Conservation Tools: How Drones Can Save Rainforests

This is the latest post in our “Conservation Tools” blog series, which spotlights how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists explore and protect nature.

rangers learn to use conservation drones, Suriname

Rangers learn how to use conservation drones in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. (© Conservation International/photo by Ivor Balsemhof)

In recent years, drones have leapt out of science fiction into the modern world. They’re now lauded as a potential tool for everything from national security to dry-cleaning delivery.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (as they’re officially known) haven’t been met with open arms by everyone; people around the world have voiced security and privacy concerns. Yet when it comes to conservation, drones may be one of the most important technological innovations in decades — one that could revolutionize how effective we are at protecting Earth’s most valuable resources.

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Building Roads, Protecting Forests: Community Resilience in the Bolivian Amazon

Sunrise in the Amazon Basin, Bolivia. (© Jonathan Hood)

Sunrise in the Amazon Basin, Bolivia. The region’s Madidi National Park is home of the indigenous Tacana people, who depend on the biologically diverse rainforest for their livelihoods. (© Jonathan Hood)

When it comes to protecting forests in the Amazon, roads don’t have the best reputation.

By enabling access to land, new roads attract human activities such as agriculture and hunting that can degrade critical forest ecosystems that provide innumerable benefits to people and the climate.

On the other hand, roads are a vital conduit for rural livelihoods and resilience.

How can we balance protection of these forests and the well-being of local communities? Continue reading

Making the Links: April 2015

This is my fourth 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.)

Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia. The city’s 8 million residents rely on surrounding forest and páramo ecosystems for most of their freshwater supply. (© Andres Rueda)

Here’s my link roundup from April.

The Nature in Humans (Stories Secretly about Nature)

  1. You Aren’t Spending Enough to Boost Economy

This CNN Money article reports that consumer spending in the U.S. had a small rebound in March after three months of declining retail sales. Among other things, the month saw an increase in American spending on cars, building materials and eating out.

The link: This story understandably views economic health through the lens of our current global economic system, which values the continuous purchase of new goods and services. What it doesn’t take into account is the ultimate price of overconsumption: the degradation of the lands and waters that provide these materials and other benefits for all of humanity.

In his 2011 TED Talk, environmental economist and CI board member Pavan Sukhdev called this disconnection the “economic invisibility of nature” — and urged that the value of ecosystems be incorporated into economic measurements to ensure long-term sustainability. Continue reading

Camera-trap Photo Contest: And the Winners Are…

This week, CI is celebrating the use of our #NatureIsSpeaking hashtag more than 1 million times on social media — meaning that HP will generously give CI US$ 1 million in support. Most of this funding will go toward HP Earth Insights, a partnership that uses HP technology to improve the analysis of rainforest data collected by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network. This is the final post in a three-part blog series; read previous posts

TEAM researchers set camera trap, Uganda

TEAM researchers set a camera trap in Uganda. (© Benjamin Drummond)

The phrase “collecting data” may conjure images of white-coated lab technicians examining test tubes and jotting down notes in a windowless room. But when your data is camera-trap images from some of the world’s most pristine tropical forests, things get much more exciting.

For TEAM researchers in 15 countries from Malaysia to Madagascar, setting up camera traps isn’t always an easy feat. Just reaching the desired site may require days of travel and facing sudden rainstorms, biting insects, landslides and car or boat trouble along the way. When the researchers make their way back to the site 30 days later to collect the memory cards from the cameras, they sometimes find the cameras have stopped working due to extreme weather events or damage by humans or animals. (Learn more by following TEAM scientist Badru Mugerwa through the Ugandan forest in the short film below.)


Luckily, all this hard work has a great reward: remarkable photos that often capture rare animals seldom seen by human eyes.

TEAM recently held a photo contest among its 17 field sites spread out across the tropics in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Here are the winners in each of the four categories: Continue reading

What Camera Traps Reveal about How Colombian Communities Use Forests

Yesterday we announced a big milestone for CI and our supporters: more than 1 million uses of the #NatureIsSpeaking hashtag on social media. This means that HP will donate US$ 1 million to CI, primarily funding our work through the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network.

ocelot caught on camera trap, Curare, Colombia

Ocelot caught on camera in Curare, Colombia, where CI and partners are kicking off a project using camera traps to monitor the density of large animals, many of which are important food sources for indigenous communities in the region. (Photo courtesy of CI Colombia/ASSETS)

At 17 sites across the world’s tropical forests, TEAM researchers use camera traps and other technology to gather ecological data that can be used for a variety of purposes, from discouraging poaching to managing threatened species in protected areas, and even helping to predict earthquakes.

Today’s blog from Jorge Ahumada shares another interesting way we’re using TEAM data to listen to nature in Colombia. (Jorge will be doing a Facebook chat about TEAM this Thursday, answering as many reader questions as possible. Check it out from 1-2 p.m. EST — and in the meantime, feel free to leave a question for Jorge in the blog comments.)

If nature were classical music, tropical forests would be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Tropical forests are the most complex, diverse and grand natural systems on the planet. Globally, one in four people depend on them for their livelihoods. But the question still remains: How do all the services that these forests provide actually make life possible for the people who live there? Continue reading

‘Million Dollar Hashtag’ Milestone Will Help CI and HP Listen to Tropical Forests

When CI launched our Nature Is Speaking campaign last October, we challenged our supporters to use the hashtag #NatureIsSpeaking 1 million times on social media. Today, we’re excited to announce that we’ve officially reached — and exceeded — that goal, which means that computer giant HP will generously contribute US$ 1 million to CI.

TEAM scientist Patricia Alvarez with harlequin beetle, Peru

TEAM scientist Patricia Alvarez with harlequin beetle in the forests of Peru. In 17 sites across the world’s tropical forests, TEAM researchers are using standardized methods to collect data that, when taken together, provide a snapshot of which areas and species are the most in need of conservation action. (© Benjamin Drummond)

We will be using the bulk of this funding to support HP Earth Insights, our partnership that uses HP technology to aid the collection of rainforest data gathered by CI’s Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network. From Costa Rica to Indonesia to Rwanda, TEAM researchers are learning more about ecosystem and species health in order to provide an early warning system for nature that can help guide conservation action.

In this Q&A with HP Vice President and Chief Progress Officer Gabi Zedlmayer, she explains how HP technology is enabling CI to listen — not just to tropical forests, but also to the social media conversation. Continue reading

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