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/

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 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/

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

Nature Is Speaking — Is Humanity Listening?

This is our second 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. 

Twenty-two years ago, I was living in northern Namibia, teaching English to local women and looking forward to pursuing a career in public health. But what I saw throughout the next two years radically changed that.

A Bolivian boy examines a long-horned beetle. (© Trond Larsen)

A Bolivian boy examines a long-horned beetle. (© Trond Larsen)

Living right next to a village health clinic, I witnessed some incredible things. I saw babies being born. I saw people very sick with diseases such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and a new, particularly deadly one — HIV, which was just emerging in this area and still much stigmatized in the communities. I also saw many others suffering from chronic conditions that were symptoms of the poverty in which they lived.

I remember noticing the women in particular. A lot of the respiratory diseases that plagued them came from inhaling smoke while cooking over fires in their small huts. Many women and girls would walk for miles every day to find water and firewood, labor which took its own toll on their health. In addition, the time and energy this required also had opportunity costs, as it kept them from being able to do other activities, like study, tend their fields or look for work.

So many of the health issues I saw in these communities were directly related to poverty — and directly related to the environment. Continue reading

To Protect Madagascar’s Forests, Men and Women Play Different Roles

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

women farmers in Madagascar

Gardening activity conducted by the women’s association FIVEMITA (with CI’s support) in the village of Marofandroboka. (© Conservation International/photo by Soloson Ramanahadray)

If you’re quiet enough, you may be able to spot one of the forest’s furry inhabitants in the high reaches of the canopy.

Despite the many threats facing Madagascar’s lemurs and the forests on which they depend, there is some hope for their survival. In the remote southeast region of the country, we are working with local communities to reduce threats and create sustainable livelihoods for people that do not rely on the destruction of forests.

Although I usually work in our main office in the capital city, I’m here in the field to lead a team looking at how men and women engage in CI’s conservation work. Continue reading

Environmentalism Gets a Much-needed Rebrand

This is our second 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.

"Nature Is Speaking" campaign by Conservation International

“Wilderness is hard on our economy.”

I recently heard those words coming from an elected official in Idaho during an NPR story on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Unfortunately his words express a common belief.

For too long, environmentalism and conservation have been focused on saving nature for its intrinsic value. We talk about endangered species and national parks, and worry about the state of the world’s coral reefs. We don’t really talk much about people except almost as an afterthought. In some instances, we’ve even allowed our efforts to be framed as favoring nature at the expense of people.

A Ghanaian woman prepares saabu — a porridge made from maize — for the morning meal. (© Benjamin Drummond)

A Ghanaian woman prepares saabu — a porridge made from maize — for the morning meal. Ensuring food security for the world’s growing population will only be possible in the long term if we protect and restore the ecosystems that provide pollination, water and other crucial services for farms. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I love nature and have as long as I can remember, starting with my childhood in West Africa where colobus monkeys and pygmy hippos were never far away. But I have become frustrated with the view of nature as a fragile painting: a Sistine Chapel dripping with life, to be admired from afar and described in reverent tones.

Sure, some people are drawn to this idea, but they are far outnumbered by the number of people negatively impacted by the rapidity with which we are stripping our forests, mining our soils, drying up our water and fundamentally altering our planet’s atmosphere and ocean’s chemistry. Love alone is not enough; we need this place. Continue reading