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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London Talks Sound the Alarm on Illegal Wildlife Trade

I was so busy watching the pangolin happily slurp up dead ants that it took me a few minutes to realize it was missing one of its back legs. I was at the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center outside of Phnom Penh, which CI helped open in 2012 to provide a temporary home for “scaly anteaters” like this one that was rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.

Once prevalent across much of Africa and Asia, pangolins are among the most trafficked animals in the world. Their scales are popular components of traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat, blood and fetuses are considered delicacies in parts of Asia.

Animals that end up at the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center have often been subjected to horrible treatment. After they have been nursed back to health at the center, many can be released back into the forest. However, those that have lost limbs due to injuries from snares — and are now unlikely to survive in the wild — reside permanently at the center.

The illegal wildlife trade not only leads to the decline of species like pangolins — as well as elephants, rhinos, tigers and many others. It is an immensely complicated practice that damages important habitats, jeopardizes ecotourism and other activities that people depend on for their livelihood and threatens international security by funding terrorist and other criminal groups.

This week in London, two important meetings are focusing on finding real solutions to this immense problem. The Zoological Society of London is hosting a symposium put on by United for Wildlife — a collaboration created by the Royal Foundation, which is led by the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William). This partnership brings CI and six other conservation organizations together to discuss lessons learned and determine the best ways to engage young people in the issue and ultimately end the wildlife trade.

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Success of Marine Protected Areas Depends on These 5 Things

rainbow in front of Cocos Island

The protected waters surrounding Cocos Island provide an important refuge for sharks and other large fish, making the island a popular tourist destination for divers. (© Conservation International/photo by Ana Gloria Guzmán)

After a 26-hour journey across Pacific swells, some 550 kilometers (342 miles) from the Costa Rican mainland, the cloud-covered peak of Cerro Iglesias on Cocos Island became visible from the bow of our ship. As we steamed ahead, Cocos Island and its lush rainforest grew larger in front of us.

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and by myths of hidden pirate treasures, the island is also a natural jewel. The following morning we got to appreciate its most breathtaking wonder: the teeming ocean life inhabiting the blue waters around the island.

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