Maasai Woman Inspires Change in Rural Kenya

Conservation International indigenous fellow Beatrice Lempaira in rural Kenya

CI indigenous fellow Beatrice Lempaira explains how communities in rural Kenya are working together to improve livestock management and reduce land degradation. (© Conservation International/photo by Kame Westerman)

Earlier this month, the world celebrated International Women’s Day, which honors the achievements made toward the advancement of women throughout history and around the world.

The observance began in 1911 as part of the women’s suffrage movement in North America and Europe. But growing up in rural Wisconsin, we never learned about it in school or celebrated it in any way.

It was only when I became a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Madagascar that I realized the inspiration and celebration that the day generates in other parts of the world.

In the remote northeastern Malagasy village I lived in, Ambinanitelo, International Women’s Day was one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year. As I walked through the village, strains of music, dance and laughter spilled out of houses where groups of women practiced for the big day.

The feten’ny behivavy (women’s festival) brought the whole village to a standstill. People took a break from their ubiquitous rice farming, dirty clothes were left soiled until tomorrow and students had the day off. Young and old gathered in the center square to watch the colorfully dressed women sing and dance about their lives. I felt honored to be a part of this exciting day.

A decade later, I had the good fortune to spend this most recent International Women’s Day back in Africa — this time in rural Kenya, where I was visiting one of CI’s indigenous fellows.

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Reducing Protection for Tasmanian Wilderness Would Be Bad News for Forests

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared a few weeks ago that too much of Australia’s forests are “locked up” in protected areas. He announced his intention to ask the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares (183,000 acres) of forest that were added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage site just last year.

temperate rainforest, Australia

Temperate rainforest in Tasmania, Australia. (© Keiichi Hiki)

This is an astonishing announcement for a leader of a country with a proud conservation tradition — and until now a model in celebrating and applying the World Heritage Convention. It is also unprecedented. There is no record of a country attempting to withdraw areas from the World Heritage List just one year after their inscription.

In an open letter to the prime minister, over 100 members of the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas quickly pointed out that Australia is far from being in a position where it has conserved too much.

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Urban Jungle: No Forest, No Water for Mexico City

In honor of the International Day of Forests (today) and World Water Day (tomorrow), we bring you a story that highlights how closely tied ecosystems are. This is the second post in our new “Urban Jungle” series, which explores the inextricable connections between nature and thriving cities. Read the first post

fig tree, Morelos, Mexico

Fig tree in Water Forest in the Mexican state of Morelos. Among other benefits, forests help filter fresh water and prevent erosion. (© Jürgen Hoth)

My relationship with the forest began when I was two weeks old and my mother took me to Desierto de los Leones National Park — at the time a deep, humid fir forest that crowned much of the mountains southwest of Mexico City.

This park is part of what is increasingly known as the “Water Forest,” a 2,500 square-kilometer (about 1,000 square-mile) area of forest and natural grassland-covered mountains. Although the Water Forest only makes up 0.1% of Mexico’s land area, it provides water for 23 million people inhabiting three neighboring cities — including Mexico City, one of the world’s largest metropolises.

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Urban Jungle: Why Cities Need Nature

More than half the people on Earth live in cities. I live in one, and odds are you do, too.

If I ask you to think of a beautiful natural landscape, you will most likely imagine some wild, isolated place far from your own neighborhood. Many city dwellers may think of themselves as living completely separate from nature, but in fact our urban lives depend on it.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Night falls over Rio de Janeiro. The city is known for its iconic beaches and surrounding green mountains; what is less widely known is how important nature is for Rio’s survival. (© Nikada)

Although cities only cover 2% of the Earth’s surface, they use up to 75% of its natural resources, most of which come from outside the city limits. In other words, modern cities rely on the ecosystem services — including food and freshwater provision, air quality regulation, building materials and many other benefits — of nearby natural areas to keep them running.

How sustainable is this? Not very — and in the near future, it will probably be even less so.

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Can We Win the Ivory Wars? 4 Hopeful Signs

herd of elephants at sunset

Herd of elephants in African savanna at sunset. (© muha04)

African elephants are in trouble. Scientists estimate that Africa harbored up to 7 million elephants in the 1930s. Today, the population is below 300,000 – that’s less than 5% of historic numbers. Currently between 25,000 and 30,000 elephants are being killed each year, ensuring the functional extinction of this magnificent keystone species within a couple of decades.

Things are particularly dire in several countries in Central and East Africa, where large populations of elephants exist in countries with regional instability and porous international borders, and where ecotourism is the lifeblood of the economy. Every year in parks across the region, wildlife rangers are killed protecting elephants.

Over the last several months, a rising international coalition of some unlikely partners is giving new vitality to the fight against the ongoing slaughter of African elephants. My report from the front lines of the ivory wars in northern Kenya is scheduled to air this Sunday on “CBS Sunday Morning.”  Here’s a clip.

There are four signs I can point to that suggest that the tide might have chance to turn for the future of these creatures.

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Is There New Hope for Madagascar?

On the U.N.’s first World Wildlife Day, primatologist and CI President Russ Mittermeier recounts how recent events in Madagascar could shape the future of the country’s natural wealth.

diademed sifaka

A diademed sifaka in Madagascar. Lemurs are vital to spreading seeds through the forest and are thus natural “gardeners” key to ecosystem health. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Madagascar is one of the world’s most unusual countries — an iconic “hotspot” in every sense of the word. It has also been the site of devastating poverty and environmental destruction, accelerated in recent years by an ineffective, corrupt government.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Madagascar’s new president, the first democratically elected leader since a 2009 governmental coup. The meeting left me surprisingly optimistic about the future of the country’s natural heritage — and consequently, the well-being of its people.  

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Teenager Bikes Across Africa for Conservation International

David Crane is currently in the middle of riding the Tour d’Afrique, often cited as the world’s longest and toughest bike race. The four-month race, which began in Khartoum, Sudan and will end in Cape Town, South Africa, is 11,693 kilometers (7,266 miles) long.

CI supporter David Crane in Sudan

David Crane, a CI supporter currently biking from Khartoum to Cape Town, poses with his bike in Sudan. (photo courtesy of David Crane)

Because of his passion for conservation, David is racing in part to raise money and awareness for CI. A version of this post was originally published on his blog, where you can read more posts and consider making a donation to support David and protect vulnerable ecosystems through CI’s work.

Ethiopia is a land of farmers.

As we bike through Ethiopia we’ve seen a lot of small villages and thousands of Ethiopian farmers. Even the kids are in the fields working (although they all come sprinting to the roads when the “farangi” or “white people” come biking by).

Around 81% of the population works in agriculture, and agriculture accounts for nearly 42% of GDP, as well as about 85% of exports (including their globally famous coffee). Yet Ethiopia is still thought of as a zone of food insecurity.

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Despite Challenges, Progress Toward Fisheries Recovery in the Colombian Amazon

In December 2012, I blogged about a cool community project in the Colombian Amazon’s lower Caqueta and Apaporis river basins.

camp site for community members in Colombian Amazon

Camp site recently built by a community in the Colombian Amazon to house villagers while they patrol their forests, rivers and lakes. (© Conservation International/photo by Margarita Mora)

Through the implementation of conservation agreements, this initiative addresses over-harvesting by commercial fishermen and improves management of lakes, creeks and the surrounding forest — all while providing direct benefits to the indigenous and farmer communities who have committed to protect them.

On my most recent visit to eastern Colombia, I was gratified to see that the conservation agreements are continuing to have an impact — though they’re not without their challenges.

As the manager of Latin American programs for CI’s Conservation Stewards Program, part of my job is to pay periodic visits to the communities involved in these conservation agreements. In exchange for making specific conservation commitments, such as refraining from logging, communities receive specific benefits determined by the local people themselves, such as help improving community infrastructure or wages for patrolling forests or lakes in search of illegal activities.

On this trip, I wanted to talk to the women and men of two indigenous communities I did not visit the previous year. I was particularly interested in learning how they felt about the program and the main challenges they faced.

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Indonesia Gives Mantas A New ‘Ray of Hope’

Mark Erdmann has been working closely with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries on the development of Indonesia’s new regulation protecting its manta rays. Today on Human Nature, he reflects upon the ministry’s enlightened approach to valuing its marine resources and some of the field work which CI is now leading to further inform manta ray management in Indonesia.

manta ray

Manta ray in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Things just keep looking brighter for Indonesia’s long-suffering elasmobranchs, a subclass that includes sharks and rays.

A year ago, CI and partners celebrated the bold move of the Raja Ampat government in passing tough new legislation to create the first shark and ray sanctuary in the Coral Triangle — a decision that was largely driven by the government’s realization that its sharks are not only important for sustaining healthy fish stocks for its people, but also that sharks and rays are an incredibly valuable asset to its burgeoning marine tourism industry.

Shortly thereafter, our partners at MantaWatch and Coral Reef Alliance worked with the local government and dive operators in Komodo National Park to set up Indonesia’s second shark and ray sanctuary in that marine tourism hotspot.

Around the same time, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries hosted the first national symposium on shark and ray conservation, and the minister himself appointed a working group to consider options for potentially listing Indonesia’s most threatened elasmobranchs as protected species.

Today, the minister of fisheries proudly announced the first legal product to emerge from that working group’s recommendations — full protection for both species of manta ray — in a gala launching ceremony in Jakarta, complete with a 20-foot manta balloon brought to the party by our partner WildAid.

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Walmart’s Impact on Global Sustainability

Earlier this week, CI CEO Peter Seligmann spoke at Walmart’s 2014 Global Sustainability Milestones Meeting. CI has been partnering with Walmart for 10 years; a version of this post was originally published on Walmart’s The Green Room.

farmer harvests eggplants, Tanzania

Man harvests eggplant near Tanzania’s Udzungwa National Park. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Conservation International Vice Chair Harrison Ford says it best: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

Think about it. Could any of us survive without what nature provides us — fresh water, food, lifesaving medicines, fertile soil and natural pollinators? The answer is no.

Today, the majority of people on Earth live in cities, seemingly far removed from the sources of our food, water, energy and material goods. Yet it is all interconnected: a massive storm in Asia or a drought in Africa can threaten the supply chains that Walmart customers depend upon.

Walmart understands this, and 10 years ago the company led the way by embracing the concept of sustainability and developing goals around renewable energy, zero waste and supply chains. As the world’s largest retailer, when Walmart takes an action it can have a larger impact than many nations.

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