3 Conservation Heroes to Admire This Earth Day

Since 1970, Earth Day has attempted to inspire people across the globe to become more aware of how humans impact our planet — and to take greater action to protect it.

Today I want to share the stories of three people who reveal that not all environmentalists look or act alike. Yet despite their different geographies and backgrounds, all have committed to do their part to protect the lands and waters that have sustained their communities for generations. And CI is helping them.

In these three short films produced by CI’s visual storytelling team, you’ll meet:

  1. Joseph, leader of a team of field biologists who travels around Tanzania to collect data on ecosystem health with the goal of helping guide sustainable agricultural development in the country’s breadbasket.

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Disney Continues Conservation Legacy with ‘Monkey Kingdom’ Film

Disneynature’s newest film “Monkey Kingdom” — narrated by Tina Fey — is currently in theaters in the U.S. The company is donating a portion of the film’s sales during opening week (April 17-23) to CI; buy tickets and check out showtimes here.


Funds raised will support three projects: one in Indonesia where CI is working with local communities to protect and restore forests that are home to the endangered Javan gibbon and help provide water to 30 million people; one in Sri Lanka where CI is collaborating with local organizations to fund scientific research, tree-planting, community engagement and the creation of new conservation areas; and one in Cambodia where CI is supporting forest rangers and a project centered on a rare population of the northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon.

I think it’s fair to say that over the past 70 years, no institution has had more of an impact on humanity’s love of nature than Disney.

As a child growing up in the 1950s, I was profoundly influenced by the book “Walt Disney’s Worlds of Nature” and the early television series “True-Life Adventures,” which produced 14 films between 1948 and 1960. Over the following decades, a large number of Disney programs and films included nature as a core theme. Just think of the many animal-related Disney films that have become part of Hollywood history — from “Bambi” to “The Jungle Book” to “The Lion King.” Continue reading

Can ‘Gibbon-watching’ Save Cambodia’s Forests?

Disneynature’s newest film “Monkey Kingdom” — narrated by Tina Fey — is in theaters now. Each year for Earth Day, Disneynature releases a feature film about a different kind of animal and donates a portion of the film’s opening week sales to a designated nonprofit.

northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon in Cambodia

Northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon in Cambodia. The largest-known population of this species was discovered in the country’s Veun Sai region in 2010. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

This year, Conservation International is honored to be that recipient. Funds raised will support three projects:  one in Indonesia where CI is working with local communities to protect and restore forests that are home to the endangered Javan gibbon and help provide water to 30 million people; one in Sri Lanka where CI is collaborating with local organizations to fund scientific research, tree-planting, community engagement and the creation of new conservation areas; and one in Cambodia where CI is supporting forest rangers and a project centered on a rare population of the northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon. This blog provides a closer look at the work in Cambodia.

In the northeast of Cambodia lies the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area, a 55,000 hectare (136,000-acre) protected forest that is wonderfully unique due to its variety and concentration of wildlife. Within this forest, scientists have discovered an iridescent lizard and a tube-nosed bat found nowhere else on Earth — as well as the largest known population of the northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon.

This population of about 500 gibbons was discovered in 2010 by a team of researchers from CI and Fauna & Flora International. To discover such a large mammal in healthy numbers highlights the health of this forest and indicates that it probably holds many more biological treasures not yet known to people. Continue reading

See Disneynature’s ‘Monkey Kingdom’ to Help Protect Wild Primates and Their Habitats

Amid jungle-covered ruins, a mother and son strive to find their place in a turbulent community. This intriguing story is made even more so by the fact that its characters aren’t human.

infant toque macaque

Kip, an infant toque macaque in Sri Lanka. Disneynature’s new film, “Monkey Kingdom,” follows a troop of toque macaques (including Kip) forced by territorial disputes with a rival gang of macaques to find food and shelter in closer proximity with people — until they can regroup and attempt to reclaim their kingdom. (COURTESY OF DISNEYNATURE)

Monkey Kingdom,” the latest feature film from Disneynature, does more than take moviegoers into the stunning forests of Sri Lanka. It also brings them out of it, as the filmmakers follow a troop of toque macaques forced by territorial disputes with a rival gang of macaques to find food and shelter in closer proximity with people — until they can regroup and attempt to reclaim their kingdom.

The links between people and wildlife are a crucial intersection for CI, so it’s no surprise that Disneynature has chosen us as a beneficiary of a portion of the film’s sales during opening week in the U.S. Continue reading

New Conservation Corridor Latest Environmental Triumph for Suriname

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Suriname, mostly spent meeting with leaders of Trio and Wayana indigenous communities in the country’s interior — a fabulous, road-less wilderness inhabited only by about 3,000 people.

indigenous man, Suriname

Indigenous community members wearing traditional dress in Suriname. The newly declared Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor is part of a new global order of establishing indigenous and community-owned conservation areas in which indigenous people are recognizing their rights and claiming their traditional lands to prevent them from being destroyed. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Why was I there? Because once again, the people in this country little-known outside South America have just set another incredible conservation precedent that deserves to be celebrated and emulated. Thanks to work by CI in close collaboration with WWF and the Amazon Conservation Team, these indigenous groups have now declared an indigenous Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor (SSCC) covering 7.2 million hectares (17.8 million acres).

The SSCC is part of a new global order of establishing indigenous and community-owned conservation areas in which indigenous people are recognizing their rights and claiming their traditional lands to prevent them from being destroyed by industrial agriculture, logging and mining activities that have led to so much rainforest loss over the past half-century and have provided very few benefits to indigenous people. Continue reading

Ridge-to-reef Conservation Takes Hold on Hawaiian Island of Lāna‘i

We pull up to the edge of the steep red canyon and get our first view of the Maunalei Gulch, looking down at the biggest watershed on the Hawaiian island of Lāna‘i. As I look down, the bare valley walls of the canyon are exposed, devoid of plants that might keep soil from rushing down onto the island’s fringing coral reef below.

view from Maunalei Gulch, Lāna‘i, Hawaii

The steep bare canyon of Maunalei Gulch on the Hawaiian island of Lāna‘i. Watershed degradation from land-cover change has led to significant erosion impacting the reef downstream; CI and partners are working to restore the health of the system from ridge to reef. (© Conservation International/photo by Jack Kittinger)

From this vantage point in the wintertime, you can see humpback whales in the channel between Lāna‘i and the island of Molokaʻi, which is part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. During the winter, you can also see massive flash floods racing down this canyon when it rains, carving out soil and blanketing the adjacent reef with sediment until the reef takes on the color of a cappuccino.

By contrast, in the summer the Maunalei Gulch is almost bone-dry. As on many Pacific islands, watershed degradation from land-cover change has led to sustained high sediment runoff, which has damaged the nearshore reefs and fisheries that benefit many local people. Deforestation for agriculture, overuse of freshwater resources during the pineapple plantation era and overgrazing by introduced feral deer and mouflon sheep have led to the disappearance of Maunalei Stream — once the only permanent stream on the arid island.

To address these issues, in 2012 the CI Hawaiʻi program started working with Lānaʻi community members to implement a coastal restoration project in the area, combining traditional knowledge and modern science. Continue reading

Can Coffee Become the World’s First 100% Sustainably Sourced Commodity?

water splashes onto coffee berries, Chiapas

Water splashes onto coffee berries in Chiapas, Mexico. CI and Starbucks began our partnership in 1998 in Chiapas before expanding to other coffee-producing regions around the world. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

Recently at Starbucks’ annual meeting of shareholders in Seattle, the company announced a major milestone: This year, 99% of beans bought by the world’s largest specialty coffee company will meet ethical and sustainable sourcing guidelines.

This achievement marks a remarkable and determined 15-year journey. It also demonstrates what great partnerships are able to achieve: the transformation of the most valued tropical agricultural commodity, coffee, from a force of ecological and social destabilization to a powerful engine of farmer equity and sustainability. Continue reading

Making the Links: March 2015

This is my third post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series in which I attempt to connect the dots between nature and people in some recent news stories. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

Iguazu Falls

Aerial view of Iguazu Falls National Park. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

Here’s my link roundup from March.

The Nature in Humans (Stories Secretly about Nature)

  1. Yemen’s Shiite Rebels Capture Presidential Palace in Aden

It’s been a tough few weeks for Yemen, as Iranian-backed rebels and a Saudi-supported coalition clash for control of the country, causing a rising number of civilian deaths and plunging the already conflict-weary region into chaos.

The link: There are undoubtedly numerous factors that have contributed to the outbreak of this devastating conflict; resource scarcity is one of them. As Thomas Friedman reported during a 2013 visit to Yemen, decades of deforestation and freshwater depletion have taken a toll on farming, reducing employment options and increasing the country’s vulnerability to conflict. Continue reading

How Camera-trap Data Can Help Us Predict Earthquakes

Since 2007, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network — a coalition of CI, the Smithsonian Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society — has collected more than 2 million photos from camera traps in tropical forests across the globe. Although the primary goal of this collection is to assess ecosystem health and document change, it can be used for a remarkable number of unexpected purposes, as evidenced by this recent study.

South American tapir camera-trap photo, Peru

South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) captured on camera at the TEAM site in Peru’s Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park. (Photo courtesy of the TEAM Network and Missouri Botanical Gardens)

Earthquakes can cause horrific damage to communities across the world. In the United States alone, scientists estimate that earthquakes are responsible for roughly US$ 2.5 billion in damage per year. For poorer developing nations, though, earthquakes can be even more devastating and are responsible for an estimated 58,000 deaths worldwide each year.

The inability of researchers to accurately predict earthquakes has been a major impediment to reducing the high number of fatalities caused by these catastrophic events. However, by using camera trap data from the TEAM Network, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University may have found a way to identify when and where earthquakes will occur. Continue reading

In the Colombian Amazon, Men and Women Share Conservation Benefits

This blog is the eighth post in Human Nature’s “Gender + Conservation” blog series

local woman being interviewed by CI for gender and conservation study, Colombia

In Colombia, CI recently spent two months conducting interviews with community members in the Amazon region to better understand how men and women are impacted by conservation efforts. (© Conservation International/photo by Erwin Palacios)

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest of southern Colombia, the thunderous Rio Caquetá winds through the densely forested flatlands before entering nearby Brazil as the Rio Japurá. Across this remote region, a series of indigenous reserves, national parks and forest reserves conserve and protect some 2.5 million hectares (almost 6.2 million acres) of unparalleled wildlife, including the black caiman and the black-headed uakari. This area is also home to several small indigenous and campesino (peasant) communities dotted along the mighty Caquetá.

Over the last 100 years, these communities have witnessed a boom and bust economy based on unsustainable extraction of rubber, cocaine, cedar and gold. Weak governance and a growing demand for fish for both local consumption and national markets have also led to an uncontrolled extraction of fisheries resources in these rivers and nearby lakes.

For more than a decade, CI Colombia has worked with these communities to identify and address the factors affecting the sustainable use of natural resources in their territories. In my 18 years of working in the Amazon, I’ve traveled many miles by river and small creek, had numerous encounters with magnificent wild animals, eaten countless meals with community members and had as many long and passionate conversations with them. These discussions have allowed me to see that we share many common views and aspirations about the future of these forests and the people who live here. Continue reading