Elephants with a trust fund? Endowment to protect future of a ‘magical’ forest


When I first visited southwest Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains back in 2003, we drove all day on dirt roads and crossed rivers on precarious ferries made of several boats lashed together. The forest overhung the road; wild animals scurried for cover as we drove past.

More than a decade later, much has changed. The road is wide tarmac, a major connector to Thailand. The rivers have bridges. Much of the forest is degraded, and wildlife is scarce. Forest loss in this landscape is as high as 30% in some areas. Vast swaths of forest have been cleared illegally.

But within the boundaries of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest (CCPF), it’s a different story.

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Citing threats to wildlife, experts urge caution amid dam-building rush

Addala Dam, Philippines

The Addala Dam in the Philippines was put in place to supply irrigation to farms. Perhaps the most controversial of renewable energy sources, hydropower can have large environmental and social impacts if not developed sustainably. (© Conservation International/photo by Lynn Tang)

Hydropower from dams has brought electricity — and development — to far-flung places around the world. But dams have a dark side, upending water supplies and species where they have been built.

A new policy paper published in the journal Science spotlights what is perhaps the most controversial source of renewable energy, calling for more holistic planning for hydropower projects to minimize their impacts on the environment.

Dr. Leonardo Saenz, Conservation International’s director of eco-hydrology and one of the paper’s more than 40 contributors, explains how dams can pose threats to people and nature — and how to make them more sustainable.

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Bowed by international pressure, shark finning declines

© Jeff Litton/Marine Photobank

China’s hunger for shark fins has been filled largely by Indonesia, home to numerous shark species spread throughout the vast archipelago. (© Jeff Litton/Marine Photobank)

Could the tide be turning on the grisly practice of shark finning?

Prices for shark fins from Indonesia have plummeted along with demand: Exports of shark fins have fallen by half between 2012 and 2014, according to new numbers from Indonesia’s official statistics agency.

Growing international pressure against shark finning has contributed to the decline, according to a recent report in Time magazine, leading to shifts in attitudes and policies in China, where shark fins are considered a delicacy.

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With climate change, Pacific tuna economy enters uncharted waters

bluefin tuna

School of bluefin tuna. The sale of tuna fishing licenses is a huge source of income for many Pacific island nations — income that may be threatened by climate change-induced tuna migration into other areas of the ocean. (© Gary Stokes)

For many who live near the ocean, the effects of climate change are already being felt, with rising seas overrunning shorelines from Miami to the Marshall Islands — and threatening the very existence of many islands.

Beyond the existential questions that arise for vulnerable island countries, there is also the practical question of control over the natural wealth these nations possess. In the case of Pacific islands, this wealth comes in the form of tuna — lots of it.

If a nation loses reefs and islands as a result of sea-level rise, does it lose the right to its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and associated fisheries and mineral resources? Does it lose its right to be a nation? If warmer waters alter the migration patterns of the world’s most valuable fish species, who will reap the benefits — and who will lose?

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Illegal logger turned forest champion — with help from hummingbirds

Norbil Becerra, an illegal-logger-turned-conservationist, stands among his coffee plants in northeastern Peru.

Norbil Becerra, an illegal-logger-turned-conservationist, stands among his coffee plants in northeastern Peru. (© Humberto Saco)

Norbil Becerra once knew only one way to make a living: cutting down trees for illegal logging companies in the Peruvian Amazon, a 12-hour walk from his family in Peru’s northeastern San Martín region.

Now, Becerra provides for his wife and three children in a way that keeps Peru’s trees standing.

“I know that my future and my family’s future depend on my conservation decisions,” Becerra said from the wooden observation platform he built with his own hands, overlooking a dozen bird feeders and an array of bright flowers and plants.

His new livelihood: hummingbirds.

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Best of 2015: In the Pacific, a lifeline for vanishing islands

man standing on sea wall in Kiribati

In the low-lying island nation of Kiribati, building a man-made coral rock sea wall may be the best defense communities have against erosion and rising sea levels. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See more here. 

It’s a disaster in slow motion.

Sometime in the next few decades, the tiny islands scattered across the Pacific will no longer be able to support human life, as rising seas spoil their freshwater supplies or swallow them up entirely.

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Best of 2015: How 3,000 holes in the dirt can save a barren land — and alter a social landscape

herding goats, Succulent Karoo, South Africa

A herder leading goats in the mountains of South Africa’s Succulent Karoo region. After years of overuse and growth of invasive plant species, the land has become barren and struggles to support livestock. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See more here. 

Unemployment reduced. Gender equity improved. Fragile ecosystem restored.

That’s the story out of Leliefontein, a town in the South African region of Namaqualand.

At least, it’s part of the story. As with any conservation project, this one comes with its complications and challenges, which Conservation International’s Esther Engelbrecht does not shy away from discussing in her blog post.

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Best of 2015: 4 things conservation scientists sometimes forget

ichthyologist with catfish, Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, Guyana

An ichthyologist with a freshly caught catfish on an expedition in Guyana’s Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See more here. 

After attending an annual meeting of more than 2,000 conservation scientists, students and researchers from around the world, Conservation International’s Rachel Neugarten returned with a realization: For all their talent and hard work, scientists are also susceptible to forgetting a few things.

Bringing an insider’s view of the discourse that happens within the conservation science community, Neugarten shed light on the role of emotions, the drawbacks of debate and the wisdom of crowds in advancing knowledge — notions that you might not always associate with science.

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Best of 2015: On Philippine coasts, rebuilding nature’s barriers to stormier seas

mangroves, Philippines

Mangroves taking root in the Philippines. Mangrove forests serve as a natural barrier for coastal communities, protecting them from storm surge. (© Chuck Cerrillo)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See more here. 

Two years after Typhoon Haiyan crashed into the Central Philippines in November 2013, the storm’s widespread devastation is still very much in the lives and minds of many Filipinos — including Susset Enolva, a mother whose family still resides only feet from where the waves swept their house away.

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Best of 2015: 5 things you didn’t know about wildlife trafficking

pangolin, Cambodia

Pangolin in Cambodia. Although large iconic species like elephants and rhinos get much of the attention focused on the illegal wildlife trade, pangolins are the most trafficked type of animal; their scales are thought to have medicinal properties. (© Peter Yuen/Animals in Photos)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See all of them here.

In early November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill to combat wildlife trafficking one crucial step toward curbing the destructive practice that ruins lives and threatens security and economies around the world.

Conservation International (CI) supported passage of the Global Anti-Poaching Act — and empowered Human Nature readers to also take action.

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