A documentary dedicated
ANTARCTIC AND SOUTHERN OCEAN COALITION
The challenges facing Antarctic wildlife and the ecosystem, and what we can do to help
How conservation, education and artifacts contribute to saving African turtle, tortoise and terrapin species
GHOST OF THE MOUNTAIN
The snow leopard is now one of the most endangered species of big cats
Ubuntu Magazines raises awareness on nature conservation issues and projects. We stand for a better understanding of what’s happening on the frontlines of conservation globally. We do this by sharing fair, transparent and easily accessible stories that are published in an online magazine. With the urgency to save nature, there is also an urgency to bridge the gap between conservation efforts and the public. Providing knowledge in the shape of inspiring stories will bridge this gap. We believe that the personal stories from conservationists will give people a deeper understanding of nature, which will inspire them to take action themselves.
Emerge yourself in the articles and become inspired.
African Chelonian Institute
Let’s live Ubuntu.
African Chelonian Institute
More than just a conservation story.
Fins & Feet Nature Tours
An eco-friendly nature excursion company in Aruba.
Ghost of the mountain
The snow leopard is now one of the most endangered species of big cats.
Youth conservation champion Her parents followed their hearts until destiny brought them to an empty piece of land. It became Shalev’s birthplace in 2008.
7 wonderful examples of ecological restoration of nature.
A documentary dedicated to Romania’s wildlife.
Ghost of the
High in the mountains of the Himalayas lives one of the most iconic and secretive animals on the planet: the snow leopard.
Research and conservation of animal populations in the southeastern Atlantic Forest, Brazil.
Sujitt Nicholas Manchini. My way to share the beautiful moments and stories of different pecies.
The conservation and protection of Antarctica.
“I’m happy to continue living a sustainable life -- something I’m very passionate about.”
UBUNTU LIVE LET’S
Happy new year!
Although the first month of the year has already passed, I did not want to miss out on this opportunity to say it once again. Changing from one year to the next is a big celebration nearly everywhere around the world, and I must say, I understand why. Although for some it is probably another reason to have a celebration, the changing of years is also a moment to reflect and to look back at what has happened and how much has changed.
A little over a year ago, in August 2021, the first ideas of Ubuntu came to life when I was sailing in Norway. Years before that, I told myself I would never work in the field of biology. I felt like I could never dedicate my life to one location, one species or one ecosystem - and I longed for a life in which I could explore the world.
Nevertheless, I was in awe after every single story I heard about conservationists who were so dedicated to their project or organization that they spent years on end in the field or in one location. Their varying backgrounds and the struggles they had gone through to arrive at their current destinations were incredibly inspiring. To me, a personal story with emotions, setbacks and victories was often the best way to get a message across.
While in Norway, I realized that I was never meant to be a conservationist in the field, dedicated to one project. Yet, when I said that I would never work in biology, I overlooked the fact that I had been passionate about nature and wildlife all my life. It wasn’t something I could simply neglect. Moreover, I actually felt the urge to connect people to nature to make them feel the way I felt. Soon after that sailing trip, I made some calls. Although I never intended to create a team while making those calls, I encountered enthusiastic and passionate people who were more than willing to start this project together with me. That passion led us to launch our first issue merely seven months later. I was astonished, to say the least, that we had been able to pull this off.
2022 was the official public start of Ubuntu Magazine. Now, a little less than a year later, we are holding our fourth issue in our hands. In a year’s time, we have been able to publish thirtynine real, compelling and personal stories from around the world. In this issue you can even find our first field-based article as I was able to travel to the African Chelonian Institute in Senegal during my private travels.
This is only the start. What 2023 beholds is yet unknown, but we are dedicated to share more personal stories, to create more compelling articles and to reach more people worldwide. Nature and wildlife conservation is for everyoneand everyone can be a conservationist.
With all the stories in our magazine we hope to show you that you - yes you - can also be a conservationist. You don’t need a degree and you can start right now. It is never too late.- Manon
HOW CONSERVATION, EDUCATION AND ARTIFACTS CONTRIBUTE TO SAVING AFRICAN TURTLE, TORTOISE AND TERRAPIN SPECIES.
The continent of Africa is known for its impressive mammals and other species of wildlife. Yet, international conservation efforts are not always well understood by local communities. Growing up as a young boy in the city of Dakar, Senegal, Tomas Diagne belonged to such a community. Nevertheless, he grew up with a different perspective on wildlife in comparison to his surroundings. His unexpected love for turtles, tortoises and terrapins led him to not only become a well-known conservationist, but also a mentor for future generations who care for nature just as he does.
This story is more than just a conservation story - it’s about making an impeccable impact and leaving a legacy behind for future generations to come.
Tomas’ passion for everything alive started early. It was his curiosity that led him to dissect a lizard at an early age-just to take a look at its intestinesand his love for anything fluffy that led him to hide chicks from his father at home. Growing up in the bustling city of Dakar, in an environment where people worked hard to survive, it was uncommon to show such an interest in animals. In the household where he grew up, it was his father, especially who didn’t approve of his animal caretaking. Especially not when he kept them hidden in his room, as he did with his chicks.
Although his curiosity about the animal kingdom was not fixated on a specific species, his profound love for turtles, tortoises and terrapins – who live respectively in the sea, on land and in freshwater habitats – started in his own backyard when an African Helmeted Turtle had chosen to stay there during the three-month rainy season. Soon after, Tomas gathered as much information as possible about the Chelonian species. In the years that followed, he took advantage of every opportunity to be in the presence of turtles and tortoises, from following specific classes during his agronomy studies to joining a manatee expedition in Mali. In order to become a conservationist against all odds, he had to get creative. So that’s what he did.
A few years later when Tomas was working as an intern at the Atlanta Zoo in Georgia, the puzzle pieces started to fall into place. It is here that his love for turtles, tortoises and terrapins started to evolve into something bigger. When working under the supervision of Dr. Brad Lock at the Atlanta Zoo, he was offered a stable career opportunity. But Dr. Brad Lock thought differently. Founding an organization in Africa with US-based fundraising could propel Tomas’ career forward while making an impact on endemic African Chelonian species. It took a while to decide between a stable or rather adventurous future, but eventually he decided to plunge into the unknown to found his own organization.
Now, 30 years after starting his Chelonian journey, Tomas’ work ranges from housing individuals saved from pet trafficking and the bushmeat market to researching and protecting species in multiple West-African countries – hence, the name African Chelonian Institute. Although his roots are in Senegal and some of his earliest projects are carried out there, the scope of his work is much bigger than this sole country. These days, Tomas is working with multiple team members in numerous countries across the continent to protect the endemic Chelonian species.
“In order to become a conservationist against all odds, he had to get creative. So that’s what he did.”
In the Tocc-Tocc Wetland Reserve in Senegal, for example, the Adanson’s terrapin is threatened in several ways. A few of these threats are bycatch or bush meat consumption by the local people, but also climate change and increasing agricultural and irrigation activities. Decreasing bycatch and the consumption of turtle meat was not an easy task as the so-called “problem” wasn’t acknowledged as a problem by the local community.
As a result of a community-based project which Tomas initiated, the five largest villages surrounding the newly founded nature reserve have now agreed to stop turtle consumption. The fact that he himself was also a local who understood their way of thinking played a great role in achieving this. Further threats like increased agriculture and irrigation activities are now held in check by a local team of eco-guards who have been hired and trained extensively to safeguard the nature reserve.
For the most threatened turtle species in Africa, the Giant Nubian Flapshell turtle, threats are partially similar to those of the Adanson’s terrapin. Habitat loss, bush meat consumption and trade are worrisome, yet their biggest threat might actually be the lack of research on their distribution. The species and its habitat in Nigeria can’t be effectively protected if it is unknown where they live exactly. The African Chelonian
Institute now conducts scientific surveys to find out more about this species before they might go extinct.
Due to these diverse threats, conservation actions are very dispersed. Alongside reinforcement of remaining wild populations, assessments are needed to research the current distribution of species. In some cases, a community-based conservation area needs to be established. This also accounts for the critically Endangered Forest Hinge-back Tortoises in Ivory Coast, Benin and Nigeria, where locals play a prominent role in safeguarding the tortoises. Nevertheless, the approach for each new species needs to be tailored to their own needs and surroundings.
Looking at the scope and diversity of threats for turtle, tortoise and terrapin species in Africa, it is no surprise that Tomas’ work is much needed. With 56 endemic species in Africa, of which many are not yet indexed on the IUCN Red List, much work still needs to be done. Looking at the example of the Giant Nubian Flapshell turtle, a possibility exists that more species are unknowingly severely threatened as research attempts have not yet been made. Additionally, some species might not even be known yet. The African Chelonian Institute has their work cut out for them and they plan to expand their conservation efforts tremendously in the coming years.
“Decreasing bycatch and the consumption of turtle meat was not an easy task as the so-called “problem” wasn’t addressed as a problem by the local community..”
What started as a one-man mission to preserve the African Chelonian species has now grown beyond him – on purpose, as a matter of fact. After being diagnosed with diabetes not long ago, Tomas started thinking about the future and about what would happen if he wouldn’t be able to work in the field anymore or if he would pass away. The word ‘legacy’ – leaving something behind – was what it was all about.
The legacy, which Tomas thought about for a long time, is currently being realized. Although his work is already irreplaceable and a legacy of its own, the African Chelonian Institute will
become an actual institute where people from all over the world will be able to learn about the African Chelonian species. Firstly, there will be an exhibition which showcases the timeline of global Chelonian evolution which started in Africa 260 million years ago (Eunotosaurus africanus), including replicas of the species that have now gone extinct. Secondly, the institute will provide a sanctuary for the animals that were saved from the black market. These individuals are living examples of the threats they face. Thirdly, the institute will have a special collection, which consists of African Chelonian artifacts and folklore, collected by Tomas himself during years of treasure hunting around the continent. Lastly and probably most importantly, the institute will also be the home base from which conservation efforts can expand in the future.
However, a legacy to Tomas is not just a physical building with information about the work done at the African Chelonian Institute, nor solely about the species that he is trying to protect. For Tomas,
“The word ‘legacy’ – leaving something behind – was what it was all about.”Overgrazing of the area
his greatest wish is the continuation of his work. The African Scholarship Program (ASP), one of his latest projects, is focused on guiding new biologists and conservationists from West Africa into the world of turtle conservation. He realized that not everyone in the scholarship program will become as passionate as he is about turtles and tortoises, but it would be a huge step forward in opening other people’s eyes to turtles and tortoises in their own backyards.
Alongside this ASP, Tomas occasionally lectures at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar to inform his own people about the work he does. It has now been two years ago, during one of his lectures, that he came across Awa Wade. She is a girl from Joal, a small town a few hundred kilometers south of the big city, who had written her masters’ thesis on sea turtles. With her, Tomas knew he had found his potential successor. Awa
now works alongside Tomas and is dedicated to learning more about all the Chelonian species. She is planning on starting her PhD soon. If it is up to her, her future will be at the institute and in the field, continuing and expanding Tomas’ work.
The story of Tomas, starting as a city boy with an uncommon interest in nature who ended up becoming a well-known conservationist, is a more successful story than anyone could have imagined. Unlike Tomas’ story, Awa’s story has just started. Although her name might not be as big yet, there is no doubt that in another 30 years’ time, it will be her name on the front pages of turtle and tortoise conservation. It is time to let local communities and conservationists take the reins, and with the new African Chelonian Institute in the making, there is no doubt that both Tomas and Awa will have a great impact on that future.
CONSERVATION STORIES ARE THERE TO BE TOLD, TO INSPIRE AND TO LEAVE SOMETHING BEHIND. AFTER THIRTY YEARS OF WORK, TOMAS HAS NOT ONLY CREATED AN AMAZING LEGACY IN TERMS OF CONSERVATION WORK, BUT HE HAS ALSO GATHERED AN UNLIMITED AMOUNT OF STORIES WHICH ARE WORTH SHARING. THE THREE DISTINCT MOMENTS BELOW ARE TOLD BY TOMAS HIMSELF, TO TAKE YOU WITH HIM THROUGH SOME OF HIS MOST SPECIAL EXPERIENCES IN AFRICA.
1. One day, I was at the facility where a cargo plane had landed. As soon as I arrived, one of the employees of the facility came running and screaming at me, “I received a non-approved reptile in a crate! We need to go to the office of wildlife enforcement right away, because this is being smuggled. You are a smuggler!” He added, “Reptiles are also dangerous, they need to be put in a stronger cage!”
The guy in front of me was having a mental breakdown, I could see. Yet soon after he finished talking to me I told him, “We have a live tortoise in the crate, confiscated from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tortoises also belong to
reptiles, you know. It’s all okay.” I could see the relief on his face as soon as I finished talking. “Just tortoise?” he asked with a slightly trembling voice. “Yes, just that,” is what I replied. And just like that the whole problem was out of the way.
It made me realize at that exact moment that people show far more sympathy towards tortoises than they would towards snakes, although both of them are reptiles. When talking about reptiles, we are generally more connected to turtles than to other species. And for that fact – that almost no-one dislikes turtles – I love that I’m working with them.
2. It’s approximately six years ago, and I’m invited by my wife to join her in Mali where she will host a workshop on manatees. I gladly insist. Not because of the workshop, but because of an artifact that I have seen in the museum of Bamako. It’s an old pottery item in the shape of a turtle which showcases the fact that the tribe who made this valued turtles and tortoises as much as I do.
Knowing that turtles have been symbolic in Africa for decades, I am extremely interested in this specific item. There is supposedly only one out there, right in the museum of Bamako, but I’m willing to find out if there are more. So I set foot towards the archeological site of Djenné-Djenno with a plan. First, I go on a tour of the local yet famous mosque. During the tour I drop the fact that I’m not here for the mosque but rather for the archeological site, and I ask the guy guiding me if he has some contacts over there. It appears he knows someone, but he doesn’t know if that man would also have artifacts which I might like.
The next day I meet up with a man around 60 years old and I can see he is nervous. Not many people would come and ask these things and I had never met this man before, so I understand where his nervosity comes from. After a while of talking and explaining my curiosity to him, he sits on his bed and pulls a box covered in dust from underneath it. When he opens it, there is more than I expected. Not just turtles, but also cavalier (men riding horses) and chicken artifacts are laying in the box collecting dust.
Not to show my enthusiasm about the turtle in front of me, I ask for some prices. The prices he mentions blows me away, but I also know I have to get it. This is my only shot. I ask him to hold it until tomorrow, so I go back home and empty all my credit cards. It is barely enough, but I go back the day after to finalize the purchase.
All in all, my wife Lucy is not very happy with my decision. Yet the story doesn’t end there. Flying back to Senegal, she and I pretend not to know each other, so that I will be the only one involved in taking this artifact out of the country. We made it past the Senegalese border (in flight), which was the last step I needed to take. Silently, we
high-five right there in the plane.
Right now, the Djenné-Djenno turtle is the most precious artifact in my collection. We did carbon-14* tests on it, and it appeared to be more than 450 years old. Quite a find, I would say. I’m happy it will be showcased in the Institute just like all the other artifacts.
*Carbon-14 is used to determine the age of a product
3. Once, I was crossing the border between Nigeria and Benin. My suitcase was full of plastic tubs, filled with turtles needed for species identification and genetics research. I didn’t have the paperwork I needed to cross the border, which specified among other things that these turtles had been examined for any diseases. It was a risk to cross the border like this, but I hadn’t had the time to arrange the paperwork. So I went for it.
As soon as customs opened my suitcase, they stepped back and said “What is that?” I told them: “That is turtle and tortoise.” It was that moment that I thought to myself, they have every right to make my life miserable right now. What am I going to do about it? I have to give them a reason good enough that they will let me through.
At that exact moment (luckily), I realized that people here in Africa still believe in traditional medicine, including the use of animal parts to cure a disease. So after the customs’ question why I was carrying them, I answered: “I have a disease, an extremely bad one. I’ve tried so many remedies already but none of them have worked. Someone told me to come to Nigeria to meet a shaman who could help me. He gave me these turtles and tortoises, which I now have to take to Benin to find the final cure.”
They were so sensitive to that information that I couldn’t quite believe it. Without any further questions they closed my suitcase, wished me good luck and good health, and sent me on my way. I had to pull the trick off, otherwise I would have never gotten the species home. Although normally I would just have the papers ready, I’m grateful this worked out.
WE’RE FINS & FEET NATURE TOURS
an eco-friendly nature excursion company in Aruba. “Eco-friendly” doesn’t simply mean “doing an activity in nature”. We maintain the following principles, so as to truly enjoy Aruba’s natural beauty in a sustainable, non-invasive matter:
SMALL GROUP SIZES
We accommodate private groups of up to 6 people, but most of our customers are couples. Having such a small, private group allows our guides to properly educate participants about the do’s and don’ts when being in nature, and to actually enforce these instructions. This greatly reduces or entirely eliminates disturbances from noise, light, trampling, littering, touching, etc. This is especially valuable in interesting but sensitive areas, such as breeding sites of various species, both at land and in the sea.
We avoid single-use plastics with passion. We buy unwrapped, locally grown whole foods whenever possible and make use of reusable containers. We love to go full circle on this. For example, by feeding our left-over watermelon rinds to the donkeys at Aruba’s donkey sanctuary. We’re lucky enough that Aruba has highquality drinking water from the tap, so we do not need to offer bottled water to our customers. Instead, we use a water jug (with cold water) and provide insulated water bottles for our customers to use.
WE ARE PAPERLESS
Our reservations, waiver forms, and other communications are 100% digital.
NO ENGINES IN NATURE
Engines are loud and disturb (and potentially damage) the natural environment. That’s why we don’t operate by boat and don’t go off-roading with our cars. When snorkeling, we swim out from shore. On land, we park on the edge of nature and start hiking from there. Approaching on foot or by swimming greatly reduces (noise) disturbance and greatly improves the chances of seeing interesting wildlife. For example, we have a success rate of 100% for spotting sea turtles in Aruba!
REEF-SAFE SUN PROTECTION
Many (if not most) commonly used sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone, which can be deadly to corals. That’s why we provide reef-safe mineral sunscreen for our customers to use. Reef-safe mineral sunscreens can be recognized by active ingredients such as non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. In our pre-excursion communications, we urge our customers to wear a rash guard or sun shirt to further reduce the use of sunblock.
My husband Robert and I started Fins & Feet
Nature Tours to provide an alternative to damaging (adventure/mass) tourism activities in nature. I have an academic background in ecology, evolutionary biology, and marine biology and initially came to Aruba with the aspiration to do research here. I successfully performed Aruba’s first elasmobranch survey in cooperation with Global Finprint and Wageningen University.
The initial response to this research was very positive, but I was quickly faced with the limited potential of academia to have an immediate impact on a developing country such as Aruba. Instead of trying to reduce those limitations or attempting to power through them, we tried to uncover beneficial characteristics that could be harnessed to stimulate eco-friendly and sustainable practices in Aruba’s tourism sector.
Due to Aruba’s relatively small population (approx 108.000 people), it’s easier to raise awareness and reach a larger part of the total population. While enforcing regulations can prove challenging (“everyone” knows each other), social control is much stronger here. Once a mindset change occurs in a large enough portion of the population, this social control helps an idea, concept, or new set of standards to quickly be adopted by the rest of society. We aim to nurture such a mindset change by:
OFFERING AN ALTERNATIVE
By offering an eco-friendly alternative to popular excursions and making this as attractive as possible, tourists will have a realistic opportunity to opt for a more sustainable excursion. This was an important first step and was initially met with a lot of skepticism.
Private tours in nature provide a unique opportunity to really connect with visitors and openly discuss nature conservation. It’s a safe environment to elaborate on critical questions and spark curiosity. Our private guides are all locals whom we train extensively for recognizing local flora and fauna, nature conservation, and other related topics. They are free to use our equipment to take out friends and family in their time off, which allows them to spread the word amongst locals as well.
ADDING VALUE TO NATURE
The value of the natural environment is often underestimated in destination planning. If nature is sustainably exploited, it adds value for visitors and locals alike.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
By proving that eco-friendly nature excursions are feasible and can actually be profitable, we hope that other operators will follow suit.
If you have further questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re open to discussions with and inquiries from serious parties who (are aiming to) provide services similar to ours in their own area. Criticism and feedback are also welcomed, as we are always looking for ways in which to improve our services.
THE GHOST OF THE MOUNTAIN: SNOW LEOPARD
High in the mountains of the Himalayas lives one of the most iconic and secretive animals on the planet: the snow leopard. It is the top predator of its environment and plays an important role in maintaining balance in the alpine ecosystems. Unfortunately, its existence is threatened by a wide range of threats and it is now one of the most endangered species of big cats. In the isolated state of Ladakh, the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT) has spent almost 20 years researching this elusive big cat and working with local farmers to find solutions to preserve both the leopards and the livelihoods of people. In this article, we talk to Tsewang Namgail, the current director of the India Trust.
Geographically, Ladakh forms part of the wider Kashmir Region. It sits on the western reaches of the Himalayan Mountain Range and on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, known as the Chang Tang. Despite having a very dry climate, there is a very high diversity of bird and mammal species living at these high altitudes. Herds of wild yak, Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang), Argali and Tibetan Antelope (Chiru) still traverse the Chang Tang, while mountain goats and sheep like blue sheep, ibex and Ladakh urial roam the mountain slopes and valleys. Large flocks of migrating birds, including two highly threatened species of crane, either migrate through Ladakh or breed around wetlands in the region. There are also a number of species of large predators living here, from golden eagles to the Himalayan brown bear. But out of all of these animals, it is the snow leopard that is the most iconic resident of the mountains.
It is only in recent years that it has become even remotely possible to see snow leopards in the wild. Up until the end of the 20th century, it was virtually impossible to see a wild snow leopard. They have massive home ranges, are incredibly well camouflaged and live in very inaccessible areas. This made Tsewang Namgali’s first ever encounter with not one but two snow leopards at close quarters all the more special. “People would equate the snow leopard to the North American Sasquatch or the Himalayan Yeti. You would hear about them but you would never see one.” It was, for all intents and purposes, an almost mythical creature.
This status as an almost-mythical creature makes the snow leopard being referred to as “the ghost of the mountains” very apt. But it is simply an animal that is perfectly adapted to mountain life. It has thick fur to shield it from the cold, a very long thick tail for counter-balance and a coat pattern that helps it merge with its surrounding landscape. They are masters of camouflage and can perform death-defying acts when pursuing their prey. Being an apex predator (a predator that is at top of the food chain) and a keystone species (an organism that plays a critical role in maintaining the health of an ecosystem), the snow leopard fills a critically important ecological role in the mountains. As one of the main predators of wild sheep and goats such as the blue sheep and ibex, they help to control the populations of these grazers. This in turn helps to prevent overgrazing, which is critical in a dry region.
“Mountains with a healthy snow leopard population will be far more resilient in the face of the effects of climate change.”
Not only does this enhance the growth of plants on the slopes, it also prevents erosion and increases reliance against flooding. Mountains with a healthy snow leopard population will be far more resilient in the face of the effects of climate change.
The importance of the snow leopard to the ecology of the mountains is one of the main focal points of the research that the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust conducts. With a range that stretches across 12 countries from Afghanistan to Mongolia, the snow leopard is in essence a widespread animal . Yet despite its range, the snow leopard is one of the most endangered big cats in the world. While it is very hard to gauge their exact population, it is estimated to be around 5000 to 7500 individuals remaining and the population is still declining.
Founded in 2000, the Snow Leopard Conservancy works with snow leopards across their global range, with the India Trust being just one branch of the organization. In 2003, the India Trust of the Conservancy became an independent nonprofit organization. With the snow leopard facing extinction, the conservation of this species is the top priority of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust. However, conservation (and this applies to anywhere in the world) cannot succeed without working with local communities. The Trust focuses specifically on conserving the mountain ecosystems and wildlife in collaboration with the local communities, encouraging innovative grass-roots measures (making changes from the ground up) that encourage people to become better stewards of the environment around them.
The greatest threat to the existence of snow leopards in Ladakh specifically, according to Tsewang, is retaliatory killings by livestock owners. Livestock are most vulnerable to snow leopards when they are inside their pens, which are designed to keep them in but not to keep snow leopards out. When a snow leopard does jump inside, it will often kill multiple animals. For livestock owners, this can represent a serious threat to their livelihoods and survival. In the early 2000s, the Snow Leopard Conservancy started working with farmers in Ladakh to find solutions to the problem, which included working to make the corrals predator-proof. Conservationists provide the locals with materials like wire mesh, frames and wooden beams in order to fortify the corrals. The wire mesh forms a roof to cover the enclosure, while the beams support the wire-mesh. These new corrals have proven to be extremely effective in keeping out not just snow leopards, but also Tibetan wolves, with a 95% success rate overall. This has in turn saved both the predators and the livelihoods of farmers.
Because of the livestock losses, there was a very strong anti-predator mindset among the local communities living in Ladakh. To change this, the Conservancy has initiated several initiatives to help local communities to generate forms of income through having snow leopards and other large animals around. These additional sources of income can in turn help offset livestock losses to snow leopards and other predators,
which unfortunately will never be reduced to zero. In recent years there has been an influx of domestic as well as international tourists, with around 300,000 people visiting Ladakh per year on average over the few summer months. Many people actually travel to the region to try and see snow leopards. In turn, these people traveling into the mountainous areas to search for snow leopards and other animals can provide economic opportunities for local communities throughout Ladakh.
The Himalayan Homestays Program was set up to try and do just that, providing tourists with a different experience. Instead of just camping in the mountains and just passing through the villages, they now have the opportunity to stay in the villages. This gives them the opportunity to fully experience and be immersed in the local culture in an authentic way. Not only is it an eco-friendly initiative, but more importantly, it is socially responsible. Since 2002, Tsewang says that the Snow Leopard Conservancy in India has trained about 200 families in Ladakh to offer homestays to tourists. The initiative is able to provide benefits to both wildlife and people. People are now earning an income because tourists are staying in their homes while searching for snow leopards in the mountains around their villages. Today, instead of being hunted, snow leopards are being encouraged to come closer to villages.
The increase in tourism has also given rise to several smaller scale grassroots initiatives in these villages, which include local women running eco-cafes on mountain roads and trails. In this case, conservationists provide basic cooking utensils and gas while the groups sell locally produced food, which provides them with an income while also preventing littering. In a further attempt to reduce littering, they will refill tourists’ water bottles instead of selling them bottled water. There is also a handicraft development program, where the Trust helps local communities to promote their traditional arts and crafts which can be sold to guests who visit their homes. Many of the products are crafted from yak and sheep wool, which can then be made into figurines of animals, among other things. This can have dual benefits, because it gives additional value to the livestock and also serves to educate people about local wildlife.
Tsewang strongly emphasizes the importance of education in conservation initiatives. It is crucial to not just bring awareness about snow leopards but also about the other species that share space with them. The education programs are aimed at helping the local people to learn about their local wildlife and to view them as more than just intruders in the mountains around their villages. This is very important as a number of species of animals come into conflict with humans in Ladakh. For example, Tibetan wolves are persecuted far more often than snow leopards owing to livestock predation, and even Himalayan brown bears sometimes enter livestock corrals. The snow
leopard’s prey, like blue sheep, can compete with livestock overgrazing the vegetation on the mountain slopes and marmots, a large rodent, have been reported damaging crops in fields. As people living in Ladakh aren’t taught about the wildlife that are unique to the region, the Conservancy has been creating contextualized content in the form of booklets and pamphlets for children. An example of the impact that initiatives like this are having is that more and more people are referring to mountain sheep and goats by their names (like ibex, urial or bharal) instead of calling them “deer”, which are there in the school textbooks but absent in the area.TSEWANG NAMGALI Director of Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT)
The India Trust, which carries out all the snow leopard conservation work in Ladakh, is made up of ten members, including Tsewang as the director. Alongside the permanent staff, there are often small groups of volunteers present. The Trust’s volunteer program is a vital element in the Trust achieving its conservation goals. It is also a fantastic opportunity for people from around the world, in particular university students, to get involved and help with the conservation of the snow leopard. The volunteers can stay with the team for anywhere from a month to six months and are involved in a wide range of projects.
Volunteers help carry out surveys of snow leopards, wolves and their prey animals, assist villagers in building the livestock corrals, conduct education workshops in schools and universities and help to evaluate the homestays involved in the program.
According to Tsewang, the Conservancy is working to expand its research and conservation initiatives into other parts of Ladakh, working with more farmers to construct more corrals and expanding the homestays program to bring in other families. The work that the Snow Leopard Conservancy has done, both with its research and its conservation work with the local communities, can provide important lessons and insights for everyone. As Tsewang stated, “We have a finite planet with infinite desires and aspirations.” Essentially, if we want to live on an intact and functioning planet, we need to carefully think about how we interact with the world around us.
“We have a finite planet with infinite desires and aspirations.”Tsewang Namgali.
Her parents moved from Israel to India in 2002. They followed their hearts until destiny brought them to an empty piece of land, where they opened their house and invited volunteers from all over the world to live with them and grow among the forest. They called it Sadhana Forest, and it became Shalev’s birthplace in 2008.
UBUNTU’S YOUTH CONSERVATION CHAMPION SHALEV
CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT SADHANA FOREST?
Sadhana Forest is a reforestation and water conservation community that focuses on taking barren pieces of land and transforming them into forests. We invite volunteers from all around the world to help us in achieving this vision. We started the work in South India, and we have started other projects in Haiti, Kenya, North East India, and soon, in Namibia. We focus on food security and providing clean water to the local community. In Haiti and in Kenya, for example, we have taps where people go to have clean water for free. Giving for free is very important for us because we follow the Gift Economy, which means giving without expecting something in return.
WHY IS NATURE SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I think Nature is substantial for my life. I mean I’ve never really been in another place for a long period of time but when I go somewhere else, returning to a place that is so green is a very good feeling. I remember being in Israel, visiting my grandparents, where I got stuck there for 4 months. It was not easy at all staying inside an
YOUTH CONSERVATION SHALEV
apartment all this time. When I came back it was like “oh my gosh, there’s so much color in the world! It’s like the air is different.” I really see the importance of nature for my life.
I just started learning about photosynthesis and stuff like that, which is funny because I have been living inside a forest for a really long time but I haven’t taken interest in the trees before. I love going into the forest. I used to plant trees and work in the forest, I just didn’t know what I was doing and why we were doing it. Now that I have started learning, it’s fun and it gives me a deeper understanding about my home.
HOW DO YOU LIKE LIVING IN SADHANA FOREST?
It is very much like a dream! I am living in a hut in the middle of a forest. Peacocks and porcupines come to visit me. My neighbours are volunteers from all around the world who live in many different huts. I grew up pumping water for my shower, eating food cooked on fire and swimming in the “Mud Pool,” a natural pond that conserves water. On the other hand there is always a positive and a negative side to living anywhere. I love the variety and the different possibilities I have. When I want to hang out with people I can just go to the community and talk to everyone. The new people that come want to know who I am, or how long I’ve been here. Sometimes it’s just too much, and I don’t always feel like answering.
I’m homeschooled. My parents decided not to send me to school. They thought that nature would be the best teacher! I also have a lot of space and freedom to do things and explore life. I am learning a lot when I talk to people. I listen to so many stories from thousands of volunteers that come every year. I learn so much just by being with people from so many different cultures, religions and backgrounds. They are definitely excellent teachers.
I’m the only teenager right now but there are a lot of kids under 12. It has been like this for a while, especially with COVID. We didn’t have any children for three years, that is why I’m not as good with people my own age, I’m a lot better with adults. It’s something I’m working on.
HAVE YOU EVER LIVED OUTSIDE SADHANA FOREST?
I’ve never really lived outside but I’ve been travelling a lot all around the world with my parents to start more Sadhana Forests. I also visited my family in Israel.
”Living in Sadhana Forest, it’s a lot!” I think growing up in a place that carries values like: non-violence, compassion, sustainability, and educating people on preserving the environment is very protective. All the people around me have similar values. That makes it a lot harder to be in the outside world where people have very strong and opposing opinions on veganism, how to raise children and what is important in life.
When I travel out of Sadhana Forest I observe different stuff like cities of cement, sometimes not even a piece of grass, parents shouting at their kids, lots of kids crying, etc. For me that is really tough and I still struggle a lot! Another topic is money. I am not used to seeing a lot of money interaction in my daily life. People around me are not busy buying things all day. Life is quite simple. We eat our meals with the community and we don’t charge for anything! All our activities are free of cost. We call it Gift Economy. That is why outside Sadhana Forest, the use of money just stresses me out.
YOU’RE WORKING ON A DANCE WITH THE VALUE OF SUSTAINABLE LIVING AND REFORESTATION. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT IT?
I started dancing when I was three years old at the open-stage night, which happens every Wednesday in our community. It was a very safe place to perform. Since then, I have loved performing and making people happy. Later on, I studied gymnastics and moved to contemporary dance. One of our activities in Sadhana Forest is an eco-film club. It’s a night where guests come to have a tour of the land, watch an environmental movie and have dinner with the community. One of those nights, on my birthday, I wanted to celebrate by performing for the guests. After my performance a dancer named Elda Galo, who was in the crowd, approached me. She said it would be so interesting to put the whole story of Sadhana Forest in the form of a dance. She contacted my parents and a year and a half later we started working on the piece. It tells the story of cutting down the forest in Tamil Nadu and integrates a lot of stories about Sadhana Forest and my life. I think it’s a nice way of sending a message.
Elda came back for a while to Sadhana Forest to create the dance and work with me. Later on, I met her in Vienna along with an artist named Luciana Bencivenga who joined us in the work. Together we created a dance piece on the background of live painting called A forest to grow people.
I performed a short version last March here in Sadhana Forest. The main performance is going to be in Austria. Thankfully, we got funding from the city of Vienna to work on a 45-minute dance performance. The show will take place in Dschungel Theatre 1-7 June, 2023.
“Together we created a dance piece on the background of live painting called A forest to grow people.”
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT WHICH THINGS YOU DO TO LIVE A SUSTAINABLE LIFE?
I grew up vegan, but my parents never forced me to become a vegan. They let me try other stuff if I wanted. When I was in Israel I started eating yoghurt, and I felt all this guilt. So I started researching veganism by myself and I went really deep into it. I started living it for myself and for my own values and not just following my parents. I figured it out by myself why I wanted to be vegan and I went through this angry stage, where I was mad at people that weren’t vegan. Then I realized that everyone has their own journey, and maybe some people aren’t capable of thinking bigger than what’s going on with themselves. Maybe they’ll get to it, maybe they won’t, but you can’t be angry all the time.
I learned it’s not my place to say “you have to be vegan.” as if I knew better. My parents do veganism just by living their lives and talking about it if someone asks or if it comes up.
A really big thing for me is not buying from fast fashion or huge industries. My opinion is that these companies are using child labour and have unfair wages. It’s really bad for the people and the environment. For example, coffee takes up a lot of space and water, and big companies end up deforesting a lot of land. So, in general, it’s better to buy from small and local manufacturers.
I’m also trying to buy second hand clothing. I like to be aware of how much plastic I buy. I always say no to plastic bags and plastic water bottles as I use cloth bags and metal water bottles. I think about a sustainable future. This mindset was shaped very strongly by how I was raised, and I’m happy to continue living a sustainable life -something I’m very passionate about.
“I’m happy to continue living a sustainable life.”
WONDERFUL EXAMPLES OF ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION OF NATURE
In recent years, we have been confronted many times with examples of the destruction of nature. The film of David Attenborough (Breaking Boundaries) scientifically shows that we are crossing nine boundaries that are irreversible, and during the COP-27 in Sharm El-Sheik, Antonio Guiterrez told us that we are on a highway to hell.
Although this is all true, it is still important to also show the beautiful examples of how things are going well with the restoration of nature. This gives people perspective and hope that the restoration of the earth is possible, which it is.
I would therefore like to review a number of wonderful examples, which in my opinion can inspire applications elsewhere. What is always striking is that the initiatives originated from people or organizations that have shown courage and have often selflessly had a strong feeling that the decline of nature could not continue. Through this, they overcame mountains which seemed impossible to overcome at the start.
1. Ecological restoration of the Sahel in Africa: The Great Green Wall 8000 years ago, the Sahara was a place full of greenery with trees, grassland and many animals. Due to the arrival of man with livestock, the area was gradually grazed and eventually dried up. As a result, the Sahara has grown by 10% over the past 100 years. It is moving further and further towards the Sahel, which is the buffer between the Sahara Desert in the North and the Savannah in the South.
The Sahel and the Sahara are both regions where there is hardly any precipitation. The fact that trees can survive in these conditionswithout much precipitation - is not so obvious and does not always happen. The Sahel is therefore increasingly becoming a desert. 10 million people – of the current 135 million living in the Sahel – are now living in famine.
In 2007, The African Union took the initiative to build The Great Green Wall. This wall of trees must, among other things, combat climate change and the expansion of the desert. It should transform the landscape into a greener area and improve the living conditions of many people within. The ambition was and still is to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequestering 250 million tons of carbon and creating 10 million green jobs by 2030. They started with a project in 2011 that focused
on social, ecological and economic development of the Sahel. A strip of 15 km wide by 8000 km long runs from Senegal to Djibouti, going through 11 countries.
The ‘Great Green Wall’ has since evolved into a collection of smaller projects (clusters) that are much more in line with the needs and working methods of local farmers. Thousands of initiatives
are intended to help the local population and improve nature.
The 11 Sahel countries involved, together with the UN, want this ‘miracle in the making’ to be completed by 2030. 20 million of the intentional 100 million hectares of dry land have currently been restored, so although there is still work to be done, they are well on their way.
2. Ecological restoration of the Pasig River in the Philippines
The 25 kilometer long Pasig River connects Laguna de Bay with Manila Bay and cuts right through the Philippine capital of Manila and its surrounding urban area.
The issue is that the river has become a local dumping ground. After World War II, when the city’s population grew tremendously, the river was used to dump factory waste, household waste, sewage, among many other discarded items. Sadly, the Pasig River was considered biologically dead in the nineties, which meant that due to its low oxygen content it could no longer support aquatic life.
In 2008, the Asian Development Bank and the Philippine government started an initiative to restore the river to its original glory. The initiative required bringing together the city’s residents, various government agencies and environmentalists. Additionally, rehabilitation efforts have also been supported by private sector organizations such as the Clean and Green Foundation.
Looking at the Pasig river now - two decades later - there is plenty of life in the river again, including 8 species of fish, 39 bird species and 118 species of trees and other vegetation. All the hard work was awarded the Asian River Prize from the International River Foundation (IRF).
3. Ecological restoration of the Loess Plateau, China
The Loess Plateau can be found southeast of the Gobi Desert, surrounded by the Yellow River. Due to centuries of overgrazing, almost all vegetation disappeared. Sandstorms and floods became more frequent and more dramatic, with severe erosion as the final result. A combination of iron mining, wood logging and grazing of cattle resulted in the washing away of the fertile loess layer (a kind of sediment) during the rain. The once fertile Loess Plateau – previously 100 meters thick – was almost completely gone.
In 1994, the Chinese Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project was set up by the Chinese government to re-fertilize the area.
Now, an area of 35,000 km² (approximately the size of Belgium) has been restored. Together with the local population, large areas were replanted and dammed in a short time. A grazing ban for the cattle gave vegetation the chance to grow back. In the years that followed, greenery returned in unprecedented abundance. The moisture balance of the soil restored and the fertile soil no longer washed away.
The new vegetation now acts as a carbon sink and helps combat rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Biodiversity has increased enormously, including the number of Chinese leopards in the area.
4. Ecology back in the cities: vertical forests on the rise!
The Italian architect Stefano Boeri designed ‘Bosco Verticale’: two skyscrapers in Milan with heights of 111 and 76 meters, respectively. They are located northeast of the city center in the Porta Nuova District. The special thing about them is that they contain about 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennials and groundcovers on a terrace area of 8.900 m².
In addition to the Bosco Verticale, Boeri also designed the Trudo Tower on the former industrial Philips site, Strijp-S in Eindhoven. It is the very first vertical forest in The Netherlands. The tower is 70 meters high and offers space for 125 social housing units. The Trudo Tower gives space to a total of at least 125 mature trees (up to 6.5 meters high) and 5,200 shrubs , plants, climbers and pendants which grow and bloom.
Even at 18 levels high, however, trees need water and care. Therefore, each of the 125 trays (in which you can find the vegetation) has its own sensors that maintain the right hydration and nutrition all year round. All these trees, shrubs and plants account for 50,000 kilos of carbon dioxide absorption and 13,750 kilos of released oxygen on an annual basis.3.
5. Ecological restoration of parched areas of Africa
With the slogan “Cooling down the planet,” Justdiggit is trying to “re-green” dry areas in Africa. Mostly, they focus on public awareness while working together with the local population, which makes the project sustainable for the long run. But interestingly enough, what actually happens is nothing more than digging trenches and building dams. So, how does it work?
It is a misconception that it does not rain in dry areas. That does happen, often briefly and violently. But because the soil is hard the water flows away before it can infiltrate the soil. By digging trenches and building dams, rainwater can be collected and absorbed by the soil as to become saturated again. These pits of about 5 meters deep hold the water and can contain
2100 liters of water. As a result of this, vegetation returns automatically. Growth of the vegetation prevents further erosion as their roots strengthen the soil structure. In turn, the evaporation of moisture from the vegetation provides cooling to the area and more regulated precipitation.
This has the following advantages:
- Vegetation cools the environment by providing shade and decreasing temperatures. Eventually, the temperature difference can be more than 10 degrees Celsius.
- CO2 uptake by vegetation.
- Perspiration (the evaporation of water from plants) cools the environment and increases the moisture content in the air.
- Soil restoration occurs as more vegetation equals more organic matter, thereby increasing nutrients and water in the soil.
- Land restoration increases harvest yields and income for local population.
- Reduced vegetation and restored ecosystems improves biodiversity and the habitats of various animal and plant species.
Up until now, Justdiggit has restored 300,000 of land and they have brought back 9,7 million trees.
“In addition to digging pits, a technique is also used to allow felled trees to grow back (the roots are often still intact). This is called ‘Kisiki Hai’ (living stump) in Swahili.”4.
6. 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, Pakistan
Pakistan is a country particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Only 5% of the country has forest cover against a global average of 31%. Besides that, glaciers in the mountains are melting, which resulted in many floods in the country.
This led to the launch of the “Billion Tree Tsunami Program” in 2014 to restore 350,000 hectares of forests and degraded land. The project aimed to improve the ecosystems of classified forests as well as private waste and agricultural land.
Therefore, close cooperation with concerned communities and other stakeholders was necessary. First of all, this involved raising awareness about the importance of trees, so that people would want to collaborate. As trees strengthen riverbanks, they counteract erosion and also reduce the risk of flooding.
The initiative was so successful that it reached its initial goal in 2017. To continue its success, the program expanded to 10 billion trees in 2019, known as the “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami.” The project works from a Green Growth vision. This5.
aligns with the needs for sustainable forestry development, green job generation, gender empowerment, preserving Pakistan’s natural capital and addressing the global problem of climate change.
7. Termite hill inspiration for development cooling system, Eastgate Centre Zimbabwe
In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building has been designed that cools itself. The answer to this was found in nature, in termite mounds. Termite mounds, which can grow up to 10 meters high seem very compact but have all kinds of ventilation holes where air can circulate. It is a type of lung that breathes in and out depending on the temperature fluctuations outside. In the Eastgate Centre, the building in Zimbabwe, this natural system was imitated.
The building with 5,600 m² retail area and 26,000 m² of office space and parking space for 450 cars is located in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
A material with a high thermal mass was used during the construction, so that it does not get hot or cold quickly due to external influences. The material can also absorb a lot of heat without the material itself becoming warm, just like the sand in the termite mound.
The exterior however, is like a cactus. It has a large surface area to keep the heat from disappearing from the building at night and to ensure that heat does not enter the building quickly during the day. Internally, large low-speed fans circulate the cool air of the night and distribute it over the seven floors. Concrete walls absorb the cool air
and cool the building by once again cooling the air that is being circulated throughout.
As the temperature inside increases, the warm air is blown up through the walls and drained out through a chimney. Through this design, the temperature in the building remains around 28 degrees Celsius during the day and around 14 degrees Celsius during the night.
Another great advantage of this design is its energy usage. In comparison to other buildings in Zimbabwe, the building uses 35% less energy than usual. Therefore, the whole building can now7.
rely on natural climate control systems for 90% of the time.
There are many fantastic examples where nature has been restored. All these examples show that it is possible to turn the tide. We must hold on to these examples and ensure that we all become the example for the restoration of nature. With a current footprint of 1.75 earths per year, that is necessary. We have to go back below 1.0 earths a year so that we can talk about real restoration of nature again. Let these examples be your inspiration.
A DOCUMENTARY DEDICATED TO ROMANIA’S WILDLIFE
In 2021, Dan Dinu and Cosmin Dumitrache released a documentary about Romania’s nature and wildlife. Wild Romania features neverseen-before images of the country’s most spectacular regions. We asked photographer and director Dan Dinu a few questions about Romania and the documentary.
CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT ROMANIA?
Romania is a beautiful country that’s still quite wild. There are many untouched areas and there is much biodiversity. We have the Carpathian Mountains with pristine forests, the Danube Delta, which is the biggest wetland in Europe, and the Black Sea. Those three areas make for very diverse landscapes. But Romania also has the largest concentration of big carnivores, like wild bears and wolves, in the European Union!
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT NATURE IN ROMANIA?
It actually started as a photography project in 2010. I wanted to visit all the national parks in Romania to make a photo collection and donate the pictures to the park administration and environmental NGOs so that they would have more material to promote their work. After two or three years, my colleague, who is a videographer, had the idea to make a movie and I agreed. We started making small series and short documentaries for NGOs, and in 2018, we decided to make a big movie – Wild Romania! That’s how it started, the idea grew step by step.
“Romania also has the largest contration of big carnivores, like wild bears and wolves, in the EU!”
CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT WILD ROMANIA AND HOW YOU MADE THE DOCUMENTARY?
The idea was to make the movie like a journey where you discover parts of Romania little by little. There are many short stories about animals in it, but they’re all connected by the landscapes, the areas and other animals. Everything in the documentary is connected – that was the main idea.
It wasn’t easy to film the wildlife. I think Romania is one of the toughest countries to film wildlife in Europe. The wild places are very big, and the animals are really afraid of people. We used camera traps to get a shot of wolves, for example. We did this over a period of two years and only managed to put five minutes of that footage in the film! But it wasn’t all this difficult – filming the bears went much smoother, for example.
WHAT WILL YOUR NEXT MOVIE BE?
The next movie will be about the Danube Delta. We want to focus on that area because it’s spectacular!
Would you like to see Wild Romania? Check out the documentary and photo book on the links below:
Watch the documentary trailer here For the Wild Romania Photo book here.
RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION OF ANIMAL POPULATIONS IN THE SOUTHEASTERN ATLANTIC FOREST, BRAZIL
Leading the conservation process is not an easy task. Such a path is full of obstacles to be surpassed. Furthermore, it is constantly changing along with the people involved and local economic, social, and ecological contexts. Lastly, it requires qualified staff and knowledge assembled at a hard expense.
Mariana Landis has PhD in applied ecology from the Universidade de São Paulo, one of the most prestigious universities in Brazil and the world, and she is the executive director of Manacá Institute. Her career started with studying the largest primate in South America (Southern Muriqui − Brachytelesarachnoides) and ended up with one of the most distinctive creatures in the continent, the tapir (Tapirus terrestris). Despite the radical change in target species, her study subject never changed. “ A question that has always captivated my research is: how many animals are there in a given site?” says Mariana. This inquiry guided Mariana’s steps across the Atlantic Forest.
The interest in population ecology wasn’t the only issue that led Mariana to her current position. “My career path is closely related to the Atlantic Forest. Since I graduated, all the opportunities that have arisen have been aimed at the conservation of endangered species of the biome.” The Atlantic Forest has been categorized as a biodiversity hotspot, which means that, in addition to a large number of endemisms (species whose distribution is restricted to a single geographic location), it is highly threatened by both habitat degradation and other human-driven activities, such as hunting. “After my master’s degree, I was hired by Elguero Farm, and the idea of founding Manacá Institute arose there in 2014”. It was founded with the purpose, together with professionals from the farm, of applied research;that is, the collection of data that can be used to directly support wildlife conservation.
“Manacá Institute is an institution that came to fill a biodiversity conservation gap in the region where it is based. We started from scratch, without resources and history, which provided a great learning experience”. Manacá’s first projects all took place within an area of about 500 hectare. Faunistic surveys (birds and mammals), carried out at great expense (few people, resources, and equipment), blazed new trails for research. This
research revealed valuable information such as the surprisingly large size of the local tapir population and spurred the start of Mariana’s doctoral research. Another very important discovery was the local population of the Black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus), an endangered species of primate endemic to the Atlantic Forest and the state of São Paulo. The encounter with this species allowed Manacá to raise funds to monitor this population for two years and to create the Trápaga Private Natural Heritage Reserve. As a result of this project and the creation of Trápaga, other projects began to emerge, surrounding touristic activities (e.g., birdwatching) and short-term courses.
In addition to monetary challenges of conducting research as a non-profit institution (their first project tracking local great mammals was completed with only three camera traps), Mariana and Manaca Institute still had to deal with two even more complex issues, such as motherhood and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Over these years, the most noticeable issue was the necessity of reinventing. I had to stop going to the field, which has always been my greatest source of inspiration and reflection, and focus on bureaucratic work”.
“We started from scratch, without resources and history, which provided a great learning experience.”Black lion tamarinLeontopithecus chrysopygus Domestic dog management
Unable to leave her house, Mariana split her time between three great tasks that have also been her greatest passions: being a mother, composing a doctoral thesis, and coordinating the institute. During this time, one of the most complex challenges for the team arose. A large number of individuals in the tapir population (Manacá’s main target of research, conservation projects, and tourism activities) were being attacked by domestic dogs that invaded the reserve located within the farm’s territory (Trápaga Private Natural Heritage Reserve). The dogs were causing great damage to the tapir population and needed to be controlled quickly. With the help of other non-governmental organizations, Núcleo da Floresta, the Wild Animal Study Group from Sorocaba University five dogs were removed within just a week by three people roaming the entire farm on foot. Members of the Núcleo da Floresta provided all the veterinary assistance to the captured animals, which were forwarded to the nearest kennel to be adopted. The removal and control of dogs on this occasion in Trápaga and Elguero farm, carried out with so few resources and staff, demonstrates the strength of the association between entities linked by a common goal, the protection of wildlife. “For the labor to have solid and positive results, it is necessary to work in partnerships”, says Mariana.
Today, the Manacá Institute’s main research project is entitled Large Mammals of the Serra do Mar Monitoring and Conservation Program), a collaborative initiative of researchers with the Manacá Institute and the Cananéia Research Institute (IPeC), whose objective is to monitor large mammals in an area of 17,000 km and to promote an integrated territorial agenda for protecting and managing these charismatic
species. Also, while carrying out those goals, the program will work with the residents of this region, informing and building awareness among them about these animals and the importance of conservation of this last, largest remnant of the Atlantic Forest for the conservation of its wildlife.
Beyond all the work done aiming at conservation in the Atlantic Forest, Manacá has provided several services in the tourism and educational sectors. “When we defined the Manacá Institute’s guidelines, we decided that scientific research would be our main focus since the information generated would be essential for our strategies to be well established. However, we listed five other topics that are included in all the projects we have carried out: (1) the expansion of knowledge (training people through the provision of internships and short-term courses), (2) environmental education of the local population, (3) forest preservation, (4) local income generation and (5) ecological tourism.
As mentioned before, the last topic of Manacá’s projects (ecological tourism) started with birdwatching, but the main and most innovative ecotourism activity implemented by Manacá was the observation of tapirs in the wild. Within the property of Elguero farm, there is a small crop of plums which once a year (during the summer) lure several tapirs that feast on them. Such an event makes it easy to observe these animals that, although large (about 250 kg), are extremely cryptic in nature. The team also invested effort in the construction of a structure in the middle of the forest (within the domains of the Trápaga reserve) that would allow the observation of fauna, without the observers being noticed by the animals.
“An example of an activity that encompassed all the components of our guidelines was the development of a rock-climbing activity at the Floresta Nacional de Ipanema protected area. Although the execution was carried out to attract the climbers, it was necessary to monitor the local population of the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) whose nesting site was located where the activities would take place, before it could be implemented. This activity provided both the training of volunteers who monitored the area and generating local income. In addition, environmental education ended up happening naturally throughout these activities, since they aimed to immerse people in nature”. In recent
years, Manacá has led several educational activities, targeting audiences of different ages and backgrounds.
There is still a lot of work to be done with regard to the touristic animal observation in the Atlantic Forest. “I believe that wildlife observation tourism is still very young in Brazil and ends up being even more challenging in the Atlantic Forest, where this activity is poorly implemented, contrary to what happens in the Pantanal, for example. This makes it difficult to argue about its impact on wildlife conservation. It may take some years of study and consolidation of this type of activity for more solid conclusions to be taken”. However, regardless of
whether there are solid conclusions about the contribution of tourism to the conservation of the Atlantic Forest fauna, such activities need to be conducted with caution and responsibility. “It is necessary to avoid any situation that negatively affects the natural behavior of the animals. This is often something difficult to identify since each species has its biological particularities. However, crossing certain boundaries, such as touching wild animals, is certainly harmful”.
The Manacá Institute will keep going, stronger than ever, in its fight for the conservation of the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest through the implementation of research and the dissemination of knowledge. However, despite carrying out several activities focused on tourism, the Manacá Institute is a non-profit organization maintained exclusively by funds raised through donations. Contributing yourself is fairly easy and can be done by sharing the institutes’ work on social media or by donating field equipment.
“The Manacá Institute will keep going, stronger than ever.”
SUJITT ALSO KNOWN AS NICKSEYEVIEW
PHOTOGRAPHY AND CONSERVATION
I was born and raised in Ranny, a small village in Kerala, India. The Ranny Forest division covers more than one thousand square kilometers of forests. Visiting these forest reserves along with my friends was my favorite weekend activity during my childhood and teenage years. My love of nature began then.
After my graduation and a couple of years working in India, I moved to Saudi Arabia in 2018. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to move from a lush green area to an area mostly covered by the desert. But, this move helped me get my first camera in 2012. I started capturing portraits and still life until I joined a group of photographers in 2019 known as “Photomates KSA.” Many members of this group have years of experience in nature photography which made me realize that Saudi Arabia has more than 500 species of birds including migratory ones.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most underexplored countries when it comes to wildlife photography. This encouraged me to travel thousands of kilometers across Saudi Arabia to capture different species of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects.
As the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” goes, photography is my way to share the beautiful moments and stories of different species to inspire others to protect and conserve the sheer beauty and wonders of nature for future generations to come. For me, photography is the voice of the voiceless.
I can be reached through my Instagram, Facebook, Email.
ASOC the conservation and protection of Antarctica
In her position as a research and policy associate with the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), Kimberly Aiken works on numerous Antarctic environmental campaigns. ASOC particularly focuses on establishing marine protected areas (known as MPAs) in the Southern Ocean, responsible tourism in Antarctica, addressing the impacts of climate change in the region and improving fisheries management.
ASOC’s main goal is to conserve and protect the continent and its ecosystem. In this interview, Kimberly tells us more about the challenges facing Antarctic wildlife and the ecosystem, and what we can do to help.
FIRST THINGS FIRST, COULD YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT ANTARCTICA?
Of course! To start off, Antarctica doesn’t have any indigenous inhabitants and it doesn’t belong to one specific country, it belongs to all of us. It’s a global treasure for everyone on this planet, no matter how far removed we are from it. It’s governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, which consists of two international bodies. The first one is the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting or
ATCM, which meets annually. The second one is CCAMLR, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which also meets annually.
One of the most important things to know about Antarctica is that it plays a significant role in controlling the climate. As the planet warms up, the glaciers and ice sheets of Antarctica respond by melting at a very rapid pace. This can contribute to a sea level rise in coastal areas, which then leads to environmental refugees all around the world.
We have a saying in the polar community that says: “What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica.” This truly is the case – what happens there has an impact on any other region on the planet. Everything in our climatic system is connected!
“What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica.”Kimberly and sister Lisa Aiken holding Antarctic krill in IMAS lab.
THAT’S INTERESTING! CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT WILDLIFE IN ANTARCTICA TOO? WHAT PROBLEMS ARE THEY FACING?
There are two big challenges that the animals in Antarctica are facing. The first one is climate change. Some species of penguins, for example, are having trouble adapting to temperature rise. The second issue is the fishing industry. Most of the seals, penguins and whales have to compete with the fishing industry for Antarctic krill. On top of that, they have to make sure not to be hit by a vessel.
Antarctic krill is very important in Antarctica. Krill is a tiny species that feeds off of phytoplankton, which is found right underneath the sea ice. These creatures are the superheroes of the Southern
Ocean because they have the ability to sequester carbon out of the water and then release it into the deep levels of the ocean. It’s amazing how a very tiny organism collectively helps us in the fight against CO2 – which is one of our biggest problems.
You also see a lot of migratory whales and orcas that transit through the Antarctic waters and feed on krill. Every single one of these species is very important. If one disappears, it would impact the entire ecosystem as they are all dependent on each other. What’s fascinating is that even today, new species of wildlife are being discovered in very deep parts of Antarctica that belong to this ecosystem! There’s an entire thriving world in many deep parts of the continent.
Like all penguins, gentoos are awkward on land, but they’re pure grace underwater.
DURING THE SECOND HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY, ANTARCTICA WARMED UP TWO TIMES FASTER THAN OTHER PLACES IN THE WORLD. WHAT’S THE REASON FOR THAT?
The reason why it happens faster in Antarctica is because of the type of environment that exists there. Icy environments tend to hold heat in other ways than other environments.
For example, approximately 98% of Antarctica is covered by the Antarctic ice sheet. Antarctica has about 90% of the world’s ice and thereby about 70% of the world’s fresh water. Sometimes “heat domes” of warm air diffuse and spread over the continent. When this happens the moisture gets trapped above the sea ice retaining large amounts of heat which eventually moves downward causing warming on the surface.
The ice also has a high “albedo effect” that reflects about 84% of incoming solar radiation, but as the Earth gets warmer, the incoming heat from the sun is absorbed in the surface of the ice, and ocean water starts to warm. This causes the protective shield of ice to break down from warm air above and warm water below, which then causes warming and melting. The more exposed dark ocean water is to solar radiation, the less sunlight is reflected back into the atmosphere.
So, because of the icy components, the polar regions become the first two places in the world where the warming of the planet can be seen. Think about the penguins that I mentioned before.
LET’S TALK ABOUT ASOC NOW. WHAT ARE THEY DOING?
ASOC stands for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, and at its heart is the conservation and protection of Antarctica. We focus on environmental protection by working on conservation campaigns. For example, we work with international organizations to create ways to help the Antarctic Treaty System meet its mandates to conserve and protect Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and its wildlife. We also run different projects and workshops with the fishing industry and other NGOs so that they also understand the purpose of our work and become part of the solution.
One of our goals is to get the public involved and engaged on why it’s so important to protect this continent. We mainly do this using social media and through other campaign-related strategies like rallies for Antarctica in Berlin, Penguin Awareness Day, World Ocean Day and World Krill Day.
THAT’S BEAUTIFUL WORK! WE SPOKE ABOUT THE PROBLEMS THAT ANTARCTIC
IS FACING. WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
Right now, what Antarctica really needs are marine protected areas. We need to make a mental shift in the way in which we see nature and ourselves. It requires a change in the way we think, live, and understand the world. We shouldn’t constantly take and exploit the natural world, it should be valued beyond an economic value. This can be a very complicated undertaking and we might not be able to directly help with this, but having compassion and care in one’s heart about the natural world already goes a long way.
“We need to make a change in the way in which we see nature and ourselves.”
Melting glacier in Antarctica.
TOURISM IS INCREASING IN ANTARCTICA, AND IT WILL INCREASE EVEN MORE. WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF MORE TOURISM?
It’s true that tourism will increase, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We discuss the impact of tourism on the environment within ASOC and look for ways to make it better. For example, we look at the regulations and requirements that the vessels must abide by when they transit in Southern Ocean waters. But we also look at the impact of tourism on specific areas. For example, it was recently decided that certain areas of Antarctica won’t be visited anymore for a period of time so that populations of penguins can thrive again.
Tourism is not always bad, as it helps raise awareness about the beauty of Antarctica itself. However, in order to do it sustainably it is important for ASOC to keep a close watch on tourism practices.
Do you want to learn more about ASOC and their efforts to protect Antarctica? Check out their website and socials on the links below!
Arina van Londen
Amy van Loon
Bruno Ferreto Fiorillo
CONTRIBUTED TO THIS EDITION
Amy van Loon email@example.com
Judith van der Steen
Mira de Winter
Tobias van Krieken
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