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
No room for African apes. That appears to be the verdict of a new study published in the journal Diversity and Distributions predicts massive range declines of Africa’s great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos – due to the impacts of climate change, land-use changes, and human population growth.
Sometimes there is no sugar-coating news. But one of our strongest beliefs at GLOBIO is news is not negative, it’s merely information with which we determine if the outcome is negative or positive.
Last month, a stark warning was issued, information we ignore at the peril of all apes like us.
Information Alert: African Great Apes Will Soon Have Almost No Habitat Left, Scientists Warn
For the past half-century, the following facts have been being delivered: human population is increasing, we are consuming beyond sustainability, we are driving anthropogenic climate change, we are inflicting dramatic accelerating biodiversity loss. Great apes are the canaries in the global coal mine, and the song they are singing is clear: Humans are driving the extinction of our closest relatives on planet Earth, and if we don’t change our behavior, we may be the last ape like us standing.
Initially the worst-case scenario, researchers in the report predict a 94 percent loss of great ape habitat in Africa by 2050. Even if we get our act together before then, reducing our fossil fuel emissions and keeping ecosystems protected, models show gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos will likely lose 85 percent of their range in Africa in the next three decades. No matter which scenario ends up coming true, roughly half of all habitat loss could occur in protected areas, like national parks.
At this point, even the best-case scenario is not looking great. The protected areas we have designated for great apes in Africa simply aren’t cutting it. In fact, they are all too often being cut into. Often called paper-parks, lack of funding, lack of protection, and lack of political commitment (often undermined by corruption).
Going forward, multiple models predict all great apes in Africa are likely to experience massive range losses (Asia’s ape, the three species of orangutan have already experienced massive range loss), regardless of whether protected areas remain in place or not.
Currently, many African apes live outside of these boundaries, in areas that are particularly suitable for farming or industrial oil palm conversion.
African Great Apes in Unprotected Areas,
64 percent of mountain gorillas,
75 percent of Grauer’s gorillas
91 percent of Cross River gorillas,
80 percent of bonobos,
90 percent of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees,
80 percent of eastern chimps, and
80 percent of central chimps.
“The fact that the greatest range losses are expected to occur outside protected areas reflects the insufficiency of the current network of protected areas in Africa to preserve suitable habitats for great apes and effectively connect great ape populations,” says Joana Carvalho,
This first-of-its-kind study quantifies the joint effects of climate, land-use, and human population changes across African ape ranges for the year 2050 under best- and worst-case scenarios. “Best case” implies slowly declining carbon emissions and that appropriate mitigation measures will be put in place. “Worst case” assumes that emissions continue to increase unchecked – business as usual.
Under the best-case scenario, the authors predict that great apes will lose 85 percent of their range, of which 50 percent will be outside national parks and other areas protected by legislation. Under the worst-case scenario, they predict a 94 percent loss, of which 61 percent will be in areas that are not protected.
Climate change, like disease, doesn’t conform to political boundaries and becomes a compound effect. As our planet warms and vegetation landscapes shift, apes like many species are slow to reproduce and require niche environments.
Such migration could also drive great apes out of protected areas, putting their populations at even greater risk. In fact, a series of new models estimate that future ranges for chimps, gorillas, and bonobos will shift mostly towards unprotected areas, which are subject to farming, mining, logging, hunting, and urban development.
We have a considerable body of evidence illustrating how we got here, but as the study highlights, “few studies have only examined future effects of climate change or human disturbances, but how future synergistic interactions among climate, land use and human population changes will affect African apes and their habitat has been largely unexplored.”
Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide
While climate change will no doubt make some habitats less attractive to great apes, it can also create new habitats. A few decades however is not enough. Apes don’t breed like rabbits. Low birth rates and critical multi-year infant development mean slow population growth and slower expansion. If chimpanzees don’t shift their habitats, for instance, the new study suggests more than three-quarters of their range will be lost under future scenarios.
Gorillas may be at the highest risk, as many survive in virtual islands of habitat. Mountain gorillas (Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda) and Cross River gorillas (Cameroon), for example, have virtually nowhere else to go. Even in the best-case scenario, current models found that these two groups of great apes are likely to experience a complete loss of suitable habitat with no new suitable habitat to which they can escape.
While nearly a third of the world’s population, many the poorest, live in the tropics shared by great apes, it remains Western resource consumption that an ever-increasing threat. “The global consumption of natural resources extracted from great ape ranges is one of the main causes of great ape decline,” says ecologist Hjalmar Kühl from the Max Planck Institute. “All nations that benefit from these resources have a responsibility to ensure a better future for great apes, their habitats, as well as the people living in them by advancing a more sustainable economy.” This means looking more deeply at global conservation cost-sharing schemes. Currently, the “blockchain” economic modeling already in place in the tech industry, for example, could play a key role in accurately valuing habitats and species for their existence. It has long been seen, by humans, that a species’ value is only if it can be monetized.
Habitats Need To Be Connected
The authors of the study were clear all is not lost, but intelligent planning and action is paramount and urgent, “…habitat suitability models could help in the establishment and management of protected areas. In addition, maintaining and establishing linkages and corridors between habitats predicted to be suitable in the future will be critical for the survival of the African great apes. Land use planning and climate change mitigation measures urgently need to be integrated…” One such project in the Loma Mountains — the Loam Chimpanzee Survival Project. There GLOBIO is working with our Program Partner Tacugama in Sierra Leone to do just that: protect, reclaim and expand ape habitat by creating tree canopy corridors, and reforesting protected area perimeters where slash and burn agriculture has cause forest fragmentation.
GLOBIO’s Role In The Decade Ahead
This study doubles down on the need for GLOBIO and its Program Partners to intensify the work we are doing and have planned. The four Focal Regions outlined in our 2021-2024 Strategic Plan target the very heart of the habitat loss outlined in the study. If we don’t all commit to conserving and expanding these critical regions, by the end of the century, there’s a very real chance humans will be the only great ape left. That was the driving concern as we worked through developing a new Strategic Plan for the coming decade. Our work filming and interviewing folks on the frontline over the past decade was alarming and clear — time is critical, time is of the essence if we and all other species are to have a future that resembles in any fashion the one we have been living in.
The clearest warning sign was that the scale of change demands many hands. The days of do-good NGOs going it alone with their own ideas is over; we all have a vital stake in this. The new work will require a huge paradigm shift for many, the logos and egos need to be left at the door, and the business of repairing, replanting, and rewilding has to begin immediately alongside intelligent forward planning, long-term biodiversity sustainability priorities, and education and awareness. This isn’t 1950’s rocket science, we now know how to build rockets, send them safely into space and bring them back. Biodiversity—landscape conservation is in the 1950s, but what we did then we can do now.
GLOBIO approach is illustrated through our planning and work with Program Partners like Tacugama in Sierra Leone to protect, reclaim and expand ape habitat by creating tree canopy corridors, and reforesting protected area perimeters where slash and burn agriculture has cause forest fragmentation, develop renewable, sustainable forest buffers for utilization by local Sierra Leonians, and creating sustainable livelihoods from the health of the shared habitat. One such project in the Loma Mountains — the Loam Chimpanzee Survival Project — targets community engagement and protection of Sierra Leone’s largest single population of Critically Endangered Western chimpanzees: recently declared the national animal, the first great ape so designated by any nation.
Information in this post was drawn from the original study published in the journal Diversity and Distributions
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