First-ever World Lemur Festival Celebrated in Madagascar

This week marks the first-ever World Lemur Festival in Madagascar, which will culminate in World Lemur Day on October 31. This event is intended to raise awareness of the importance of these wonderful creatures both across Madagascar and around the world.

black-and-white ruffed lemur, Madagascar

Black-and-white ruffed lemur in Madagascar. All 105 known species of lemur are found only in Madagascar. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Why should we care about lemurs? Well, aside from being delightful, beautiful creatures that are part of the mammalian order Primates of which we ourselves are members, they are also a major economic asset for a country historically plagued by poverty and political instability. Continue reading

Not Just a Rock: Why You Need Coral Reefs

This is our fifth blog about our Nature Is Speaking campaign. Read all blogs in this series.

coral reef, Malaysia

Coral reef in Malaysia. (© Comstock Images)

At 12 years of age, my life was about to change.

It was my first dive on a coral reef. As I slowly descended onto Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I was magnetized.

Everywhere I looked, new forms of life revealed themselves in a flurry of activity. Colorful butterfly fish nibbled on the reef. Christmas tree worms retracted as I swam by. A baby whitetip reef shark trailed behind me, curious about my bubbles. I left the water charged with a sense of urgency to share everything I had just seen.

Since then, I have had the privilege of exploring many of the world’s most vibrant reefs — places buzzing in a riot of life. Sadly, I have also visited far too many reefs that are a mere shadow of what they once were.

Threatened by overfishing and destructive fishing methods, coastal development, pollution and climate change, 19% of the world’s coral reefs are already gone. Scientists consider approximately 75% of the remaining reefs to be threatened, a number that is projected to increase to 90% by 2050 if negative impacts continue. At that rate, by the time my grandchildren are old enough to dive, there may not be a healthy reef left for them to experience.

Like other ecosystems, coral reefs don’t have a voice like you or me. In “Coral Reef,” the newest edition of the Nature Is Speaking film series, Ian Somerhalder gives the reef a human voice.

Some people think I am just a rock, when in fact I am the largest living thing on this planet.” Continue reading

The Rainforest Speaks — and Costa Rica Listens

This is our fourth blog about our Nature Is Speaking campaign. Today’s post spotlights “The Rainforest,” a short film featuring Kevin Spacey as the voice of the forest. Read all blogs in this series.

rainforest, Chiapas, Mexico

Rainforest in Chiapas, Mexico. Almost 1 in 4 people depend on forests for their livelihoods in some way, yet global deforestation rates threaten the longevity of these ways of life. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

Today, Costa Rica is known for its rainforests, where tourists from across the globe journey to swim in waterfalls, zip-line through the trees and search for the country’s unique wildlife. But it wasn’t always this way; just 40 years ago, the landscape (and economy) looked much different.

By and large, Costa Rica has learned from its mistakes; in the last 25 years, the country has doubled the size of its forests while tripling its GDP per capita. In the same time period, developing countries like China, India, Indonesia and Brazil have also multiplied their GDPs per capita, but they have all done so with a high environmental cost.

Costa Rica is proving that the protection and restoration of nature is not a burden for growth and prosperity. I believe my home country can be a powerful model for countries that still aren’t listening to what their rainforests have to say.

Perhaps the best way to explain Costa Rica’s shifting attitude toward forests is to tell you the story of my grandfather, Arturo Echandi Jimenez. Continue reading

New Legislation Helps Communities Benefit from Botanical Treasures

Elise Rebut is currently attending the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in South Korea. Read previous blogs from the meeting.

woman holds medicinal root in Malaysian forest

A woman in Malaysia holds up a medicinal root collected in a nearby forest. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Aspirin was developed from the white willow tree. Morphine was derived from poppy seeds. In fact, many medicines — not to mention cosmetic and cleaning products many of us use every day — have been derived directly from the botanical world.

Tropical forests are home to a disproportionate number of these resources; 70% of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as useful in the treatment of cancer are found only in rainforests. Yet historically, local communities who own or manage these resources have rarely benefited from their use by the outside world — until now. Continue reading

7 Wild Species We Must Protect to Feed the World

woman at market in Bhutan

Woman at a market in Bhutan. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

Although domesticated plants and animals (or products derived from them) probably make up most of your diet, everything you eat originates with wild species. That is a worrying fact, considering that human activities have elevated the extinction rate to 1,000 times its natural level.

Today is World Food Day, an international observance dedicated to raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities of working to feed a human population that could be growing even faster than we thought. In order to maintain global food security, here are seven of the many types of wild species we must protect. Continue reading

50 Years of the IUCN Red List: Inspiring Conservation Action

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the global program that assesses the extinction threat to the world’s animals, plants and fungi. As the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meets in South Korea this week, CI Executive Vice Chair and primatologist Russ Mittermeier reflects on the list’s history and legacy.

Green-winged macaw in Brazil.

Green-winged macaw in Brazil. This macaw is one of thousands of species that has been assessed by the IUCN Red List; its extinction threat has been evaluated as “Least Concern.” (© Luciano Candisani/iLCP)

My first connection with the IUCN Red List dates back to my high school years in the mid-1960s, when the Red Data Books on mammals and birds first appeared. From the moment I opened these books, I was fascinated with them, in spite of the fact that they lacked any photos or illustrations. I pored over every page time and time again, and dreamed of someday seeing these animals in the wild and helping to save them from extinction. Continue reading

10 Things You’d Miss If the Ocean Called It Quits

This is our third blog about Nature Is Speaking, our communications initiative that uses a series of short films narrated by major celebrities to spotlight the vital links between nature and human well-being. Read all blogs in the series.

Humans have taken a lot from the ocean — but what if the ocean decided to call it quits? What if the ocean, encapsulated in the film below by the booming voice of Harrison Ford, really did stop providing us with the generous benefits it’s given us for all of human history? What would happen then?

This possibility is something that more and more governments, businesses and organizations are waking up to, and they are starting to worry. Just consider the remarkable range of benefits we get from healthy oceans: Continue reading

Raiders of the Corn: Reducing Human-monkey Conflict in the Indian Himalaya

As world leaders discuss potential measures to protect the planet’s threatened species and ecosystems at the Convention on Biological Diversity 12th Conference of the Parties (CBD COP 12) in South Korea, Human Nature brings you a story of one of the many field projects already taking action: the Himalayan Langur Project.

Chamba sacred langur

Female Chamba sacred langur and infant in Himachal Pradesh, India. These monkeys raid the fields of local farmers; the Himalayan Langur Project seeks to come up with solutions that benefit both people and langurs. (© Himalayan Langur Project)

“They come into our fields, they destroy our crops, and we have little left for the winter. We do not know what to do,” the village elder lamented.

“Give us a shotgun and we would shoot them all down,” his friend added in a calm, decisive tone.

These men echo the emotions of many farmers living around the forests of Chamba, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The subject of their complaints? A monkey called the Chamba sacred langur (Semnopithecus ajax). Continue reading

The Global Cost of Protecting Biodiversity? Less Than You Think

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez is currently attending the 12th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Learn more about what’s on the meeting’s agenda.

tiger

Tiger in India. Species and ecosystems form the building blocks of life on Earth, providing innumerable benefits for people. yet they are increasingly threatened by human activities. (© Conservation International/photo by Frank Hawkins)

Over the past 18 months, I have been part of a group that has had the task of assessing, for the first time, the global cost of protecting biodiversity.

More specifically, we’ve looked at the predicted costs, benefits and opportunities to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets: 20 goals established at the 2010 meeting of the CBD that aim to collectively secure the future of Earth’s species and ecosystems by 2020.

Biodiversity forms the building blocks of all life on Earth, yet human impacts like climate change, deforestation and overexploitation of species have brought about what many are calling the Anthropocene, an era when we may be causing irreversible damage to the planet that makes all our lives possible.

As chair of a high-level panel organized by the CBD, I was honored to join 14 colleagues from various countries and disciplines in months of discussion and debate around the following questions:

  • What financial resources do nations need to meet the Aichi targets?
  • How can we improve the flow of funding through international cooperation?
  • How can nations substantially increase domestic funding for conservation?
  • What is the global financial gap between what we’re spending and what we should be?

In our first report in 2012, we estimated that it would take US$ 150–430 billion per year between 2013 and 2020 to meet all the Aichi targets. Since then, we’ve built on those findings by initiating a more bottom-up approach that takes greater account of regional evidence, placing more emphasis on the costs and benefits of meeting the targets, cost-effective means of reaching objectives and overlaps with other policy agendas.

Our findings have come at a critical time. This week at the CBD meeting in South Korea, nations are in the midst of defining a global strategy to mobilize financing for biodiversity.

The $150–430 billion figure may sound impossibly high, but it’s absolutely doable — and necessary. Here’s why. Continue reading

Human Rights Protection Critical for Conservation Success

When you hear about human rights violations, a number of stories often in the news may spring to mind: North Korea’s repressive government, deplorable working conditions in Bangladeshi factories, clashes between protesters and riot police across the globe.

Kayapo man, Brazil

Kayapo man in Brazil. Since 1992, CI has supported the Kayapó people in their efforts to protect their culture and habitats and secure economic independence. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

But there are many smaller incidents that often slip under the radar of major news stories, despite their profound impact on thousands of people worldwide.

Indigenous peoples forced from their lands so others can extract the oil beneath it.

Families going hungry because women were not asked about the foods their families thrive on, and thus the crops that should be favored in sustainable agriculture projects.

Development projects that fail because communities were not adequately consulted.

Pastoralists watching as their cultures slowly turn to dust because of travel restrictions between national borders.

All of these examples are human rights violations — and in all cases, if those rights were respected, not only would the people involved be better off, but so would the environment they depend upon. Continue reading