Photo by Greg McCann.
Rangers setting up a camera. Photo by Greg McCann.
Tourist camp in Veal Thom Grasslands. Photo by Greg McCann.
A camera trap. Photo by Greg McCann.
A view of the river at D’darr Poom Chop camp. Photo by Greg McCann.
D’darr Poom Chop camp. Photo by Greg McCann.
March 5th, 2014 by mongabay
By Emily Read, University of Oxford, UK
There has been growing awareness in the world of ecosystem science that large animals (megafauna) play a significant role in how ecosystems function. With their huge range and capacity to eat and process a vast amount of vegetation, creatures such as elephants spread nutrients further than smaller creatures as they wander the land, playing a crucial long-term role in biogeochemical cycling. The conference titled Megafauna and Ecosystem Function: from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene will take place this month at Oxford University. Sergey Zimov, Frans Vera, James Estes and Yadvinder Malhi are amongst those in a mammoth line-up of scientists discussing the relevance of giant creatures to ecosystems. Megafaunal rewilding is also germane – will we see large creatures again in the areas they once inhabited?
The conference will be held at the University of Oxford, St John’s College on 18 – 20 March 2014.
February 23rd, 2014 by Mongabay
Commentary by Dr. Prakash Kashwan, University of Connecticut
Nature conservation is often promoted in the name of the greater good of humanity. However, in a large number of cases, nature conservation is associated with increased militarization of resource control (see the select bibliography below). International conservation organizations have responded to such concerns by developing proposals for what they refer to as ‘rights-based approaches to conservation’. Some of the biggest conservation organizations have also come together to form the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights (CIHR), which is a consortium of international conservation NGOs that seek to improve the practice of conservation by promoting integration of human rights in conservation policy and practice. This editorial is intended to shed light on the effectiveness of the proposals and initiatives intended to protect the rights of indigenous and other forest-dependent people affected adversely by national and international programs for nature conservation.
Rainforest in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
The immediate trigger for this essay is a blog post by Professor Rosaleen Duffy of SOAS University of London. In the said blog, Dr. Duffy shares her reflections about the London Conference on Wildlife Trafficking. Concerned about the increasing militarization of wildlife conservation policy and advocacy, Dr. Dufy suggests,
“We are witnessing a greater call to arms to ‘combat’ and ‘fight’ poaching. More boots on the ground and more weaponry runs the risk of escalating a poaching war as each side gets locked into an arms race and an increasingly deadly conflict (for rangers and for hunters/poachers). It runs a second danger that local communities will get caught up in the war regardless, because of their proximity to heavily fortified protected areas.”
Moreover, Dr. Duffy adds that “the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights was not mentioned at the conference at all”, even though many of the organisations in ‘United for Wildlife’, the organization which hosted the conference, are signatories. While Dr. Duffy’s focus is on the militarization side of the equation, her reflections should also make us pause and ponder over whether the rights-based approaches to conservation have served the lofty goals that international conservation organizations often espouse in the rights declarations issued from time to time. For the past decade or so, almost all major international conservation organizations have agreed on certain principles of “rights-based approaches” to conservation. The principles are discussed in about half a dozen reports published by international conservation groups and cited in the Kashwan paper cite below. These proposals draw upon international human rights discourse to advocate for the rights of ‘indigenous communities’ that project proponents must strive to protect during the implementation of conservation projects.
In the ‘Land Use Policy’ paper cited below, I have shown that while human rights discourse may be useful in drawing attention to the plight of local communities, and may even be helpful in justifying such rights for forest-dependent people, but they do not help us in dealing with the challenges on the ground. I have argued that the key challenge on the ground is to bring in some semblance of accountability of government agencies who continue to exert strong territorial control over territories set aside as state forests by the fiat of colonial and post-colonial governments. Governments own and control more than 86% of the world’s forests, a percentage which is much higher in the developing countries. Government forestry agencies have continued to pursue programs and policies that are heavy on the discourses of participation, but devolve weak rights to local communities.
While the key argument that I make in the paper is to emphasize the importance of holding the state to account, a careful reading of the evidence presented in some of the works cited below would also show that international conservation-groups have not invested in the efforts to hold the state to account for two specific reasons. First, international conservation groups prefer centralized control of forests and wildlife areas because they believe that such control is instrumental to the promotion of effective nature conservation. Indeed, as Dr. Duffy commented in response to the comments on the Just Conservation blog, “Where states are engaged in repression, forced displacement, human rights abuses, etc. wildlife NGOs often stay silent.” Second, and, perhaps more importantly, any efforts to hold the state to account are likely to draw attention to the accountability of international nature conservation groups. Dr. Duffy’s reflections about the London meeting, and many other reports about the militarization of conservation published on this website and portals such as ‘Just Conservation’, should serve as a wakeup call.
In conclusion, it is important to assert that any questioning of the effectiveness of rights-based approaches in conservation should not be construed as an argument against the importance of either nature conservation or the rights of people who are affected most directly by international nature conservation. Indeed, the questions that I have raised above are borne out of a shared interest in achieving each of these important objectives. The argument is that we must ask some hard questions about the criteria that should be used in prioritizing the goals of nature conservation over the rights, in particular the land and livelihood rights, of forest-dependent people. Most importantly, in the interest of nature conservation and the fundamental rights of forest-dependent people, international conservation agencies will have to stand up to governments and government agencies that continue to work with the intention of maintaining territorial control at any cost. We should stop thinking instrumentally about rights. Instead, we should deliberate seriously about the social, cultural, political, and economic rights, which must be recognized as non-negotiable.
- Agrawal, Arun, and Kent Redford. “Conservation and Displacement: An Overview.” Conservation and Society 7.1 (2009): 1-10.
- Brockington, Dan, Rosaleen Duffy, and Jim Igoe. Nature Unbound: Conservation, Capitalism and the Future of Protected Areas. London; Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2008.
- Kashwan, Prakash. “The Politics of Rights-Based Approaches in Conservation.” Land Use Policy 31.0 (2013): 613-26.
- Larson, Anne, and Jesse Ribot. “The Poverty of Forestry Policy: Double Standards on an Uneven Playing Field.” Sustainability Science 2.2 (2007): 189-204.
- Peluso, Nancy L. “Coercing Conservation: The Politics of State Resource Control.” Global Environmental Change 3.2 (1993): 199-218.
- Ribot, Jesse C. “Choose Democracy: Environmentalists’ Socio-Political Responsibility.” Global Environmental Change 16.2 (2006): 115-19.
- Rodríguez, J. P., et al. “Globalization of Conservation: A View from the South.” Science 317.5839 (2007): 755-56.
- Sikor, Thomas, et al. “Redd-Plus, Forest People’s Rights and Nested Climate Governance.” Global Environmental Change 20.3 (2010): 423-25.
January 7th, 2014 by mongabay
Commentary by Isabel S. Abrams
Most people think of Nelson Mandela as a fighter for racial equality in South Africa. To me, he is also a powerful advocate for protecting wilderness and empowering youth.
In 2002, I was in the audience at the World Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa where I heard Mandela address delegates from more than 100 nations.
“Many don’t want (conservation areas) set aside for privileged by privileged. Many have origins in colonial past,” Mandela said. “In South Africa, we break with this legacy.”
A baby elephant in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com
Why? Because Mandela believed that, in addition to being places of beauty and adventure, National Parks are vital sources of South Africa’s economic development.
Safaris to Africa provide revenue to its developing nations, while visitors like me are awestruck by the magnificent giraffes, lions, zebra, and cheetahs of the African wilderness. I have taken many photos of elephants, those gentle giants, who care for their young as they roam the grasslands, and feed on greenery. I have also run away from elephants who suddenly appeared and flared their ears as they headed toward me, because I had visited a place where elephants had torn down trees like a hurricane. That was why Mandela’s comments on elephants surprised and amused me.
I learned about Mandela’s special relationship with elephants in 2003, at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa. At the opening ceremony, speakers described how fences had to be removed between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, in order to create Great Limpopo Park, an international wilderness that provided safe passage for migrating elephants and other wildlife.
Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan acknowledged that South Africa can be justly proud of its protected areas and claimed that preserved natural wilderness areas were the “green lines of our planet that provide clean air, water, and livelihoods, places that feed our souls, provide inspiration and solace in an increasingly urban world.”
Queen Noor finished by adding that, when elephants were transferred to Mozambique,., Nelson Mandela claimed this transfer of elephants was payment for his bride.” “Some elephants try to return,” she said. “We hope they honor Mr. Mandela’s bride price.”
An adult elephant in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com
President Nelson Mandela wore a zebra patterned shirt and smiled as he walked slowly up to the podium. His voice was soft but his message was strong. “The future is in the hands of youth and in the future of protected natural areas,” he said. Then he warned the audience that far too few youth are involved in the work of sustaining wilderness. I nodded my head in agreement because I work with Caretakers of the Environment International, a network of high school students and teachers who are very determined to protect nature. How happy I was to hear Mandela say, “This is a matter of great concern,” and ask the delegates, “to support all junior rangers and other youth organizations, and to give them higher priority in protecting wilderness.”
Mandela claimed that National Parks empower people, create jobs, and relieve poverty.
“They sustain biodiversity, conservation and tourism,” he said, for he knew that we can have a sustainable future if we enlist energetic and idealistic youth in our efforts to save elephants and other wildlife.
“A sustainable future for humans depends on nature as much as anything else,” said Mandela, and he wished us great success in our endeavors.
December 18th, 2013 by mongabay
Photo essay by Jenny Denton
Its natural beauty and colorful Hindu culture have drawn visitors to Bali since the 1930s. But more than three decades of rampant development since mass tourism took hold have left the island and its people in a critical state. Bali is struggling with a severe water shortage, huge volumes of waste, a loss of agricultural land and forest, and an influx of foreign investors and workers that threaten to overwhelm the Balinese people. As local environmentalists and other commentators explain, though, visitors to Bali have a role to play in addressing the problems.
“I was born in Kuta in the ‘70s and I’ve seen things change so much – especially in Kuta, and other places in Bali – a lot of changes,” says I Gede Ari Astina (Jerinx), environmentalist and drummer for punk rock band Superman Is Dead.
“The [tourism] industry, the machine, is destroying this island. So someone has to do something.”
Professor Thomas Reuter, from Melbourne University’s Asia Institute explains that “the myth of Bali as a worldly paradise or paradise on earth began back in the ’30s and it became more broad-based in the 1960s, particularly as some of the beat generation and the ‘60s–‘70s generation discovered it was possible to travel the world on a shoestring.”
“Small hotels shot up in places like Kuta, usually family‑operated by Balinese people.”
“It was not until the ‘80s that you really got the mass tourism of people who are not just traveling around the world backpacking but are going for a two week holiday wanting to party and that sort of thing.”
“During the Suharto era tourism development became a sort of megaproject—huge hotels with enormous water usage were built, often near to very important temples, which in an Australian context you might call sacred sites.”
“Even during that time of political repression there were some protests about the displacement of rice farmers. But the developers would simply hire some thugs to break the dykes and cut off the farmers’ water supply so they would be more willing to leave.”
“Irrigation is everything in Bali. Balinese agriculture is reliant on irrigated rice traditionally.”
I Gede Ari Astina (Jerinx): “There are so many, so many issues – for example, the water crisis. We don’t have enough clean water for everyone because they just keep building hotels and malls and resorts.”
“We have enough of them already and they just keep building them.”
Thomas Reuter: “Tourists use enormous amounts of water compared to Balinese people. Most people in Bali still have a traditional bathroom, where two people can have a shower with a large bucket of water. The water usage per day of tourists is very much greater. And there are all the swimming pools and the gardens that have to be watered. Bali has now reached a point where the water supply is absolutely exhausted. There isn’t any more water to be distributed and in fact agriculture has suffered.”
From the ROLE (Rivers, Oceans, Lands & Ecology) Foundation: “Despite the high levels of regional and international investment in Bali’s tourism sector many people are not beneficiaries of rapid development, whilst at the same time they are impacted by loss of arable land, environmental degradation and development‑driven inflation on the prices of everyday basic commodities. In addition, development-linked overfishing has reduced traditional job opportunities in this sector for coastal communities.”
“Labor-related immigration into Bali has increased competition in the employment market and this particularly impacts the poor and unskilled from traditional agricultural and coastal economies. Illiterate and unskilled people have limited work opportunities and are increasingly unemployed, underemployed and underpaid.”
I Gede Ari Astina (Jerinx), again: “After the bombing the government was trying to sell everything cheap to attract people to come. And it just got to a point where everything was too cheap and too easy…”
“In the name of the economy, in the name of surviving, we’re having big sales now in Bali. We’re selling our land, we’re selling our pride, we’re selling our environment. We’re selling everything.”
Made Sana, a tour guide in Ubud: “In 10 years maybe no more rice fields.”
I Gede Ari Astina (Jerinx): “This is our island, this is our home, but very, very few Balinese own something in this island. We only work for someone or get hired by someone. Basically we are slaves in our own home. A lot of people predict the future of Bali will be that everything will be owned by non-Balinese and we’ll just work for them and this island won’t be ours anymore.”
“There’s pollution, traffic, the crime rate, the waste—plastic waste everywhere.”
Tri Wahyudi Purnomo from the Bali Fokus Foundation http://balifokus.asia/balifokus/: “In Bali, approximately 10,000 tonnes of waste is produced a day (or maybe more), around 70 per cent organic waste and 30 per cent non-organic waste.”
The ROLE Foundation again: “More than 5,000 tonnes of illegal trash is dumped every day in the rivers, the sea, the drains and the gullies. When rubbish is not dumped, it is burnt, and not only is the environment threatened but people’s health as well.”
“Liquid, air and solid waste are washing down and polluting the beaches, the reefs and the oceans.”
Tri Wahyudi Purnomo from Balifokus again: “Hotels and villas are growing year after year. With the three big projects to prepare Bali for modernisation, globalisation and liberalisation—the airport expansion, the toll road and the underpass—you can imagine how much more crowded it will get and how much more the waste problem is going to grow if it’s not properly handled. The reality is that almost all rubbish dumps are overloaded.”
From Ubud monkey forest website: “Despite the fact that many species of macaques thrive in areas that are heavily utilized by humans, there is evidence that the viability of Balinese long-tailed macaques (the ability of macaques to continue to thrive) may be dependent upon the conservation of Bali’s forested areas.”
Wayan Gendo Suardana from WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) Bali: “Bali is badly in need of at least 8 percent more forest, as the ideal quantity of forest cover is a minimum 30 percent of the total area.”
Jerinx, again: “Because the education in Bali is not as good as some other countries, it would be cool if people who come to Bali can share knowledge and share goodwill with the locals here … by volunteering or just by good example”.
The ROLE Foundation has built an ‘island sustainability centre’ on 1.5 hectares of land at Sawangan, Nusa Dua, on the Bukit Peninsula. “ROLE Foundation is a non-profit humanitarian organisation whose aim is to improve the education, wellbeing and self-reliance of people living in underprivileged circumstances, whilst ensuring environmental resilience and sustainability.
Thomas Reuter from Melbourne University: “The way people organize their holidays and most importantly where they stay and what they do does make a difference, and it’s important to be aware of that and try to spend your money where you think it might actually make a difference to the local people, because that is certainly one way to empower them.”
Jerinx: “For the long term it’s very important that tourists set a good example. If you can’t do something in your country, don’t do it in Bali. It’s very important so that everyone can see the good Bali, the beautiful Bali.”
“That should be the reason to come here, not because it’s cheap and you can do whatever you want. If that’s your reason, maybe better not come.”
Click here to see a list of Environmental and other NGOs working in Bal:
December 6th, 2013 by mongabay
Reader contribution by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain
A loggerhead hatchling. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
A loggerhead mother laying on the beach at sunset. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
Among the shadows of the night, I finally spot them: fresh tracks, coming from the sea and making
their way to the obscurity of the sand dunes. Somewhere up there, a sea turtle is looking for an ideal
nesting site. Silently, I lie down on the wet ground and start crawling, all my senses on the watch, along
the crescent-like marks. I hear her before seeing her: a muffled noise of sand thrown in the air. Then,
the moonlight unveils a perfectly round carapace engaged in a pendulum-like motion. My weeks long
training to become a tagger tells me that she started digging her egg chamber. My work will start in
about ten minutes. I seize the opportunity to enjoy the greek summer’s nocturnal sky illuminated by the
shooting stars. When everything becomes silent, I carefully move forward until I’m behind the shell.
A loggerhead mother returning to sea. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
A loggerhead nest with four eggs. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
There is the loggerhead turtle, or Caretta-Caretta, distinctively brown and endowed with a large head
and a powerful beak. I observe her contractions, characterized by a steady vertical stretching of the
hind flippers, before flashing my infra-red light towards the egg chamber: a small quantity of pingpong-
like eggs is already there, while others keep falling from the reptile’s cloaca. From now on, doped
by a hormonal spurt, the turtle is unaware of the world around her. It’s time to set up the tagging
equipment: the PIT, a chip inserted in the front left flipper’s muscle via a large-gauge needle; the plastic
and the metallic tags, respectively attached between the scales of the hind left and front right flippers
with different applicators. Measurements of the carapace and a superficial statement of the animal’s
health will complete the process. If the turtle is rather old, calm and experienced, the tagging should
prove to be easy and last about twenty minutes, between the moments she covers the eggs, camouflages
the nest and goes back to sea. If she lays for the first time, it is likely that she will struggle, flap the air
with her powerful flippers, and even try to bite. But this one turtle comes as a surprise to me. While
inspecting her, my eyes are suddenly caught by a small, yellowish shape on the hind flipper: a
rectangular piece of plastic with a code. She has already been tagged. That is something I had been
expecting for a little while now, and a meaninful event as a part of ARCHELON‘s program; tags
allowing us to follow the turtles’ migrations and study their nesting patterns. A quick glance at my
logbook: I discover that she was tagged exactly two weeks ago by one of my colleagues, on this same
sector of Kyparissia beach. Turtles can lay more than four times within the nesting season, that
stretches from mid-May to mid-August and tend to come back to the same place. But they also achieve
long migrations through the seas: turtles tagged on the neighboring island of Zakynthos have thus
emerged from the Bay of Kyparissia to nest.
Volunteers checking on marked nest sites. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
One of the marked nest sites. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
A loggerhead mother returning to sea after laying. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
That is all the beauty of these reptiles, which survived the dinosaurs and never ceased to come out
under the moon to lay their eggs on the world’s sands from then on. It is such a primeval behaviour that
the holiday-makers Dimitris and Anna Margaritoulis witnessed during a mass nesting on Zakynthos in
the summer of 1977. Their life was forever transformed, and ARCHELON, the Sea Turtle Protection
Society of Greece, was officially created in 1983. Their efforts to communicate about the loggerheads,
via articles and conferences, were the basics of turtle monitoring and protection programs in Europe,
and participated in rooting them in the greek consciousness. With financial support from WWF
International and the scientific community, they identified other nesting sites of importance through
Greece, including the bay of the Kyparissia; and initiated actions of public awareness as well as tagging
programs. The task wasn’t always easy, and Zakynthos, historically the heart of the organization and the
island with the biggest nests density, faced the storm before achieving its goal: the establishment of a
marine national park in 1999. Volunteers, the main workforce of ARCHELON, were subjected to
violence from the locals and tensions culminated with a bomb exploding in the premises of the
organization, often considered by many land owners as a threat to their activities. Today, Zakynthos is
back to more friendly feelings, but the Peloponnesus has come to face similar issues. And I just need to
walk back to ARCHELON’s van at the end of my tagging’s night to be reminded of it. Our four tyres
have been properly slashed, the engine is unroadworthy. Panick, anger. We know perfectly well who is
behind it, because they are the same people that, day after day since the beginning of this 2013 season,
have been trying to prevent us from doing our work in the name of real estate and money. Welcome to
ARCHELON, the volunteering program that can offer within a single night the most exciting of
wildlife encounters, as well as the premises of an ecological war.
A loggerhead female swims out to sea. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
A loggerhead hatchling. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
A loggerhead hatchling. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Pouchain.
It took me little time to learn that the organization had alone dared to stand up against illegal
development. I had just arrived at its base camp, on the Western coast of Peloponnesus, for a two
months volunteering during the nesting and hatching seasons. Before being trained to be a tagger, I had
followed other volunteers from different countries in their main task: morning surveys, carried out by
groups of three to five people over 10 km of sandy beach to look for and protect turtle nests. We had to
spot all the tracks from the previous night, to determine whether they led to an actual nest, and to
protect it from predators and human disturbances with metallic grids and bamboos. My first impression
had been that of a preserved environment, barely known of the tourists. The beautiful scenery and the
excitement of a treasure hunt-like volunteering were only matched by the physically demanding work
and the unbearable heat. Then, I had noticed that we were being followed by a rather unpleasantlooking
man with a dog. I had been told he was an observer, nicknamed “Napoleon”. A local real-estate
company had hired him, as well as others, to collect informations about our
work and try to prove that ARCHELON wasn’t carrying any serious study out, and was even falsifying
field datas, for instance by dividing the nests in order to increase their total number. The firm was then
hoping to crush the main obstacle to its goal: the illegal building of 50 luxurious villas on one of the
main nesting site of loggerhead turtles, protected by the Natura 2000 networking european program.
Development had already caused major damages to the bay’s ecosystem when its caterpillars had
wiped out parts of the pine forest and sand dunes habitat bordering the beach, in order to build five
illegal roads. The survival of the loggerheads, classified “endangered” on the IUCN Red List, had been
more compromised and some of the coast’s inhabitants had then dared to demonstrate. Nowadays, if the
proposed plan has been stopped by ministerial decision, the firm’s methods have switched to the
guerilla warfare; vandalizing our van or sending intrusive, and sometimes aggressive, observers being
only a few of its multiple aspects. That is how, from appalling discoveries to reactive measures, the
2013 volunteering season within ARCHELON is torn between joy and bitterness. One day, the public’s
awareness raised through conferences and slide-shows fills us with satisfaction; the day after, we
experience frustration upon discovering that turtle tracks have been scrubbed and nests’ protections,
stolent during the night. The morning surveys’ excitement alternates with the fear to be threatened, or
even bullied, while tagging in the dark. The locals, once standing for their rights, refuse to take part
nowadays. The code of silence prevails, and those who push turtles away with their lights seem to have
been granted impunity; forcing ARCHELON to set up night patrols on the beach. For the first time
since 1989, we were obliged to shut our seasonal information kiosque down. This is how the
organization has become a textbook case of today’s world’s conservation issues, when development and
money clash with nature and preservation.
Like every turtle species in the world, anthropogenic threats to the loggerheads are the main cause of
their decreasing number: bycatches from fisheries; trawling, that drowns the air-needing reptiles in
giant nets; plastic bags, which are confused by turtles with jellyfish; or the illegal wildlife trade, mostly
for the asian market. In the bay of Kyparissia, and especially next to the small town of Kalo Nero,
turtles are subjected to land disturbances, such as tourists inconsiderately encouraged by a hotel owner
to look for them at night; or beach bars with flashing lights and invading chairs. Panagiota Theodorou,
project coordinator in the Peloponnesus, denounces this illegal development by a contradiction: “these
sites are the property of all of us, that will benefit us on the long-term much more than a short-lived
building activity. It’s like slaughtering the goose that lays the golden eggs…” Not to mention the turtles’
ecological importance, a key-species to the environmental balance. Not only do they regulate other
marine species such as jellyfish (and, a fortiori, plankton and fish), but the nutrients coming from the
eggs laid in the sand contribute to the stabilisation of the dune system and minimize the beach erosion.
Hence the essential mission of public awareness to which ARCHELON is commited since the
beginning, that prides itself to inform over 35 000 people annually, in Zakynthos only. Unfortunately, the
project is getting no help from a Greek state in dereliction, tainted by corruption and deprived of
satisfying, enforced environmental laws. Some stubborn Greek people are inclined to every extremism,
illegal development being one of the worst. “The environment is always the first thing being inflicted,
regrets Theodorou. But the economic crisis and unemployment that exist in our country should not be
an excuse for actions that will lead to reckless destruction of habitats and areas of high ecological
value. The State will have to make up for the damages to Kyparissia’s bay.” However, as of today, an
efficient turtle conservation system has yet to be implemented: they still suffer great disturbances
throughout Greece. Because of this violation of articles 6 and 12 of the Habitats Directive 92/43/CEE;
the country, as part the of the Europe-wide Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas, received a
reasoned opinion from the European Comission in October 2012. Since then, nothing.
When the nesting season comes to an end, it is replaced by the hatchling season, after about 55 days
of incubation. Despite all the issues that ARCHELON had to face this year, we protected the highest
number of nests ever recorded: over 1500, twice as much as the previous year. For the first time,
Kyparissia has become the most important nesting site for loggerhead turtles in Europe, before
Zakynthos. The chaotic profusion of hatchlings rushing to the sea offers a touching contrast to the
feeble arguments of ARCHELON’s enemies. “We are now witnessing the consequences of the great
work carried out by the organization for 30 years, explains Celine Campana, veterinary-nurse and
returning volunteer. Our volunteering program made this increase in nests number possible, thanks to
worldly people who come to experience something new, and then come back because it’s the best thing
they have ever done. We train them, give them responsibilities, and they are rewarded by close
encounters with sea turtles.” If the 2013 season is a conservation success, the organization’s protocols
can be improved, stresses Theresa Stewart, ecologist and monitoring leader at Kyparissia camp. “I
believe that a more holistic approach to habitat management is required in this area. A habitat
management plan should incorporate the entire coastal ecosystem, which includes the beach, sand
dunes and coastal pine forest, which should be protected as a whole and not as individual habitats as
the degradation of one will ultimately impact another.” The long-term goal for Kyparissia is the same
as Zakynthos: the establishment of a protected marine national park. In hope that today’s volunteers
will be able to come back in 15 years without witnessing the same damages inflicted, for instance, to
Crete: its Rethymno beach, once roamed by turtles, is nowadays mostly filled with beach chairs.
According to Stewart, a middle-ground is possible: “ARCHELON has a motto which is “We can all
live together”. The thought behind this is that humans can use the beach in the day time and we can
then remove all of the beach furniture when the sun sets and leave the beach at night only for turtles.
Appropriately designed mitigation schemes can work to incorporate measures that minimize impact to
the habitats and species present and include habitat creation.” Therefore, in the future, men will have to
find a way to come to terms with loggerheads. “I never lose my faith in people and their potential,
concludes Theodorou. Kyparissia needs a local government with a vision, good promotion strategies
and a strong will for work in order to develop the area in a sustainable way.”
I remember the night of August 6th. I had just tagged a turtle whose nest was right next to one of
Hotel Irida’s beach chair, in Kalo Nero. The owner was notoriously bad-tempered, and I knew this nest
would be the source of issues for the morning team. The next day, while my colleagues were trying to
protect it, he and his wife had rushed towards them and started pulling violently the bamboo sticks out
of the sand, in order to dig and make sure it was an actual nest. Volunteers had defended themselves,
locals had joined the melee, and the police had intervened. Suddenly, 18 hatchlings had come out of a
neighboring nest together and, covered in sand, had run to the sea under the guard of volunteers and
marvelled tourists. Those turtles that would perhaps come back to nest at this very same place had just
put an end to the drama with a glimmer of hope.
Note: The information in this post is the opinion of a guest contributor. Any views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of mongabay.
December 3rd, 2013 by mongabay
By Natalie Millar
With recent surveys showing the rate of deforestation in the Amazon averaging 2,000 square miles each year, we are at a time where conservation of the rainforest is becoming more and more critical. Threats like logging and illegal gold mining are becoming more prominent, particularly in the Peruvian Amazon, where mercury used in gold mining devastates habitat and pollutes waterway, threatening fauna and local communities. Mercury is used to amalgamate particles of gold, and is then burned off afterwards leaving the nugget of gold intact underneath, but excess mercury forms pits, intermittently staining the rainforest landscape.
Río Huaypetue gold mine in Peru. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru is contaminated with approximately 30 to 40 tonnes of mercury each year, and now 78% of Madre de Dios residents have dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies.
According to the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) in 2010 gold miners felled over 370,000 acres of forest to make room for illegal mines (with 50% of these being small, informal set ups) and since then it is predicted that these numbers have soared.
It’s hard when presented with numbers like 370,000 acres or 2,000 square miles to visualize the extent of the damage, as our brains can’t understand the complexity of the very large, or the very small. The “One Tree In A Billion” project based in Tambopata, Peru, unlike most other rainforest studies, is focusing on a single fig tree and documenting all of the species this single tree can support over a 60-day period, to show what we lose each time a tree is felled. Being carried out by three wildlife photographers and endorsed by WLT, the project will use camera trapping, macro-photography and infrared to compile a visual catalog of the life in the area.
Forest along bank of Tambopata river in Peru. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com
Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates will all be documented, using a wide array of techniques and equipment. Birds will be photographed from hides for the most part, but mist nets will also be set up around the subject tree to temporarily capture any birds, enabling the team to photograph them before their release. These mist nets will be kept open during the night, to capture any bats that may inhabit or travel around the fig tree. Infrared cameras and non-lethal traps will be used to document mammal species, whilst non-lethal malaise traps will capture flying insects. Insects and invertebrates that may be too small to identify with the naked eye will be photographed through a light microscope. Pitfall traps will be set up in various areas around the diameter of the tree, to temporarily capture reptiles and amphibians, while headlamps are to be used at night to detect the glowing eye-shine of the many frog species found in the rainforest.
The photographs will be used to make a field guide, to aid local research scientists and local conservation groups, as well as being part of an interactive roadshow in the UK, to educate children on the importance of the protection of this diverse landscape. The project is being covered by Photography Monthly Magazine amongst others, with the hope that radio and TV productions will pick up the story, and convey the importance of the conservation of the Amazon to a wider audience.
All of the equipment, construction of hides, and transportation is costly, so the team have started a kickstarter page offering the chance to become a backer, and be involved in the project.
December 3rd, 2013 by mongabay
Mother giant armadillo with baby in Baia des Pedras. Photo by: The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project.
The elusive and unknown giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) is rarely caught by the lights of a camera, and never before has a baby giant armadillo been captured on film – until now. This unprecedented image has garnered recognition from the 2013 BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera Trap photo competition.
The photo, along with another winning image, is the result of the hard work of the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project. Dr Arnaud Desbiez, the Regional Coordinator for Conservation & Research in Latin America for Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and a leader of the project, said: “Collecting two awards in the BBC Wildlife camera-trap competition, one as a runner up and one a commendation, is an amazing accolade for the project. The worldwide competition actually had an incredible 850 entries from spots as far apart as Argentina, Bangladesh, Borneo and Hawaii, so it is particularly special to have received this recognition.
“We are particularly delighted as one of the main goals of the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project is to raise awareness of this species. Many people in the Pantanal actually live their whole lives without seeing a giant armadillo and some even believe the creature is a myth. And did you know that due to its low population density, nocturnal activity and secretive nature, the giant armadillo could go locally extinct without anyone noticing? It is really vital we do everything we can to increase awareness and develop our understanding of this mysterious creature.”
A unique kind of contest, the four-year-old BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera-trap Photo of the Year competition actually awards the prize money to the winning conservation projects instead of individual photographers. Judges for the competition select winners by evaluating the contribution that each image makes to scientific knowledge.
Mongabay has covered the capture of this image and the work of the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project in recent months.
Arnaud Desbiez and Danilo Kluyber looking at camera trap pictures. Photo by: The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project.
November 21st, 2013 by mongabay
November 21st, 2013 by mongabay
Bouba, WCS Queen’s Zoo’s newest Andean bear. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.
The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only endemic bear on the continent of South America. The IUCN lists the species as Vulnerable to risk of extinction, with habitat loss and hunting as drivers behind its dwindling numbers. This elegant species is sometimes referred to as the spectacled bear due to occasional markings around the eyes that resemble glasses.
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo has welcomed an ambassador of the Andean bear, a 2 year-old male named Bouba. Hailing from a zoo in France, Bouba will share his new home with a female friend of the same species, Spangles.
WCS conducts research on Andean bears across multiple countries in South America and aims to develop local habitat conservation of the Andean bear and mitigate threats such as human-wildlife conflict. WCS works in tandem with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Cleveland Zoological Society, the Andean Bear Conservation Alliance, and other supporters to protect the future of the Andean bear. You can learn more about their efforts or donate to the projects by going to wcs.org.