WWF is saving black rhinos by moving them

WWF is saving black rhinos by moving them

Rhinos, one of the oldest groups of mammals, are virtually living fossils. They once roamed across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests, but today, very few rhinos survive outside of national parks and reserves.

WWF has worked for decades to stop rhino poaching, increase rhino populations, and protect their vital habitats. By conserving land for rhinos, we also help protect other important wildlife that share rhino habitat, such as elephants.

Specifically, WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) in South Africa has been working with passion, commitment, and determination to ensure a brighter future for the critically endangered black rhino for more than a decade. BRREP works to grow black rhino numbers by creating new populations and provides equipment and training to rangers to monitor, manage, and protect rhinos.

Black rhino calf on a brrep site credit pip mortlock © Pip Mortlock

A total of 87 calves, like this one, have been born on project sites which now span some 850 square miles. Nine of those calves were used as part of the new population for the 11th BRREP site. Eleven calves were born on BRREP sites so far in 2017. 

Black rhino being airlifted to a safer area © Green Renaissance/WWF-SA

A total of 178 black rhinos have been relocated by BRREP. The 11th black rhino translocation, which includes moving rhinos from parks with significant populations to others that historically held rhinos but currently do not, was completed in October 2017. During translocations, some rhinos are airlifted by helicopter. They are first sedated and then carefully airlifted to awaiting vehicles which take them to their new location.

Ground team helps with lowering a black rhino credit green renaissance wwf sa © Green Renaissance/WWF-SA

Back in 2004, 15 black rhinos were released on to the first BRREP partner site in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. That population has grown so well that some of the offspring have been moved to form part of the project’s 11th breeding population.

A man patting the back of a black rhino that is standing up © Green Renaissance/WWF-SA

In 2015, black rhino numbers in KwaZulu-Natal passed the milestone of 500. There has been a 21% increase in the black rhino population in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal since 2003. “When the project first began, the main concern was the slow population growth rate of the critically endangered black rhino,” explains project leader Dr. Jacques Flamand, pictured here after administering an antidote to a sleeping rhino. “Now population growth has increased, but so has poaching, so concern remains.”

Published December 14, 2017 at 06:00AM

Protecting progress in the Brazilian Amazon

Protecting progress in the Brazilian Amazon

Here at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), our work always boils down to places and species and the communities they support. And among all the places in the world it's hard to compete with the importance of the Amazon, which is why it has occupied our energies and attention more than any other.

This amazing place spans nine countries and supports one in ten of every species on our planet, while covering one percent of the Earth's surface. A recent WWF report found that a new plant or animal species was discovered in the Amazon every two days between 2014-2015. It is, quite simply, home to the greatest wealth of plant and animal life on Earth. And it contains 154 million acres of indigenous lands, where more than 300 different languages are spoken by native peoples.

Beyond its irreplaceable biodiversity, the Amazon hydrological and climatological systems sustain life in the region, and across the globe. Its canopy helps regulate rainfall and weather patterns that deliver water to the region—not just for crops, but also cities to the South. This cycle relies on moisture from the forest itself evaporating into the atmosphere and then turning into rainfall as clouds move from east to west across the region.

Deforestation from increased development, agricultural expansion, illegal logging or wildfires could throw this delicate cycle out of balance. Some experts estimate that merely 20 percent deforestation could constitute a "tipping point" after which the forest would dry out and weather patterns throughout the region would suffer. We are now perilously close, with 17 percent of the forest lost over the last 50 years.

The rainforest serves as a massive carbon sink, keeping 90—140 billion tons of carbon from releasing into the atmosphere. Allowing a fraction of that carbon to escape via deforestation would accelerate climate change. Allowing all of it to escape would be catastrophic.

We have seen important progress in recent decades, with deforestation rates dropping by 75 percent between 2000 and 2012. Much of that progress is the result of ARPA (or Amazon Region Protected Areas), an initiative of the government of Brazil which WWF, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and many others have been supporting since it began. Launched in 2002, ARPA now protects nearly 150 million acres of rainforest—the largest tropical rainforest conservation project in history.

In 2014, WWF helped finalize a deal which created a $215 million “transition fund” to help Brazil cover the costs of maintaining these areas until it can assume the full cost on its own. According to one study, the ARPA initiative will help Brazil avoid at least 1.4 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2050. But deforestation rates rose 29 percent between 2015 and 2016, and while they again trended downward between 2016 and 2017, recent events in Brazil could lead to further losses.

A perfect storm of political and economic upheaval in Brazil—which holds a majority of the Amazon within its borders—now threatens to unleash agricultural and mineral development in previously protected areas of this unique ecological region, with potentially severe impacts on the hydrological cycle, wildlife and people. We can’t let that happen.

After years of growth, Brazil's economy is now in crisis—the result of a fall in global commodity prices and a pervasive corruption scandal that centers on the country’s major economic institutions. For the first time since 1931, the country’s GDP has fallen for two consecutive years, while unemployment has nearly doubled and the government deficit has increased to levels not seen since 2001.

The Brazilian government has also been beset by political turmoil. Allegations of obstruction of justice and criminal misuse of federal funds engulfed former President Dilma Rousseff’s administration, leading to her impeachment and the conviction of her predecessor on criminal charges. Fresh allegations involving illegal campaign donations now plague the current president, Michel Temer, weakening his hold on power.

Moreover, in April, over a third of government ministers and dozens of senators and representatives in Congress were placed under investigation. Mass protests by the Brazilian public have followed. Thousands took to the streets of Brasilia in May, in a demonstration that was ultimately quelled by the deployment of federal troops after the Agricultural Ministry building was set on fire.

As traditional power centers have collapsed, a large block of “ruralistas” have maintained a majority in Congress, gained influence over President Temer and driven an aggressive agenda focused on agricultural expansion. Unfortunately, to achieve this expansion, the Brazilian President and his allies have made clear that they are willing to undo decades of conservation gains with little regard for the consequences.

The last six months have brought a flurry of measures from the Congress that threaten to exacerbate deforestation by opening up two prominent protected areas (over 2 million acres) to agricultural production. After those measures moved to the President’s desk for signing in June, WWF worked with others to orchestrate a global campaign to convince Temer to veto the measures.

Through the first six months of 2017, WWF-Brazil helped generate more than 800 news articles about the various efforts to downgrade, downsize or degazette protected areas. The campaign included tweets from celebrities with millions of global followers like Gisele Bündchen and Leonardo DiCaprio; and a social media initiative that reached more than 3 million people and garnered more than 20,000 signatures for a public petition against the measures.

It also included op-eds by leaders, such as WWF-US National Council member Tom Lovejoy; an excerpt from Tom’s op-ed is below, illustrating the kind of “tipping point” scenario America experienced during the dust bowl which could also happen in the Amazon if we aren’t careful:

It was straight out of the Book of Job. In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, some unknown and unaware farmer in the American Middle West cut some trees that tipped the center of the North American continent into an environmental plague: The Dust Bowl. Gigantic dust storms dominated the Plains and crippled its agriculture for years. Only massive tree planting, the creation of a major government program called the Civilian Conservation Corps, and better plowing and planting were able to bring back American agriculture to what it is today.

On June 13, the news finally came, and in an unexpected fashion. At 12:11 pm local time in Brasilia, President Michael Temer issued a tweet announcing he was vetoing the measure. Of note, he addressed Gisele and WWF directly in signaling his intent:

Unfortunately, our celebration was short-lived. New legislation once again began moving through the Brazilian Congress to replace the vetoed measures—more than 30 bills in total that could put 19.7 million acres at immediate risk. And in August, the President announced the opening of another area in the northern Amazon—known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca)—to commercial mining that would have increased pressure on protected areas. A Brazilian court has since suspended the President’s decree, and the Administration subsequently withdrew it.

In the past, Brazil’s commitment to protect the Amazon made the nation a world leader in the fight against climate change. Global deforestation is responsible for roughly 15-20 percent of annual CO2 emissions. Brazil’s backsliding threatens efforts to reduce these figures and jeopardizes future funding for Amazon conservation.

Norway has given over $1 billion to Brazil’s Amazon Fund since 2008, and had pledged to continue giving about $120 million annually through 2020. But that commitment requires Brazil to meet certain benchmarks. Norway has already cut its current annual payment in half due to increased deforestation in the Amazon, and could end payments if deforestation rates continue to rise. The same holds true for the $215 million raised for ARPA. If the government of Brazil steps back from its pledge to protect the Amazon, other nations could follow.

This will be one of the great litmus tests of our movement: can we marshal the resources necessary to secure the gains we’ve made and chart a new path forward?

Someone recently said that WWF’s role is to help be a bridge—to ensure that the natural world remains and endures, until that time when governments, businesses and civil society come to recognize its true value. We think that’s right, but we also believe we have a role to play in accelerating that process.

Other nations in the Amazon region are making good progress. Peru is working with WWF to finance the protection of 41 million acres, and Colombia is working to finance the protection of 42 million acres—a particularly important step as that nation emerges from decades of armed conflict and begins to develop areas of the country that were previously too volatile to access. It would be a shame to take steps forward in those countries only to step backward in Brazil.

Here are the steps we, as conservationists, need to take to keep the Brazilian Amazon protected:

1. Support Allies in the Brazilian Government

We should continue working with allies in the Brazilian Congress to block or delay legislation that would further encroach on protected lands. These allies form the Frente Parlamentar Ambientalista, headed by Alessandro Molon. We can also engage with the Temer Administration and urge them to listen to the voices within their government that favor conservation. Indeed, although President Temer has appointed a number of pro-development leaders to lead Brazilian agencies, there are many others employed by the government who understand the threats posed by deforestation and are quietly working to influence decision-makers. And we can monitor relevant cases brought before Brazil’s judiciary, which has historically served as an important bulwark against the overreaching impulses of the executive and legislative branches.

2. Mobilize the Brazilian Public

Outside of the government, conservationists can work to inform and energize the Brazilian people. The vast majority of Brazilians live in cities and may not be aware of the tangible benefits that the Amazon brings to their daily lives, such as its role in regulating the rainfall and weather patterns that deliver water to Rio and Sao Paulo. Let’s make sure all Brazilians understand what they stand to lose.

3. Engage the Brazilian and Global Business Community

Many global corporations have pledged not to source any commodities, like soy and beef, that are produced through deforestation. As ruralistas in Brazil continue to push the boundaries of where they can clear forests, we need these companies to be more vigilant than ever in tracing the origin of their products.

4. Strengthen Financial Signals

The fate of ARPA, as well as Brazil’s economy in general, is tied largely to financing from international banks, governments and private donors. ARPA for Life funds are already tied to performance benchmarks, so we can work with the financial backers of that initiative to communicate with the Brazilian government about the implications of implementing any new anti-conservation measures. And we can engage banks and other financiers to discourage investments in infrastructure, mineral or agricultural development that have negative environmental impacts and establish incentives that encourage green growth.

The mission of keeping 80 percent of the Amazon intact for all time will not be accomplished in a month or even a year; it will be the cumulative result of many people over many years standing up for what’s right. We look forward to standing with our WWF colleagues, our global network of supporters, and the people of Brazil for as long as it takes.

 Carter Roberts is President & CEO of WWF-US and Mauricio Voivodic is Executive Director of WWF-Brazil

Published December 13, 2017 at 06:00AM

Celebrating the biggest conservation wins of 2017

Celebrating the biggest conservation wins of 2017

It’s been a big year for conservation.

Together we assured the world that the United States is still an ally in the fight against climate change through the We Are Still In movement, a coalition of more than 2,500 American leaders outside of the federal government who are still committed to meeting climate goals. WWF’s activists met with legislators to voice their support for international conservation funding. And we ensured that Bhutan’s vast and wildlife-rich areas remain protected forever through long-term funding.

As 2017 comes to a close, we’re taking a moment to highlight some of our biggest conservation successes of the year. And we couldn’t have done it without your support.

State, local, and business leaders continue to support US climate action to meet the Paris Agreement
Leaders across the US economy reaffirmed their commitment to climate action despite the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of an unprecedented and essential international agreement to curb climate change.

Mexico committed to critical measures to save the vaquita
The government of Mexico announced a permanent ban on gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California—a fantastic and encouraging step forward on the path to save the vaquita.

Supporters helped WWF launch an emergency plan to stop Myanmar’s elephant poaching crisis
Amid a dire poaching crisis, wild Asian elephants in Myanmar received swift and essential aid from thousands of WWF supporters committed to protecting this iconic species. More than 3,000 people donated $263,211 in less than four weeks to fund an emergency action plan to train rangers and get boots on the ground to fight wildlife crime.

WWF staff and supporters stood up for conservation at the People’s Climate March
More than 1,000 WWF activists—including over 200 staff—joined 200,000 marchers in Washington, DC, to show they support strong action on climate change. WWF Panda Ambassadors and staff held sister marches across the country in cities including Dallas, Long Beach, Seattle, Portsmouth, Chicago, and San Diego.

WWF activists made their mark on Capitol Hill by engaging leaders on conservation issues
Through more than 60 face-to-face meetings on Lobby Day 2017, our activists shared with key legislators their concerns and hopes on topics ranging from stopping wildlife trafficking to tackling climate change.

WWF and Walmart embarked on a new effort to cut carbon pollution
WWF and Walmart are working together to cut carbon pollution and curb some of the worst impacts of climate change to protect people and wildlife at risk with Project Gigaton.

WWF supporters raised more than $250,000 to help bison in Badlands National Park
In early March, nearly 2,500 people donated a total of $256,512 to extend bison habitat at the park from 57,640 acres to 80,193 acres. This will allow the park to achieve and sustain a herd of more than 1,000 bison, and will allow more park visitors to see and learn about the United States’ National mammal.

WWF and Apple are working together to protect China’s forests
In July, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates were awarded for more than 320,000 acres of forest land in southern China. Nearly two-thirds of the land is owned and managed by one private company, Maoyuan Company. The remainder is owned and managed by Guangxi Qinlian Forestry Company, a state government entity. The land includes semi-natural forests and forest plantations.

WWF teamed up with hotels to reduce their food waste
WWF began working with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and its member hotels to reduce food waste. Starting with 10 hotel properties, WWF and AHLA tested waste-reduction strategies, including low-waste menu planning, staff training and education, and customer engagement. Overall, participating properties reduced food waste by at least 10%, and lowered food costs by 3%–5%.

Bhutan now has long-term funding to ensure its protected areas are properly managed forever
Bhutan—one of the most important players in the global fight against climate change—now has long-term funding to ensure its protected areas, which cover half of the country, are properly managed forever. It is the first initiative of its kind in Asia, and one of only a few in the world.

For the first time ever, WWF and partners tagged Amazon river dolphins to boost conservation efforts
WWF and research partners are now tracking river dolphins in the Amazon using satellite technology after scientists successfully tagged dolphins in Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia. The small transmitters safely attached to the dolphins will provide new insights into the animals’ movements and behavior, along with the growing threats they face.

Some of the world’s largest food companies announced they’ll help halt deforestation in the Cerrado
For more than 30 years, the Amazon has been the poster-forest for the environmental movement. And deforestation in the Amazon is largely slowing down. Unfortunately, however, the Cerrado continues to lose ground to expanding beef and soy production, plus other commodities and infrastructure. In fact, losses in the Cerrado have been greater than those in the Amazon for the past decade.

The Global Mangrove Alliance united to conserve and restore valuable coastal forests
WWF teamed up with Conservation International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Nature Conservancy to form the Global Mangrove Alliance. The alliance is an initiative to reverse the loss of critically important mangrove habitats worldwide. The target is ambitious: to expand the global extent of mangrove habitat 20% by the year 2030.

Published December 13, 2017 at 06:00AM

For the first time, WWF and partners tag river dolphins in the Amazon to boost conservation efforts

For the first time, WWF and partners tag river dolphins in the Amazon to boost conservation efforts

For the first time ever, WWF and research partners are now tracking river dolphins in the Amazon using satellite technology—a tool that will provide new insight into the animals’ movements, behavior, and threats they face.

Scientists successfully attached small transmitters to 11 dolphins—including both Amazonian and Bolivian river dolphins—in Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia. The information gathered from the tags will help us create stronger conservation plans, better advocate for the protection of river dolphins and their habitats, and prove these animals depend on connected river systems for survival.

Despite the iconic status of river dolphins, little is known about their populations and habitats. Data from the tags will help us to better study what dolphins eat and how far they migrate, among other crucial information.

“Satellite tracking will help us better understand the lives of this iconic Amazonian species more than ever before, helping to transform our approach to protecting them and the entire ecosystem,” said Marcelo Oliveira, a WWF conservation specialist who led the expedition in Brazil. “Tracking these dolphins is the start of a new era for our work because we will finally be able to map where they go when they disappear from sight.”

The safe capture and tagging of river dolphins follows a rigid protocol that prioritizes the welfare of the animals. None of the dolphins were injured during the process and none displayed ill effects after release.

How WWF safely tags a river dolphin

STEP 1: Fishers lay nets in areas where they’ve seen dolphins. The nets are huge and designed to enclose a large section of the river.

STEP 2: More fishers enter the water with smaller nets, gently corralling the dolphin into a gurney. 


STEP 3: They carry the dolphin onto shore, where scientists have set up a makeshift camp.


STEP 4: Veterinarians and biologists take a variety of measurements and samples.

STEP 5: The scientists safely attach the tag to the dorsal fin. Attaching the tag is similar to piercing a fingernail; as the fin grows, the tag eventually falls off.


STEP 6: The river dolphin is released back into the water as quickly as possible.

STEP 7: The tag sends locations at least once a day, and is expected to transmit data for six months.

Saving an iconic species

The Amazon is one of the world’s last strongholds for pristine, free-flowing rivers, but the region faces a variety of threats. Unsustainable development, such as poorly planned dams, deforestation for agriculture, and mercury pollution from mining puts the rivers—and all the life that depends on them—at risk.

“Now is the time to act,” said Jordi Surkin, WWF`s director of the Amazon region coordination unit. “These dolphin populations are still strong, and their habitats are in relatively good shape. If we address the threats now, we can ensure a future for all.”

Learn more about river dolphins.
Tell global leaders to cooperate on fresh water.


Published December 12, 2017 at 06:00AM

Tiger ranger, scientist, and detective

Tiger ranger, scientist, and detective

Temperatures drop well below -30C during winter months in the bitter wilderness of the Russian Far East. There, Pavel Fomenko will spend weeks out in the forest—up to 40 days in a row—often alone.

What brings Pavel out in such conditions and makes him stay? He is on the trail of the Amur tiger. Having spent more than 25 years working for WWF-Russia, Pavel knows these forests like the back of his hand and uses that knowledge to help protect the endangered Amur tiger, the biggest of the big cats.


It’s a lonely job being a tiger protector, and dangerous: “It's the risk of getting lost, the risk of getting frostbitten, the risk of encountering a predator,” says Pavel. “The cold is a very insidious phenomenon. It can be beautiful, but it is deadly. One must know how to survive in the cold and how to adapt.”

When out in the field he is on the lookout for signs of tigers, and for their only predators: poachers.

But Pavel’s work goes far beyond the forests. He is a ranger, a scientist and a detective. His ‘detective’ work out in the field—tracking tigers using scat and pug marks, and investigating poaching sites—translates into ‘CSI-style’ forensics work which he then carries out in laboratories.

Pavel is trained in a specialist form of wildlife forensics. Though wild tiger numbers have started to increase, the sad fact is that the remains of dead tigers are sometimes found in the field. When this happens, the animals are brought back to the Animal Diseases Diagnostics Centre in Ussurysk, where Pavel and his team carry out full forensic examinations.

The autopsies Pavel carries out on tigers aim to determine the cause of death, and ultimately decide whether the tiger died at the hands of humans or from natural causes.  

These examinations are essential in forming evidence for possible criminal cases in the illegal wildlife trade, and it’s a responsibility that he does not take lightly: “One must be completely honest… objective and professional. I am fully aware that, due to my expertise, a person will get a jail sentence or a large fine.”

Every year, the team carries out over 100 examinations on wild animals that are brought to the Diagnostics Centre. In the first half of 2016 alone, Pavel provided forensic and biological expertise for six criminal cases, three involving tigers.

Tiger protectors like Pavel are a key part of the efforts that have seen wild tiger numbers begin to rise globally for the first time in conservation history, after a long century of decline. Protecting tigers is Pavel’s passion, and he sees a more hopeful future for them.

“Tigers are powerful, they are beautiful, they are perfect… and they can coexist with humans.”

Published November 30, 2017 at 06:00AM

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