Canopy Reforestation Program
Rebuilding forests, saving ape lives, and helping to reduce climate change
What was once the Orangutan Tree Project has now transformed to encompass all apes and primates in our Focal Regions, through GLOBIO’s Canopy Reforestation Program. This program strengthens existing reforestation efforts through our Program Partners by providing new funding opportunities and media documentation. More than just a tree, each seedling is a piece of the rainforest puzzle, growing stronger forests for greater apes and improved local community conservation schemes. GLOBIO’s Canopy Reforestation Program is yet another way we can further connect species, people, planet.
New Forest, New Home
Deforestation and fires across Borneo have stripped orangutans of their forest homes. African Lowland Forests are being fragmented and disappearing into the sunset, further isolating chimp, gorilla, and bonobo populations.
Within each region, GLOBIO is engaged in:
- Planting indigenous, tropical rainforest trees
- Giving Great Apes and other unique species a new, secure tropical rainforest home
- Employing local villagers to collect seeds, nurture seedlings, and plant and protect the new forest
- Limiting climate changing by ensuring carbon stays sequestered beneath this new forest in the peat, not released into our atmosphere
- Trapping more carbon and other gases by repopulating tropical rainforest trees
- Creating global awareness through original media segments to encourage folks around the world to learn and donate
Updates from the Forests
How do we change the conservation conversation around great apes and primates? When we went searching for new program partners to support our 2021-24 Strategic Commitment that was the fundamental question that drove our evaluation of potential partners. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, in Sierra Leone, epitomizes a near-perfect partner, ticking every key box: saving chimps through rescue and conservation of critical habitat; education and awareness on both the village and ministerial levels; and a long-term strategic vision.
For the 95 rescued orphan Western chimpanzees that call the hilltop refuge home, living in a safe, secluded, densely lush, west African rainforest sanctuary might be enough, but Tacugama is and has been since its inception, much more than a chimpanzee rescue center. Driven by the vision of its founder Bala Amerasekaran, Tacugama is not about being solely a retirement home for victimized chimps. On that Bala is clear. He sees Tacugama’s future as one synonymous
with conservation success, starting in Sierra Leone and more broadly West Africa.
That larger vision, with eyes firmly fixed on the future, was critical to us as we looked for a partnership that could best put into practice what we believe needs to be done and what needs to be changed to positively influence the survival of great apes — in West Africa that is the Western chimpanzee and its rapidly vanishing rainforest. In Tacugama we have a partner that is hungry to create change. A partner for which doing the same old, same old is not good enough. GLOBIO and Tacugama both know same old is only going to yield the same old outcome, and for Western chimpanzees that means a further slide towards the precipice of extinction.
An estimated 5,500 Western Chimpanzees remain in the rainforests of Sierra Leone. Sadly, chimpanzee meat and orphaned babies are still highly valued in illegal markets, both inside and outside of the country. The root of the poaching crisis, Bala says, must be addressed through education and community-building. That has been at the heart of the long-term master plan over the past two and a half decades.
Tacugama Turns 25
Partnering with Tacugama come at a pivotal point in both our organization’s history. In 2021 GLOBIO celebrates two-decades of education awareness and this year marks Tacugama’s 25th year. For Tacugama it is a quarter-century journey punctuated by making the Western chimpanzee subspecies, Pan troglodytes versus, the first great ape national animal in the world — alone a remarkable achievement — but also the species upon which a nation builds a foundation of valuing and responsibility for its natural heritage.
From the beginning, Sierra Leone has been an extraordinary country that optimistically embraced creating a new future. Born out of a return of free-slaves from America via Canada, and England in 1792, its capital and largest city, Freetown’s name reflects the hope of those original 3,000 emancipated slaves. The journey for an identity has been a turbulent road pitted with the potholes of political coups, disease (2015 Ebola outbreak), civil wars, and natural disasters. It’s in this cauldron of on-again off-again chaos that Tacugama was created in 1995 and has not only survived, but thrived — credit owed to its affably intense, optimistic, and determined founder.
Twenty-five years ago Bala, working with the Government of Sierra Leone, was allotted 40 hectares of land to be used as the country’s first and only chimpanzee sanctuary. Strategically, Bala located just inside the rainforest blanketed peninsula nearest Freetown: he wanted the chimp crisis to be seen.
Over the 25 years, Tacugama has become more than a chimpanzee rescue sanctuary.
“Everything [we do] starts with the chimps and transitions into wildlife conservation, research, climate change mitigation, advocacy, law enforcement, environmental education, ecotourism, youth and women empowerment, livelihoods and one health initiatives,”
says Aram Kazandjian, Tacugama’s Development Manager. An abbreviated list of Tacuagama accomplishments illustrates what foundational conservation is supposed to look like:
- Conducted the first national wild chimpanzee census in 2010; establishing Sierra Leone as a major hot spot for Western chimpanzee conservation survival.
- Safe-guarded the wild rainforest of the western peninsula ensuring Freetown’s water supplies. Through Tacugama’s efforts the government upgraded to the region dedicating it as the Western Area Peninsula National Park.
- Its community awareness and education efforts through TKEEP (Tacugama Kids Environmental Education Program) engages thousands of children in dozens of communities across the country.
- The Tacugama Community Outreach Programme (TCOP) works with 42 rural communities towards achieving sustainable natural resource management and wildlife conservation. It is absolutely necessary to support these key stakeholders if we are going to succeed in stopping the loss of biodiversity.
- Tacugama currently works with over 70+ communities and is directly involved in driving 16 of UN’s 17 sustainable development goals within Sierra Leone.
Below, Saving Chimps: Tacugama Conservation was GLOBIO’s first short video with Tacugama through our Apes LikeUs program. The video has now been seen by over 30,000 on YouTube and inside Sierra Leone.
Valuing Chimpanzees: More Than A Presidential Promise
While rescuing and saving chimps is heroic on its own, Tacugama has not stopped there. On February 28, 2019, following sustained lobbying by Bala and his team, the President of Sierra Leone sent an
unprecedented message to the people of Sierra Leone and the world by declaring the Western chimpanzee subspecies, Pan troglodytes versus, the country’s National Animal and the new face of tourism. This declaration didn’t bring an immediate halt to illegal poaching of chimps, nor the destruction of their habitat, it did create an opportunity for Tacugama; an unprecedented foundation for heightening awareness and changing the attitudes of the people of Sierra Leone. It also illustrated to the world Sierra Leone’s seriousness in valuing its wildlife and natural heritage.
Sierra Leone is a critical biodiversity hotspot in the western African region, with some of the remaining wild populations of forest elephants and Western chimpanzees. Due to the diversity of landscapes, wildlife, and cultures, the country has a high eco-tourism potential. However, unless urgent action is taken to address poaching, illegal wildlife trade, deforestation and encroachment, the survival of natural ecosystems and wildlife is compromised. In absence of an effective strategy, the pressure on wildlife such as forest elephants and Western chimpanzees, as well as the red colobus, pangolins, turtles, and many other endangered emblematic species will irremediably increase and these species will disappear. Sierra Leone must, therefore, protect wildlife within and outside of the national protected areas, review policies and legislation, and empower the field officers to enforce the law and sensitize the communities.
Sharing a Commitment to Connect Species, People, Planet
As we look at the decade ahead it is clear all great apes face a crisis: each of the four non-human great apes, and in turn, their nine subspecies, are listed as Critically Endangered. Our 2021-2024 Strategic Commitment is to do more by supporting those on the frontlines survival. Tacugama and GLOBIO are dedicated to the survival and conservation of the Western chimpanzee and its habitat across Sierra Leone.
“None of us have figured this out — how to save species and habitats, how to make that work longterm, and how to make it permanent. If we had, partnerships like this wouldn’t be critical. But through this new partnerships we (GLOBIO) and Tacugama have committed to take that journey together.” emphasized Gerry Ellis, GLOBIO’s Executive Director, “And I’m certain what we create in Sierra Leone will benefit chimps and people there and become a model for great ape conservation elsewhere. Losing more apes is no longer an option. Already chimps are gone from four of Sierra Leone’s neighboring countries.” Changing attitudes about chimpanzees begins with awareness and education. GLOBIO is working with Tacugama to create powerful visual stories, and multiple outlets and platforms to share those stories. We all believe this partnership will play a dynamic role in the future of Sierra Leonian conservation.
Look for continued updates on our developing partnership with Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary and for more details about them check out the Tacugama website.
World Rainforest Day June 22, 2020
Venturing into the humid rainforest tropics for the first time can be a shock to your temperate senses. The heat feels like it never goes away. Even at night the heat and humidity can incite a restless riot of tossing in a half-sleep that leaves you in a state of fog at dawn. And dawn feels like a blessing, the only brief respite of heat in the twenty-four-hour tropics. Heat and humidity, while a nightmare to us, are the dynamic duo that breaths hope into the chaos we humans have wrought on places like lowland tropical Borneo. That’s where my last filming journey into the tropics took me; to document the delivery of sprouts of hope, the promise of rebuilding an assaulted forest. Each of the seedlings speeding up river in our boat were the beneficiaries of stability ensured by heat and humidity, millions of years of sameness. Every annual circumnavigation Earth makes of the sun brings a perpetual duplicity; a sameness that has created the greatest biodiversity on our planet, over half of all known life. Our boat load of Bornean seedlings are the offspring of 80 million years of perpetual predictability.
On June 22 we pause to celebrate World Rainforest Day and consider rainforests, for us at GLOBIO that is specifically tropical rainforests, the only home of non-human great apes and the majority of primates, the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth. Hot, humid places that few of us in the temperate zones will ever visit but depend on every day for every breath we take.
World Rainforest Day is a new global celebration, only three-years-old, with a goal of focusing awareness on the crucial nature of our planet’s 80 million-year old rainforests. GLOBIO has joined the awareness effort: contributing a special video (below), Rainforest webpage, newsletter and a week of social media highlighting rainforests.
Recognition of rainforests as more than their trees is acknowledging their paramount role in ecosystem services.
That is nothing new to those wise enough to look. Plato, the Greek academic and philosopher (c. 400 BC), understood that deforestation could lead to soil erosion and the drying of springs, he vigorously counseled against it. Forests have always been at the heart of Ecosystems Services. It’s clear, we are now learning, tropical rainforests are the heart and lungs of global survival system on which all our lives depends. That concept was never so clear to me as a few years ago when in the rainforest of the Congo Basin — one of the two great lungs of Earth (the Amazon Basin the other) — I was searching for gorillas in their rainforest home, I realized great apes are the canaries in the global coal mine: As goes their fate, so goes ours. Everything they are is inextricably woven into the survival fabric of these rainforests. The difference between us and all the other great apes is they can not reach in mechanically, impassionately from distance, exploit, and remain remote to the consequences of their actions. As diseases like the Coronavirus pandemic now engulfing the world illustrate, distance no long ensures immunity. Our actions compound and eventually trigger a response.
Ensuring the survival of great apes, us included, comes down to seeing rainforests for more than their trees, by safeguarding the survival of these immense swaths of tropical rainforest, places like Borneo, Congo Basin, and the Amazon. Forest security translates directly into keeping trees in the ground and standing. Trees reach their diversity zenith in the tropical forests of places like Borneo, Dipterocarps for instance, one of the great tree giants, regularly soar over 80 meters (260 feet) in height. The world record for dipterocarps belongs to an individual of Shorea faguetiana, which stands a whopping 103 meters (328 feet) tall!. Dipterocarps, and the trees like them, form the architectural foundation and scaffolding of a tropical rainforest that collectively are two-thirds of our planet’s terrestrial biodiversity and provide most Earth critical ecosystem services.
Life Without Rainforests
The simple truth is life as we know it and like it would not exist without rainforests — period.
- Of the 8 billion people, 1 in 4 derive their existence daily, directly, from the rainforest.
- Every non-human great ape depends solely on the rainforest for survival. More than 20% of the oxygen is generated by rainforests.
- Over 50% of the life on this planet lives in rainforests.
- About half the fresh water in the world passes through a rainforest annually.
The loss of tropical rainforests is not just about a tree here and there through fragmentation, such as slash-and-burn agriculture or charcoal-making, or the loss of a thousand trees, such as palm oil plantations, it represents a shift in the fabric of living on planet Earth. A few months ago that concept was difficult to convey, for most, an unimaginable reality, and then a version of unimaginable struck, Coronavirus, sending life for nearly eight billion into an uncontrollable free-fall. The two are connected. The Hopi people have a word for it, Koyaanisqatsi, “life out of balance.” Tropical rainforests are the requisite pillars to ensure balance. They ensure critical life sustaining ecosystem services stay in balance.
The tropics operate differently than the temperate climes, there’s no roller-coaster if seasonal temperature and light; for first-time visitors the seasons seem missing. It feels baffling to the senses: birds don’t migrate, mammals don’t hibernate, and leaves linger green all year. But without doubt the seasons are there, but subtle, and so are the falling of leaves; Sameness is the secret of success.
Most of the destruction of tropical rainforests is fostered by economic forces in the temperate zones, countries in Europe and North America, and China. People and business interests who are disconnected from the essential mechanics of tropical rainforest life and renewal. The unique formula of factors that created the perfect sameness required for tropical rainforest life also create its fragility. A fragility swiftly destroyed in a by the chainsaws of greed.
A year ago when I made a journey up the Deras River, a low flat coastal river serpentining its way through a tropical rainforest to the Java Sea, off southern West Kalimantan Borneo, it was the most most perfect World Rainforest Day of days I can imagine. I was sharing the boat with fifty native rainforest seedlings of a dozen species, and two members of our partner Yayasan IAR Indonesia’s reforestation team. We were sailing through a unique type of rainforest landscape, peat swamp rainforest, ravaged by fire from the 2015 inferno that devastated Borneo and left 2.6 million hectares scorched, and a toxic witches brew of gases and smoke choking the global atmosphere unlike any in the history of human-caused disasters. In the fire’s wake the biodiversity of Borneo from microbes to orangutans was traumatized. Five years later the post-traumatic shock can still be felt.
I began this post by describing the stability that creates the unique foundation on which tropical rainforest diversity relies. Ironically that sameness, which created the diverse rainforests of Borneo, has been its undoing when seen through the eyes of the palm oil industry, but in the end may also be its salvation. Given half a chance — halting new deforestation, eliminating burning, and launch aggressive reforestation projects like the Orangutan Tree Project — rainforests can rise from the ashes.
GLOBIO’s organizational focus on great ape survival includes a particular concern for their tropical rainforest homes. Generating awareness about the plight of great ape survival means raising the alarm over what is happening at the rate of 40 acres a minute to their home and our lungs. And we can, with your help, work to reseeding future forests. In the coastal peat swamp rainforest we are working with local NGO Yayasan IAR Indonesia to replant 1500 hectares of rainforests torched in the horrific palm oil fires of 2015. When completed the reforestation project, called the Orangutan Tree Project, will create rainforest habitat for up to 500 endangered Bornean orangutans, hundreds of endemic proboscis monkeys, and a myriad of life in one of the most biologically rich places on Earth.
— Gerry Ellis
Exec. Director GLOBIO
What is an Endangered Species and who decides when a species becomes endangered?
Seems pretty obvious, until you start to give it some thought. With Endangered Species Day on Friday May 15th, many of you asked us that very What and Who question. Here’s the not-so-crystal-clear answer.
What’s the difference between Endangered and Critically Endangered and the other distinctions? How are these determinations decided? This blog post unpacks these questions a little bit, and takes a closer look at some of the main governing organizations that are working to ensure that vulnerable species survive and will, hopefully one day, begin to once again thrive in their wild homes.
You would think a single-body of scientists and policy-makers would meet regularly, once a year, and consider the data and say, yes, that wonderful little monkey over there in that disappearing rainforest is slipping towards extinction, we vote to make it Endangered. Then post it publicly and ensure all the conservation type groups knew to spread the word. Unfortunately there is nothing single about that body. Deciding bodies exit on a national and international level, often driving confusion, conflict and most dangerously for the endangered species, inaction. For example, in the United States two federal agencies start the process. The List of Endangered species that have been determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (for most marine life) to be in the greatest threat of extinction. Once determined, politics then jumps in and everybody and the neighbor has an opinion about how the determination will impact their personal life. All of which has nothing to do with the original determination based on science. This process is generally repeated in every country around the globe. Next step, is at the international level, where the science remains as clear but the politics gets messier.
IUCN: International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Following the science, to determine international Endangered Species, a body called IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, based in Gland, Switzerland, periodically assesses every animal for which there is enough data to make an informed decision, explains Jon Paul Rodríguez, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. This commission consists of more than 8,000 scientists in 162 countries.
According to their website: “the IUCN is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organizations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 member organizations and the input of more than 15,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.”
The IUCN annually updates the status in a document called the IUCN Red List. This international list is not composed of national lists, and may or may not cross-over.
IUCN Red List:
No matter which species you are, making the list is not something you want to celebrate. It often means your days are numbered. A major component of the IUCN is the IUCN Red list, a database that determines “extinction risk” of thousands of species by assessing their population trends, adaptability as a species, threats and weaknesses, etc. This list is compiled by a network of thousands of experts in the field through the IUCN Species Survival Coalition and other Red List Partners. According to their website, their mission is:
“To provide information and analyses on the status, trends and threats to species in order to inform and catalyze action for biodiversity conservation.”
They do this by:
- Establishing a universal baseline to keep track of changes to species health
- Providing a global context for the preservation of species at a local level
It’s important to note that the IUCN Red List is not a complete priorities list for species in need of conservation, nor does it mandate intervention. It merely provides information about species without necessarily taking into consideration the costs associated with individual species protection plans, cultural and legislative implications, etc. Local officials, conservation organizations and other key players can then use this information to help guide conservation action plans within their own communities. Due to the vast number of species on the earth (with some estimates well over 10 million total plant, animal and fungi species), the Red List has not been able to assess every species, but has looked at over 116,000 distinct organisms and aims to raise that number to 160,000+ by the end of 2020 to provide a more holistic view of biodiversity around the earth.
The IUCN Red List categorizes extinction risk of species with the following distinctions:
- Extinct – no individuals of a population exist in the wild or captivity/cultivation, beyond reasonable doubt. A species will only be classified as extinct if years of surveys have found no existing individuals in their known or expected populations.
- Extinct in the Wild – species is only found in captivity (animals) or in cultivation (plants)
- Critically Endangered – if the population of a species has declined between 80-90% in the last 10 years of 3 generations (whichever is longer) OR if the total population is fewer than 250 individuals
- Endangered – if the population of a species has declined between 50-70% in the last 10 years of 3 generations (whichever is longer) OR if the total population is fewer than 2,500 individuals
- Vulnerable – if the population of a species has declined between 30-50% in the last 10 years or 3 generations (whichever is longer)
- Near Threatened – a species that is likely to become threatened in the near future
- Least Concern – a wide spread and abundant population
- No Data – not enough information is available to assess an individual species
CITES: Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
The need for CITES is clear. Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered but many are, and the existence of “an agreement is to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future.” With Trade, capital T, at the center of its title the protection of Endangered Species can and does often conflict with a species survival. Nothing illustrates this better than the decades long conflict over elephant and their ivory. Great apes too are annually traded” via illegal smuggling and falsified CITES documents. It is estimated by the World Economic Forum that the value of between $7 billion and $23 billion each year, illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans and arms.
Despite its major assigned role in acting as the agent for global trade in species, especially Endangered Species, and the fact that virtually every nation in the world is a signatory to the CITES treaty, CITES has been called a “paper tiger.”
So that may clear up the What and Who of the Endangered Species question, it leaves open the most important question — WHY once declared an Endangered Species, (like all the great apes for example) can we not find the collective public and political will to save them from the ultimate nightmare listing — Extinction?
Dig a little deeper with these Sources and Further Reading: